Category Archives: Women of Legend and Merit Awards Dinner

TSU remembers trailblazing alumna Thelma Harper as a strong, ‘unwavering’ advocate and supporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Those who remember the late former state Sen. Thelma Harper know she’d be smiling from ear to ear right now just hearing about Tennessee State University. Her love for her alma mater was unwavering. Whether in the Senate where she fought fiercely for equitable funding for TSU, or in the community where she was a powerful voice, or at events on campus, Harper was an advocate like no other.  

TSU President Glenda Glover shares an interesting moment she had with Sen. Thelma Harper, as she pays tribute to the late former lawmaker during the Celebration of Life service at TSU. (Photo by Ashley Benkarski)

 “Senator Thelma Harper was a fierce advocate for Tennessee State University, and a true friend. She never forgot her roots and remained committed to the values instilled in her by her parents as a public servant,” said TSU President Glenda Glover.

“At TSU, we celebrate her life and will be forever thankful for all she did for her alma mater. If there is one individual that truly embodied the university‘s motto of think, work, serve, it was Senator Harper. On behalf of the entire TSU Family, we thank you for your service.” 

In 2018, weeks before her retirement from the state Senate, alumna Thelma Harper, third from right, participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for two new residence halls on the main TSU campus. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

Harper, a Democrat and the first black woman elected to the state Senate in 1989, died April 22. She was 80. A native of Brentwood, Tennessee, Harper graduated from TSU in 1978, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting. She went on to break many glass ceilings and earned many “firsts” in history as a politician and a national figure. In all, she never forgot her TSU.

“Her commitment to Tennessee State University is measured by what we see on the campus,” said fellow TSU alum and state Rep. Dr. Harold Love, Jr. “Fighting for students to have access to great academic programs, promoting TSU equal funding – for me, that was one of the joys when I first got elected to be able to work alongside her to have TSU not forgotten about in the state budget.” 

Danielle Knight, TSU graduate and Sen. Harper’s last intern up to her retirement in 2018, says the late lawmaker inspired her so much that she has set her sight on becoming an elected official. (Photo by Ashley Benkarski)

In one final visit to her alma mater, and in appreciation of the late state senator’s lifelong commitment to TSU, the University served as the backdrop for Harper’s “Celebration of Life” service in the Gentry Complex Center on May 6. President Glover, along with administrators, staff, students, faculty, alumni and the community filed by to pay their final respect. 

Barbara Murrell, a TSU alumna and former administrator, remembers Harper as a TSU student and her rise as a state and national figure. 

“Senator Harper was a servant leader who was always available to focus on the needs of her alma mater, Tennessee State University and the community she served,” said Murrell, retired TSU vice president for student affairs. “She was respected, admired and appreciated by all who observed her willingness to accept the motto of her alma mater, think, work, serve and make it her own.”  

Sen. Harper, in one of her signature stylish hats, along with other lawmakers, joins TSU President Glover, administrators, staff and students during TSU Day at Capitol in 2018. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

Danielle Knight and Marissa Faith King were Harper’s mentees when they interned at the Capitol as TSU students. They recalled the late lawmaker’s personal involvement in their development.  

“Sen. Harper helped me a lot as an intern working with her in the General Assembly,” said Knight, a 2018 TSU graduate in political science, who was Harper’s last intern up to the senator’s retirement the same year. “As a student, she impacted my life and inspired me so much working with her that I decided to become a legislator, to help people in my community as she always did.” Currently a lobbyist aid with the state and a financial services representative with a credit union, Knight’s career goal is to become an elected official.  

For King, who interned with two other lawmakers but interacted with Harper and her staff on many bills, she said the late senator taught her to be firm in a world dominated by men and competing political interests.

“She taught us as black female interns it is okay to stand your ground,” said King, a 2017 criminal justice graduate and an executive legislative assistant in the state House of Representatives. “She told me, ‘It is always necessary to have a seat at the table and make sure you’re being heard and being respected.’”  

Harper was always a major presence at the annual TSU Day at the Capitol, when a wave of TSU blue – students, administrators, faculty, staff – converged on the Capitol with displays of academic offerings and cutting-edge research. She made sure to personally invite her fellow lawmakers to see the “pride of her alma mater.”  

Frank Stevenson, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said Harper’s “consistent voice for opportunities for TSU was unmatched in the state Legislature.”  

“She never missed being a part of the Homecoming events, including being at the parade every year,” Stevenson said. “She never missed celebrating our graduation services. She was just amazing to this university and our campus community.”  

Additionally, while Harper was fighting for TSU in the Tennessee General Assembly, she was also hands-on at the university, mentoring students, especially young women about their personal choices and career goals. She served on the advisory board of the Women’s Center from the inception of the center in 2007 until her passing. She was among the first recipients of the Women of Merit and Legend Award given by the center each year to upstanding women in the community. At the 2018 WOLM awards ceremony, President Glover presented Harper with a special award for her “trailblazing years as a public servant.”  

“She was very helpful and diligent in supporting women’s and student scholarship,” said center director Seanne Wilson. “She was one of the first to provide seed money and scholarship dollars to start the center. She mentored some of the young ladies on professional development, and really just gave them access to her.”  

Harper was buried Thursday at Greenwood Cemetery following the service at TSU. 

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209
615.963.5331

About Tennessee State University

Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a  premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and eight doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students  with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

Angela Rye Inspires Attendees to Take Political Action At Annual Scholarship Fundraiser Honoring Outstanding Women

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Political commentator and analyst Angela Rye served as the special guest for this year’s Women of Legend and Merit Awards Dinner at Tennessee State University, as part of the TSU Women’s Center’s effort to celebrate Women’s History Month.

Rye, who offers regular on-air commentary for several media outlets including BET, CNN, MSNBC, and TV One, spoke briefly from the podium and then participated in a seated interview-style presentation. She answered questions from various attendees, including TSU President Glenda Glover and addressed several issues, such as affirmative action, the legitimacy of legacy admissions and the need for a black agenda.

“I want to help establish what a black agenda should look like, not just for 2020, but ongoing,” Rye said.  “Do you all know that before the Emancipation Proclamation, every year black folks met to talk about our political agenda? The last time we did that collectively, where there was a lot of attention drawn to it, was in 1972 in Gary, Indiana.”

During a light-hearted moment towards the end of the conversation, Glover suggested a petition be started for Rye to run for president.  She encouraged the audience with the chant, “Run! Angie Run! Run! Angie Run!”

Angela Rye

“You want me to run right out that door,” Rye jokingly replied.

Seanne Wilson, chairperson of the event, which took place in Kean Hall Auditorium, said the annual awards dinner raises money for student scholarships and highlights the careers of women she hopes her students will emulate.

“As we know, this is the year of the woman, and women are being more vocal, and we are owning who we are. It’s very important with us attempting to educate these young ladies, that they are aware of opportunities and not afraid to speak out and to speak up for their rights,” said Wilson, who serves as coordinator of the TSU Women’s Center.

According to Wilson, the center is a “safe zone” for women at TSU who experience issues such as fear, anxiety and depression, as well as domestic violence, homelessness and the lack of food.

Lyric Carter, a freshman civil engineering major who serves as a work-study student for the Women’s Center, said she was inspired by Rye’s comments.

” If we don’t speak for us, who is going to speak for us,” Carter said.

Vivian Wilhoite, Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County property accessor and a former Women of Legend and Merit honoree, said the event is important because it celebrates the women.

“We do not do enough to recognize women in the various areas of the world, whether it be in business or leadership or government or strong women committed to different topics and issues,” she said.  “I really think there are so many women doing so many different things, and we really cannot do enough to honor them.”

Several women where  honored during this year’s event including: Veronica Marable Johnson, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce New Member Representative; Dr. Robbie Melton, TSU interim dean of the Graduate School; Karen Johnson, Davidson County Register of Deeds; Attorney Cynthia Fitzgerald; Attorney Joy Kimbrough; Dr. Judy Cummings, Pastor of New Covenant Christian Church; and Zaya Mouto, a sophomore Business Administration major who received the “Rising Star” Award.

For more information about how to support the TSU Women’s Center, visit http://www.tnstate.edu/womenscenter/

Editor’s Note: Featured photo by Ramona Whitworth Wiggins

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209
615.963.5331

About Tennessee State University

With more than 7,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

Political Analyst Angela Rye To Speak at TSU Women’s Center Scholarship Fundraising Affair

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Political Commentator and Analyst Angela Rye will serve as the keynote speaker for this year’s Women of Legend and Merit Awards Dinner at Tennessee State University on March 19 as part of the TSU Women’s Center’s effort to celebrate Women’s History Month.

Rye, who offers regular on-air commentary for several media outlets including BET, CNN, MSNBC, and TV One, will speak about “Making An Impact Economically, Civically, and Politically.” The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Kean Hall on the main campus.

Seanne Wilson, chairperson of the event, which raises money for student scholarships, said she hopes Rye’s visit will inspire young women at TSU to be more aware of the power of their voice. 

“As we know, this is the year of the woman, and women are being more vocal and we are owning who we are. It’s very important with us attempting to educate these young ladies, that they are aware of opportunities and not afraid to speak out and to speak up for their rights,” said Wilson, who serves as coordinator of the TSU Women’s Center.

Wilson said an increasing number of young women in the Nashville community have expressed interest in attending this year’s event because of Rye.

“I think that a lot of women, whether they are in politics or not, will feel coached and mentored by her, or feel empowered by her.  And empowering women is something that the Women’s Center attempts to do,” Wilson said. “There are so many people out there who are interested in how we have gotten into this political climate.  How did we get here? And how do we fix the problems that we see?”

According to Wilson, the Women’s Center is a “safe zone” for women at TSU who experience issues such as fear, anxiety and depression, as well as domestic violence, homelessness and the lack of food. She said this year for Women’s History Month, the Women’s Center hopes to inspire students by bringing numerous professional women to campus, including judges, political figures, entrepreneurs, chief executive officers, and international women of distinction.

Several women will be honored during this year’s event including: Veronica Marable Johnson, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce New Member Representative; Dr. Robbie Melton, TSU interim dean of the Graduate School; Karen Johnson, Davidson County Register of Deeds; Attorney Cynthia Fitzgerald; Attorney Joy Kimbrough; Dr. Judy Cummings, Pastor of New Covenant Christian Church; and Zaya Mouto, a sophomore Business Administration major who will receive the “Rising Star” Award.

To purchase tickets for the March 19 awards dinner or learn more about the Women’s Center, visit http://www.tnstate.edu/legendandmerit/.