Honoring Kesho Scott

Gift will support Black student leadership and community building
Jeremy Shapiro

The day Kesho Scott DSS ’21 found out about a gift Dianne Jones ’74 made in her honor could not have been more perfect or more coincidental in its timing.

A Detroit resident, Jones established the Dr. Kesho Scott Leadership and Community Development Fund to carry forward Scott’s name and legacy in perpetuity. Scott, a Grinnell senior faculty member, happened to be in Detroit with plans to visit Jones the same day that Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Beronda Montgomery called to inform her about the fund.

“Kesho was getting ready to leave her sister’s house to come here when she got the news,” Jones says. “It was serendipitously beautiful. It just couldn’t have worked out better.”

Administered by the Office of Intercultural Affairs, the fund will be used for programs, activities, and travel that support Black students’ leadership and identity development. The gift also will assist with community-building programs and events for Black students, faculty, and staff. The announcement of the fund, which is open to all donors, will be formally celebrated during Multicultural Reunion in November.

“The creation of the Dr. Kesho Scott Leadership and Community Development Fund will have a resounding impact on Black Grinnellians,” says Vrinda Varia, assistant chief diversity officer for Intercultural Student Life. “One of the things I value so much about this fund is how intentional it is. Dianne was so thoughtful about partnering and learning about student and administrative need as she considered the development of this fund.”

A sociology major at Grinnell, Jones spent a good deal of time at the Conney M. Kimbo Black Cultural Center (BCC), which was founded in 1969, a year before she arrived at the College.

“It was home. It was the place where Black students could go and be who we were,” Jones says. “It was really our safe haven. Lots of things happened behind those closed doors, but what happened in the house stayed in the house. It was the place that really kept us all sane in the 1970s.”

Now retired, Jones worked as vice president of human resources at Xerox. She also has been an active volunteer for her alma mater. Jones has served on the Alumni Council, as a planning member for the 2014 Black Alumni Reunion, and as a member of the Multicultural Reunion Committee. Jones first met Scott during a committee gathering on campus in 2014. “But it felt we had known each other forever,” Jones says. “Sometimes you don’t meet a stranger, you meet a kindred spirit.”

An award-winning writer and internationally renowned diversity trainer and consultant, Scott has taught at Grinnell since 1986. She was the first African American woman to receive tenure at the College. Scott, who served as an associate professor of American studies and sociology, moved into senior faculty status in 2020.

In over two decades of developing her unlearning-racism work, Scott has led hundreds of professional and community-based workshops, been a keynote speaker for national conferences, and been a participant on several dozen national and local radio debates, discussions, and public service announcements. Scott was awarded the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women in 2008 and inducted into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame in 2016.

“Her resumé speaks for herself,” Jones says. “She’s an amazing person. I don’t how Grinnell got her or how Grinnell kept her. But I do know Grinnell needs to honor her. She has many gifts, and public speaking is one of them. She wraps you up immediately. Her candor — let me put it that way — is part of who she is. What comes up, comes out. You can accept it or reject it. It just is. She is a force to be reckoned with.”

Scott says she was shocked and touched by her friend’s gesture and elated that the fund will help Black students build community and develop leadership.

“One of the positive sides of the diversity movement of the past 35 years is that we have been able to mobilize as people of color to put a headlight on some of the ways institutions have not met our needs,” Scott says. “One of the downsides of the diversity movement is we have been reticent to recognize the roots of resistance in the African American experience.” She adds that among the reasons she is honored about this fund bearing her name “is that leadership development and community development of African Americans is very important to Dianne and very important to me.”

Varia says the fund carries Scott’s spirit forward “perfectly,” because it does what she’s done for so many members of the Grinnell community.

“It opens doors and it opens eyes,” Varia says. “This fund makes opportunities for self-exploration, community development, and leadership skill-building possible in new ways for our students and helps us highlight these opportunities in our co-curricular efforts.”

Grinnellians interested in making a gift to the Dr. Kesho Scott Fund for Leadership and Community Development can visit alumni.grinnell.edu/give (click “other” and type in the fund name) or call the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at 866-850-1846.


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