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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

For 30 years, Stone Center has been bringing people together

While the Stone Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary, the 44,500 square-foot freestanding center didn’t open until 2004.

When black student activists in the 1970s and 1980s pushed for a place on the Carolina campus to celebrate African and African-American culture, some feared that such a center might separate and divide the campus. 

But as the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History enters its 30th year, those predictions have been disproved, said director Joseph Jordan. 

Joseph Jordan, the director of The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History

The Black Cultural Center, founded in 1988, was renamed in 1991 to honor the late professor Sonja Haynes Stone, a popular faculty member and mentor for students. Early on, the center began to outgrow its 900-square-foot space in the Student Union. Students, faculty and staff urged the University to make a freestanding building to house the center a priority. The Board of Trustees approved a location for a building in 1993, and the 44,500 square-foot freestanding center opened in 2004. Most of the Center’s cost was met through private gifts.

Located in the heart of campus, neighboring the Bell Tower and Kenan Stadium, the three-floor brick structure has a 360-seat auditorium, art gallery and museum, a 10,000-volume library, a large multipurpose room, a computer classroom and even a dance studio. A variety of campus groups, including both the Employee Forum and the Faculty Council, have met here, and it is home to the Carolina Women’s Center and the Institute of African-American Research. 

The center has hosted candidate debates, original plays, an authors’ discussion series, an annual film festival and lectures by a Nobel Prize winner, a Tony Award winner and several MacArthur Genius Award winners. Its longest running program is Communiversity, an after-school program for local K-5 students that pairs them with college student volunteers
who provide academic enrichment activities and a taste of the college experience.

One of the group of centers that report to the Provost’s Office, the center changed its name and mission in 2002 and undertook “broader programmatic initiatives,” including visiting artist
and scholar fellowships, faculty support for arts related projects, symposia, conferences and scholarships to support study and work abroad programs for students of color and under-
represented groups. 

 “Most, if not all, of these new initiatives are directly supported by Carolina alums who continue to believe that we are worth their investment,” Jordan said.

Looking ahead, Jordan said that one of the programs he wants to expand is the Okun Collegiums, an initiative established with a donation from the late Daniel and Beth Okun to support joint research/study projects by faculty and students. This program addresses requests from students interested in opportunities to interact and collaborate with faculty members outside the classroom, he said.

Recent events on college campuses have shown that a place like the Stone Center is just as relevant today as when it was first established, said Jordan, who wants “to use the Stone Center to bring people together to engage in conversation about some of the more difficult issues” of the past five years.

“We’re still trying to fulfill the expectations of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but we’re also trying to outdo ourselves every year because that’s the trust that was placed in us,” he said.


Celebrating the Stone Center’s 30th anniversary


Sept. 13, 7 p.m.   |   Robert and Sallie Brown Gallery and Museum, Stone Center

The Stone Center will kick off its 30th anniversary with the opening of the exhibition With Us Comes the Parallax. This show will feature works by past Stone Center visiting artists, dating back to 2004. The opening will also include talks by some of the participating artists, including Toni Scott, Arturo Lindsay, Lucia Mendez, Wendy Phillips, Carol Beane and Michael Platt. Some pieces will be on sale through online bidding during the silent auction for the Stone Center’s 30th anniversary fundraising campaign. Reception to follow. 


Oct. 2, 7 p.m.   |   Stone Center auditorium

Six-time Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon will deliver the Sonja Haynes Stone Memorial Lecture. Freelon will discuss her innovative approach to using her art and talents to address key issues in social justice and cultural activism.


Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film 

Sept. 23–Oct. 31 

The Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film is the Stone Center’s annual series spotlighting film from all corners of the African Diaspora. Many screenings are North Carolina premieres and most feature commentary and appearances by the directors and local scholars, as well as post-film discussions. 

Whatever Happened to Countdown at Kusini? 

Sept. 23, 4 p.m.   |   Varsity Theater, 123 E. Franklin St.

Join the Stone Center as we open the 2018 Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film with an examination of the 1976 film Countdown at Kusini. The film, which starred Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, was produced and financed by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. It was the first film financed and produced by a black organization and filmed entirely in Africa. Despite the efforts of everyone involved, the film tanked at the box office and fell into obscurity. The event will include a showing of the film as well as a documentary entitled Kusini: The Pride and the Sabotage, directed by award-winning filmmaker Steven Torriano Berry. Berry will be in attendance for a discussion, which will also include professor Charlene Regester and local members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. 

Screenings at the Stone Center

Sept. 26 (shorts), noon

Living, New Neighbors, The Plural of Blood, Macho

Oct. 3 (shorts), noon

Bodega, Queen, The Colored Girls Restroom, Rolling in the Deep, Supermom

Oct. 4, 7 p.m.

The Bastard

Oct. 10, noon

Macho, Play the Devil

Oct. 11, 7 p.m.

Green Days by the River

Oct. 22 (shorts), noon

Short Drop, Pantheon, Lalo’s House

Oct. 24, noon

Last Life

Oct. 25, 7 p.m.

Kimpa Vita: The Mother of
African Revolution

Oct. 31, noon