For many new students, finding a group of friends can be one of the most overwhelming parts of arriving on campus. Jaden Echols realized this firsthand, and was one of the catalysts who sparked the formation of the Black Excellence registered student organization (RSO).

“We just want people to come together,” said Echols, a junior finance major from Chicago. “When a lot of underclassmen come here, they don’t really know anyone. We founded Black Excellence so people can get to know each other, hang out, and make friends based on common interests.”

Black Excellence focuses on creating a safe and welcoming environment for students to socialize. “We host events for people to come together and meet each other,” said Echols. Since its formation in fall 2019, the RSO has hosted several social events, including a basketball tournament that drew nearly 200 people, including members of the Redbirds men’s basketball team, to the courts outside of Tri-Towers.

“The basketball tournament was definitely my favorite experience so far,” said Cedrick Kouam, a junior computer systems major who was one of the RSO’s founding members. “It was a great event and showed a lot of unity.”

RSO’s mission: “Black Excellence will provide positive role models for African-American males throughout the campus by sticking together and involving each other in activities committed to the intellectual development of young adults and the economic empowerment of the African-American community.”

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has posed obstacles for the group. This school year, the group plans to use Zoom meetings as well as physical distancing to carry out its typical activities. “Our focus for this year is to keep everyone safe while functioning as we have been,” said Echols.

Aside from hosting its own events, the RSO also provides its members with a unique support system. “If you say that you’re going to do something, you will always have our support and encouragement,” said Echols. “You’ll never be alone.”

Fostering diversity has been a major goal of the RSO since its inception. “We’re really focused on being diverse,” said Echols. “Black Excellence is a brotherhood and a sisterhood. We want everyone to feel welcome here.”

Black Excellence values community involvement. Members have completed volunteer work in the Bloomington-Normal community as well as in Chicagoland, where many of Black Excellence’s members are from. “Volunteering is important to all of us,” said Echols. The group has primarily worked with food pantries, and the members look to continue volunteering as much as possible this year.

Between the community involvement and social enrichment that Black Excellence offers, the RSO has a lasting effect on its members. “Black Excellence has had an enormous impact on me,” said Kouam. “You always have that group of people to rely on. It’s a family.”

Black Excellence currently has 18 members, but that number is set to grow this school year. “We’ve been receiving membership requests all summer,” said Echols, referring to the Black Excellence page on Redbird Life. “We’re always accepting new members.”

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