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University of Illinois elects first black student senate president

Damani Bolden 21 South Side (orange) talks fellow students campus University Illinois At Champaign-Urbanwhere he was just elected first African-American

Damani Bolden, 21, of the South Side, (in orange), talks to fellow students on the campus of the University of Illinois At Champaign-Urbana, where he was just elected the first African-American president of the IStudent Senate in the university's 146-year history. | Supplied photo

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Updated: May 15, 2013 7:03AM



At the DuSable Museum’s “Night of 100 Stars” gala Saturday, there will be much buzz about the individuals chosen to receive the museum’s annual awards to Chicagoans who have made — or will one day make — outstanding contributions to society.

That buzz will now include Damani Bolden, the first to receive the museum’s “Rising Star” award, who last month became the first African-American to be elected student senate president at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“I was ecstatic,” said Bolden, a 21-year-old junior majoring in agriculture and consumer economics. “I hugged my roommate, and I walked out and called my mom.”

On Wednesday, the U of I Student Senate issued a news release announcing that Bolden, a graduate of Lindblom Math & Science Academy and a 2009-2010 student representative on the Chicago Board of Education had bested three other candidates with 59 percent of the vote.

“Bolden’s election marks the first time in the 146-year history of the university that an African-American student has held this position,” Student Senate Director of Communications Melissa Espana said in the release, noting “Bolden is a graduate of the Chicago Public Schools.”

Bolden, who has a 3.0 GPA, mentors young men at Urbana elementary schools through the TALK Mentoring Program; sings with the U of I Black Chorus; and is assistant to the director of the U of I Academy of African American Arts.

After being elected to serve as a student senate member his sophomore and junior years, Bolden will be sworn in as president April 17. He will be a senior next fall.

Student Senate Vice President Jenny Baldwin, a 20-year-old junior who has served with Bolden the past two years, said: “He has motivation that is very rare in many of our student senators. When he jumped in sophomore year, he got involved very quickly. He had a lot of goals, took action right away, and just never stopped working.

“He’s always looking for ways to help students better this campus, and I can’t think of a better person to be president.”

Bolden hails from Wrightwood, where parents Brandon and Rachelle Howliet and younger sister, Brandi, reside. His mother is a health benefits specialist, his father a juvenile probation officer. His parents were not at all surprised.

“He’s been preparing for this moment all of his life,” said Brandon Howliet.

“He’s been running around the house with a shirt and tie on ever since he was four or five. At age six or seven, he’d make us all gather in the front room, set up a makeshift podium, and make us listen to his speeches. He loves politics. It’s his own spirit.”

Bolden learned a week after the Mar. 26 election about his trailblazer status, when U of I Associate Dean Rhonda Kirts confirmed what was rumored.

“Finding that out was another moment of excitement,” Bolden says. “The Civil Rights Movement ended 45 years ago. That’s not so long ago. We’re not that far removed from a time on our university’s campus when African-Americans were faced with tension and hostility. So it’s amazing to think where our campus and our country has come from.

“I have a great responsibility, but not just to the African-American community here on campus or anywhere else. I’m going to wake up everyday and try my hardest and absolute best to represent every one of the 42,000 students here at the university. And that’s truly where my sense of responsibility comes from.”

And of course, DuSable president and CEO Carol Adams is proud of Bolden, who won his Rising Star award from the black history museum in 2010.

“Doc Adams is absolutely thrilled,” said Raymond Ward, a DuSable spokesman.



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