Annual reception honors ’96 DU alum with heritage award

By Dana Bitto

February 26, 2014

Dominican University hosted its 10th annual African/African-American Heritage Reception Friday, Feb. 21. While the event recognized the 17 students that received the Christopher Little Educational Support Grant for 2014, it focused primarily on Marilyn Anderson Rhames, the 2014 African/African-American Heritage Award recipient.

The award established by Robbi Byrdsong-Wright, assistant dean for academic success services for RCAS, is given to a Dominican University alumna/us whose life and work follows Dominican’s mission of pursuing truth and giving compassionate service.

 Rhames, a 1996 graduate of Dominican University, was nominated by Sr. Melissa Waters, OP. “Marilyn, given her special gifts, represents the best among Dominican University’s tens of thousands of graduates as a person, a wife and mother and a journalist who is a committed teacher in the city of Chicago,” Waters said.

Rhames holds a master’s degree in both education and journalism and has worked for various news outlets such as People and Time magazines, Newsday and The Journal-News. She has also become a member of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a highly selective teacher prep program.

During the reception, Mary Scott Simpson, Ph.D., professor of English, reflected on Rhames’ time as one of her students.

“Marilyn’s personal circumstances, during those undergraduate years, were marked by hardship and filled with struggle,” Simpson said. “She had to work very hard to succeed, but she had that well of faith to draw upon and she kept going back to the well.”

Simpson also commented on the immense progress that Rhames has made since her time at Dominican.

“Her leadership extends far beyond her classroom,” Simpson added. “She is founder and president of a non-profit organization; commentator for the B.A.M radio network, regular co-host for the show “Taboo” and last year, led teachers in the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program.”

“Marilyn made herself into a teacher, not just a good teacher, but an exemplary teacher; the kind that transforms the lives of all who have had the good fortune to encounter her,” Simpson said.

Rhames was flattered by being the chosen nominee for this year’s award.

“I am honored to be the recipient of the African/African-American Heritage alumnae-alumni award,” Rhames said. “I am humbled that Sister Melissa would nominate me and even more humbled that the award committee would select me.”

Rhames reflected on her time at Dominican and the goals she accomplished.

“I came to Dominican with a singular goal of getting into dental school so I could make my parents proud and get my family out of poverty, but I left Dominican understanding that the purpose of a faith-based liberal arts education isn’t for the prestige or to get rich, but to discover my God-given calling and excel in it in a way that helps ease the suffering of others,” Rhames said.

Rhames acknowledged professors Mary Scott Simpson, Robbi Byrdsong-Wright, and Nkuzi Nnam as some of her strongest influences. She also mentioned her relationships with the sisters.

“Here, I met women of God who were so loving and kind and deeply committed to their faith – Sister Jeanne Crapo, Sister Mary Clemente Davlin, Sister Jean Murray, Sister Melissa Waters and so many more,” Rhames explained. “These nuns didn’t just work here; they lived in the convent on campus and were just as active in campus life as students. They were excellent professors who were also gifted in the art of encouragement.”

The relationships and education acquired during her years at Dominican have given Rhames reason for referring to Dominican as a special place that has, without question, changed her life.

“After graduating nearly 18 years ago, I still keep in touch with several members of the faculty and staff because Dominican took a 17-year-old poor, black girl from the South Side of Chicago who had been sheltered and isolated in the culture of her community, and it graduated a 21-year-old woman,” Rhames said.