BGSU recognizes achievements by notable Black alumni during Black History Month

African-American alumni have left their mark on the University and the wider world. Here are just some of the many highlights

Bowling Green State University is pleased to honor the achievements of notable Black alumni during Black History Month and every day by drawing attention to the contributions to the public good made by a variety of African-Americans who got their start as Falcons. Learn more about some of the significant trailblazers and achievers in University history:

BGSU women's basketball player Paulette Backstrom cuts down a net

Paulette Backstrom '90

Flint, Michigan, native Paulette Backstrom '90 was a league-leading point guard on the Fran Voll-coached BGSU women's basketball team in the late 1980s. The Backstrom era saw three consecutive Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament championship and three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament in 1987-89. She helped the Falcons compile a 96-23 (.807) overall record over the three championship seasons, a 53-7 (.883) mark in league play over the same period.

Backstrom averaged 8.9 points and 7.2 assists during her senior season, leading to first-team All-MAC honors as well as being named the MAC Tournament MVP. She also received the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Award as the best female player in the nation under 5 feet, 6 inches tall. She set a school record for assists in a MAC season with 124, an average of 4.14 assists per game, and had a total of 559 in her career, ranking among the BGSU all-time leaders in that category.

Backstrom attended graduate school at BGSU, earning her master's in organizational development/business administration. She was inducted into the BGSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.

Elaine Bryant '19

BGSU alumna Elaine Bryant stands between two people on graduation day in 2019

Elaine Bryant '19 became the first Black woman in the history of Columbus, Ohio, to become the city's police chief in 2021. Appointed by Mayor Andrew Ginther, Bryant came to the city after serving as the deputy chief of police for the city of Detroit and was a 21-year veteran of the Detroit Police Department.

Bryant earned a Master of Science in criminal justice (MSCJ) from Bowling Green State University, saying she started at the University with the goal of equipping herself with knowledge and the skills to be the best leader, manager and mentor she could be in the department. Right after Bryant graduated in May 2019, she was promoted to deputy chief, managing the east side precincts and specialized units in the metropolitan division of Detroit.

When she was selected for the Columbus police chief position, Bryant expressed a servant's heart mentality to doing the job.

“I think that being a police chief or the head of an organization is not about power; it's about being a public servant,” she said. “You have to be transparent, and you have to be open to dialogue. It's a partnership with your community — we can't do our job without them. I think it's important, with me being the head of this agency, to have that open dialogue and encourage those relationships and make sure that the community is a part of any of the transformations that we do in this department.”

Clarence Albert Daniels Jr., J.D. '71, '73

BGSU alumnus Clarence Albert Daniels Jr. speaks at a podium

Clarence Albert Daniels Jr. '71, '73 is a former CEO of CMS Hospitality, an airport food and beverage concessions company among the fastest-growing in its industry, who continues to mentor small businesses, nonprofit organizations and youth. He built the company from three stores at LAX to over 40 locations in eight major airports. The company was also at the forefront of introducing popular local restaurants in airports to create “a sense of place.”

Since the sale of the business in 2016, Daniels has spent his time mentoring small businesses, nonprofit organizations and youth. With his fraternity, he started a mentoring program for 11- to 13-year-old disadvantaged males. He also served as chair and CEO of Concessions Management Services Inc., was a vice president of the Marriott Corp.; vice president of development for Host International, the largest company in the airport concession business; and president of educational dining at Aramark Corp. He started his professional career as a child advocate and civil rights lawyer with the Children’s Defense Fund.

Daniels is married to his Falcon Flame, Dr. Monet Latham Daniels '72, '74, and the couple remains heavily involved in civic and community organizations and enjoy providing mentorship to different organizations and youth. He was inducted into the BGSU Academy of Distinguished Alumni in 2022.

The Daniels will be the keynote speakers at the 2023 Black Issues Conference on Thursday, Feb. 16. The conference, with a theme of "To Be Successful, Gifted and Black," is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Registration is required.

Everett FitzHugh '11

BGSU alumnus Everett FitzHugh broadcasts a hockey game

Lifelong hockey fan Everett FitzHugh '11 saw a childhood dream realized and provided tangible representation for others to see what a dream achieved looks like when he became the first Black announcer in the history of the National Hockey League when he was hired by the Seattle Kraken in 2021.

Fitzhugh grew up in Detroit, also known as “Hockeytown” to NHL fans, home of the Red Wings — one of the most storied hockey franchises in North America.

“I was a big hockey fan growing up in Detroit,” he said. “As a young kid, it’s kind of ingrained in you to being a hockey fan and early on.”

Fitzhugh knew he wanted to have a career in sports, and BGSU was appealing because it has four sports at the Division I level. He majored in sport management and minored in broadcast journalism. Both disciplines provided the foundation for his career in sports broadcasting.

Fitzhugh honed his skills in the sport management program and Bowling Green Radio Sports Organization, and both were instrumental to his success.

“I mean, that's where I developed my passion for hockey,” he said. “I could go on for hours talking about how BGRSO mentored me and trained me to make me the broadcaster I am today. And the sport management department, they were so helpful with their advising and internships and everything they had me do — there are way too many people to name.”

Jennifer McCary '05, '08

BGSU alumna Jennifer McCary

A face familiar to the BGSU campus now brings her years of knowledge in diversity and belonging to the Toledo Museum of Art as the institution's first chief people and culture officer. Jennifer McCary '05, '08 helped lead the University as chief diversity and belonging officer in the Division of Diversity and Belonging starting in 2019, after years spent as assistant vice president for student affairs/Title IX officer.

McCary was named a 20 Under 40 recipient in 2019 and her work at BGSU was nationally recognized, with the National Diversity Council naming her as a Top Diversity Officer for 2021. At the time, she shared her philosophy of diversity and belonging and the role of a leader.

“I always say diversity is a fact — it’s something that exists everywhere,” McCary said. “My role is more about the inclusion and belonging piece, so I’m trying to make sure we take actions as an institution to be sure people don’t have barriers to reach their potential here at the University and that we are creating an environment where people belong.

“Belonging is allowing people to be their authentic selves, and for who they are to be affirmed. For me, that’s a really important part of my work.”

Kelly McCoy Williams '88

BGSU alumna Kelly McCoy Williams gives a thumbs up on graduation day in 1988

“They openly said that Bowling Green wasn’t ready for a Black person to lead student government; they weren’t ready for a woman,” Kelly McCoy Williams '88 said. “I just remember saying to myself, ‘Yeah, but I'm ready to lead, so we're going to do this.’”

That was in 1987, when Williams' own circle of friends cautioned her about her ambition to run for student government. Not only did she become the first Black USG president at BGSU, but also the first female president and first Black female president.

It wasn't the last time that Williams would break barriers and make history. She majored in political science and minored in international studies and was very involved with the Ohio Student Association, but turned from politics to business. Williams said attending BGSU helped prepare her for a career in business, even though she never took a business class.

"My experiences with a diverse group of friends at Bowling Green helped prepare me as a Black woman working in business and, in particular, working in sales. Over my professional career, every sales job that I have had, I have been the first Black woman to be in that role for the company. I had to navigate the often-unwelcoming colleague environment, and customers who had never been sold to by someone who looked like me," she said. “That intense year as BGSU president prepared me to not run from fear but attack my fears. My dad told me once, ‘You know, you have this opportunity to interview on campus: It’s the only time companies are going to come after you. For the rest of your life the table turns and you will be pursuing them. Take advantage of that.'"

Carl Sandifer '05

BGSU alumnus Carl Sandifer stands on campus near the BGSU block letters

“I feel like I'm living a dream that is better than anything that I could have imagined," said Carl Sandifer '05. "I have the opportunity to work at NASA and am especially proud to be provided an opportunity to support sending a spacecraft to Mars."

That was back in February 2021, when the BGSU alumnus made his mark as part of the historic NASA Mars Perseverance Rover team. Sandifer, who earned a Bachelor of Science in applied mathematics from the University’s College of Arts and Sciences, started working at NASA as part of a summer co-op after his freshman year at BGSU in 2001 and continued working with NASA while attending BGSU.

Sandifer remembers fondly his time at BGSU, from being a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., to all of the great friendships he made, and especially meeting his Falcon Flame, Victoria.

Sandifer started working with NASA’s Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) in 2012. The vast majority of that time he spent working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), ensuring that the Mars Perseverance Mission had all the fuel needed to support powering the rover. Sandifer worked in the RPS Program for eight years before being selected in July 2020 to become the deputy chief of the Space Science Project Office.

“It is truly an honor to be a Black male working at NASA, being able to support something greater than myself,” said Sandifer, referencing the rover landing during Black History Month in 2021. “I've had great mentors along the way, so one thing that I strive to do is also mentor others. I try to mentor young career professionals and STEM students as often as I can."

Diamond Spratling '18

BGSU alumna Diamond Spratling gives a speech

Alumna Diamond Spratling '18  is using her life experience, education and limitless fervor to lead an effort to mitigate health, racial and environmental inequities in Black and Brown communities. Experiencing first-hand the environmental inequality that exists in different socioeconomic classes mere miles apart led her to pursue studies in the environmental field, earn a bachelor's degree in Environmental Policy and Analysis from BGSU, and go on to gain a Master of Public Health in Global Health from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. 

After working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as a policy fellow concentrating on heart disease and stroke prevention, Spratling now dedicates all her passion and energy to bringing about that dramatic transformation that she experienced as a teen in Detroit for millions of others.

She founded and leads Girl + Environment, a national non-profit organization designed to educate, engage and empower Black and Brown girls, women and non-binary individuals to stand up for environmental justice in their own neighborhoods.

“My goal is to grow that organization nationally, advocate for them, and be the leader that can organize and engage as many Black and Brown women as I can so we can address the disparities in this sector,” Spratling said. “Since, as a group, Black and Brown women are disproportionately affected by these things, we need to be the ones that lead the change.”

Black History Month Falcon Facts

  • Cleveland-born James Pickens Jr. '76 graduated from BGSU with a bachelor of fine arts and is known to audiences as Dr. Richard Webber on the medical dramas Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice. Pickens is also a competitive cattle roper and appeared on the series Yellowstone.
  • Over the course of five years, James Baldwin served BGSU in residencies as Writer and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Ethnic Studies. During his time at the University, Baldwin finished the book "Just Above My Head" (1979) and delivered the evening lecture "Passage to America."
  • After leading BGSU basketball as a record-setting All-American center on two MAC Championship teams, Nate Thurmond '63 went on to be named of the top 50 players in NBA history.
  • The BGSU Black Alumni Council is one of the most involved alumni groups at the University and offers multiple ways to stay connected with Black BGSU graduates, participate in Black Alumni events, support students of color and celebrate being a Falcon.
  • The BGSU Black Student Union was established on Feb. 19, 1969.
  • The Honorable C. Ray Mullins '74, '77 was appointed to the bench in Atlanta in 2000, becoming the first African-American bankruptcy judge in the 11th Circuit, which consists of all federal districts in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. In 2012, he became the chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia and also served on the board of directors of the Federal Judicial Center.
  • Linda Davis Watters '75 rose to prominence and retired as vice president of government relations at John Hancock Life Insurance Co. The 1972 Homecoming queen went on to serve on the John Hancock Board and as a director on the John Hancock Trust Company Board, as well as the U.S. National Archives Foundation in Washington, D.C.
  • Gregory Forte '76 has an extensive role shaping the business world, with a career spent as former associate director for the Procter & Gamble Company, director of consulting for Management Performance International, development director for The Freedom Center in Cincinnati, and president of OE-DE Investment Group.
  • BGSU journalism graduate Mizell Stewart III '94 went on to have an award-winning career as a reporter, a top newsroom editor, a radio and television broadcaster and a corporate news executive, shaping the future of journalism and creating stronger leaders.

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Media Contact | Michael Bratton | | 419-372-6349

Updated: 02/09/2023 10:13AM