Washington Zebedee Walusala Rakama of Nairobi, Kenya, Guilford’s first black graduate, was among 44 members of the Class of 1964 who joined the College’s Golden Circle on April 25. The Golden Circle Ceremony commemorates the 50th anniversary of graduation for College alumni.
Washington, a Quaker, is now 77 years old and in good health, but he was unable to attend the ceremony. His brother, Livingstone ’77, who lives in Greensboro, accepted a Golden Circle medallion on Washington’s behalf. Livingstone also accepted the Journeys in Blackness Award for his brother in recognition of Washington becoming the first black alumnus inducted into the Golden Circle.
“The story of Washington Rakama embodies the spirit of Guilford in so many ways,” said David Hopkins ’91, president of the Black Alumni Advisory Board. “From comments during the Golden Circle Ceremony and afterward among the College’s Alumni Board members, that Class of 1964 was special, and Washington’s inclusion made that all the more so – particularly for the black alumni who followed.”
Washington was part of the student airlift of the early 1960s that was negotiated by a young Kenyan leader, Tom Mboya, and supported by U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy. By 1963, more than 750 East African students came to the U.S. for higher education, including Washington's personal friend Barack Obama Sr., the father of President Barack Obama.
After graduating from Guilford, Washington earned a master’s degree from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and returned to Kenya to work in public service, eventually as the deputy permanent secretary for the Kenyan Ministry of Economic Planning and Development under Tom’s leadership. He continued his commitment to service after he retired, developing schools, churches and health centers in Kenya, and using his ancestral land for a Quaker House and a modern shopping center.
“I am forever indebted to Guilford College for preparing me for the services I have rendered to my country, my community and above all, to God,” Washington wrote in a letter that was read at the Golden Circle Ceremony. “I am personally satisfied that I have put to proper use the knowledge and skills I acquired at Guilford College. I accept the honor you have bestowed on me with deep gratitude and humility.”
During the 2012-13 academic year, the College commemorated the 50-year anniversary of the enrollment of the first black students in 1962, including Washington; his countryman Ayub Watakila ’65; and the first African American student, James McCorkle ’66. The Journeys in Blackness banquet was established to recognize the contributions of African American students, faculty and staff over the decades.
In 2014, the College also celebrates the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Black Alumni of Guilford College Association and the first full year of the Black Alumni Advisory Board. Black Alumni of Guilford in April received only the second Community Cares Award from the Alumni Association, recognizing collective actions of alumni who live and work in the spirit of peace, justice, love, compassion and joy.
Since 2004, the Black Alumni became an official advisory board, reconnected over 300 black alumni to Guilford, and has been an active voice in campus matters including the Hodgins Retreat opposition, the presidential search, homecoming, student recruitment and retention efforts, alumni data integrity, and fundraising. The advisory board was instrumental in reconnecting the College to Washington and Livingstone to ensure they were a part of these significant milestones in Guilford history.
“Since Mr. Rakama ushered in diversity at Guilford, it is our responsibility to build on his legacy,” said George “Scooter” Brown ’89, one of the founding visionaries of the BAGC who accepted the Community Cares Award on behalf of the organization.
For more information on the BAGC or the advisory board, contact David Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or become a friend on Facebook at Guilford Black Alum.