University of St. Thomas launches African-American Alumni Society
For 10 years, Larry Payne’ 72, has dreamt about bringing University of St. Thomas African-American alumni together under one society. Payne, known in Houston as a champion of social justice, has dedicated his life’s work to his community and his alma mater –a community whose demographics are shifting, and a University that is poised to reach out to a new generation of diverse students.
Named in honor of one of the most beloved Catholic saints, Payne and fellow African-American alumni have formed the St. Martin de Porres Society to maximize alumni participation at UST. The Society also aims to support the recruitment, retention, development and graduation of UST’s current and prospective African-American students in the surrounding Houston community.
The Society met for the first time on June 4 on the UST campus. A group of approximately 35 alumni, parents and friends of the University met to reconnect, talk about the importance of alumni participation, discuss future organizational structure, and the possibility of a St. Martin de Porres Feast on Nov. 3. The Society will meet again on June 17.
Payne, who will head the Society as its inaugural president, is the former executive director for Habitat for Humanity in Houston and SEARCH, Inc., a private organization dedicated to helping the homeless. He holds the distinction of being the only African-American alumnus honored as a Father Vincent J. Guinan Distinguished Alumni – an award he received at the 2007 Commencement Ceremony. A. Martin Wickliff, Jr.,’70, a member of the UST board of directors and Mitchell Fontenot ’00, a member of the UST Alumni board of directors, were present at the meeting to help Payne launch the Society.
The University of St. Thomas has 17,290 alumni, 868 of whom are African- American (approximately 5 percent of alumni population). In the 2008-2009 school year, UST had 174 total African-American undergraduate and graduate students enrolled, which comprises 7.9 percent of the total student body. The 80 African-American undergraduates comprise 5.5 percent of the undergraduate student body.
Payne believes that education is the key to success, and there is no better place to make a difference in the lives of underrepresented populations than UST.
“Given the demographic changes in Houston, Texas, there is no such thing as a minority. The future growth of the University of St. Thomas will come from the underrepresented numbers of the new majority – the combination of Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans and Asian-Americans,” Payne said. “Since UST is the heart of HoUSTon, it is a premier urban university open to all students of all races, ethnicity and religion. This is a place that provides a personal, one-to-one experience, and a foundation in social, economic, political, spiritual and emotional intelligences.”
“We formed the Society to do community outreach to an underrepresented population to let them know what a gem St. Thomas truly is to the community,” Payne said. “I chose St. Martin de Porres to represent our Society because he is the patron saint of social justice and he is bi-racial,” Payne said. “I also chose him because he is the bridge between the African American and Hispanic American alumni. He is the saint for both cultures.”
Juan Martin de Porres was born in the city of Lima, Peru in 1579. The illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a black former slave of Panamanian birth, St. Martin de Porres was known for his tireless work on behalf of the poor and his advocacy of hard work.
For more information about the St. Martin de Porres Society, contact Ryane Jackson, UST assistant director of Annual Giving at 713-525-2147.
Shown at top, left to right: A. Martin Wickliff, Jr.,’70, Ryane Jackson, Larry Payne '72. Shown above: St. Martin de Porres.