Alliance of Black Brits Rocks the (ILC House)

The members of the Alliance of Black Brits on the 4th floor of the Kellogg Center.

Members of the Alliance for Black Brits: Mitch Raphael, ’24; CJ Weems, ’24; Deon Sanders, ’23; TeChaun Thedford, ’26; Kye Bristow, ’24; Bobby Willis, ’24; Devin Fridley-Bell, ’26; Davon Pearson, ’26; De’Auriyon Bond, ’26, and Dakota Robertson, ’25, with advisor Marc Newman, vice president for institutional advancement.

March can be a hard month on campus – the weather can be dreary, the assignments can pile up and dealing with a roommate can be frustrating at times.

“Sometimes you have a bad practice and you have to go home with the guy who made it bad and that’s a challenge,” said economics and management major Bobby Willis, ’24.

But Willis shares an uncommon attitude towards this all-too-common situation. “Working through these challenges made it possible for the Alliance of Black Brits (ABB) to have more positive experiences,” he said with a grin. “You acknowledge the problem and you don’t run from it. You say ‘you got the best of me in practice today, but I’m going to bring it tomorrow.’”

That’s how they roll in the Alliance of Black Brits (ABB), one of Albion’s newest Intentional Living Community (ILC) houses. On a recent Friday, the six ABB roommates — along with several members who don’t live in the house — gathered to discuss ABB and demonstrate how, after eight months, they’re getting along and exceeding their ambitions for exceptional Albion College careers.

“We’re a brotherhood,” said house president Kye Bristow, a junior majoring in kinesiology-exercise science. “When prospective students visit campus, some of the coaches bring them here. We’re a point of pride for Black students on campus.”

Being a Better Black Brit

Bristow, along with co-founder De’Ondric Sanders, ’23, envisioned ABB as a support system for one of the College’s vulnerable populations. Bristow notes that ABB members are involved across campus, from three varsity teams, to student senate, Albion College NAACP and Black Student Alliance. They are all members of the James L. Curtis Institute for Race and Belonging as well. Still, “retention of Black males isn’t what it could and should be,” said Bristow. “We wanted to come together and do something about that.”

“I was involved in starting student voice of change and the Albion College NAACP, but those weren’t the same as a place where people could just be themselves,” said Sanders, who graduates next month with a degree in integrated marketing communication and economics. “ABB is the dream that Black people can come together at a predominantly White institution. It supports our sense of pride in how to be a better Black Brit.”

“Better” – in the academic sense – gets a lot more than lip service. Regardless of the other work they’re doing, each ABB member shows up and sits down to three group study sessions each week. “I used to study by myself and achieve nothing, but with the boys here, I get real productive work done and it’s helped me get ahead,” said Sanders. “We bounce ideas around the table and each person helps me to develop. It’s raised my GPA.”

ABB also prioritizes time for community service; members worked last summer with Albion Community Garden and regularly visit students at Harrington Elementary and Cascades Elementary in Jackson. “Giving back to the youth is something we value. We’ve been in their shoes and we understand how people struggle,” said Sanders.

And if grades, athletics and service weren’t enough, the ABB is also a house full of entrepreneurs. “CJ Weems and I both have clothing lines, Bobby Willis and Ricky Pearson have training businesses and Deon is developing a literacy program,” said Bristow. “It’s great because this is a space where we can collaborate. My brand is his brand, when one of us needs help. We get that love and positive feedback from each other.”

By the time he graduated from high school in Houston, TX, CJ Weems, ’24, was selling his clothing designs in multiple states. Choosing to scale the business back for college was difficult, but “the ABB house gives me reason to stay,” said the communication studies major. “Having the guys around, knowing they have my back makes me want to graduate. I’m getting more knowledge to excel.”

“I grew up biracial in a predominantly white area and I wanted a different experience in college,” said first-year student Devin Fridley-Bell. “I am learning and experiencing great things here at the ABB house. The connection and the mission stood out to me, it’s hard to find groups of our size that are this new yet this close and this motivated.”

And — in the ABB spirit of service — Fridley-Bell is already looking forward to leadership. Because it’s a new ILC, “I will really have an opportunity here to help set and establish a foundation,” he said. “My decision to be around the guys at the ABB house has been a great one.”

Through the Storm

Even with all the brotherhood, ABB isn’t without sources of conflict. “When you bring six guys together, you have to understand each other’s boundaries,” noted Willis. “Not going in each others’ food and respecting each other was something we had to work out. It wasn’t major but we’re athletes and we love food.”

As a result, the ABB has no communal food and — unlike many other ILCs — they have no mandatory shared meals. That being said, Bristow hosts a very popular Taco Tuesday that usually draws everyone. “I like cooking and they like eating,” said Bristow, noting that he’ll often turn out a couple dozen tacos for the meal. “And it’s something that brings us together, so I like to do it.”

The ABB even has a house logo that may reflect what makes the group so successful. While ABB enjoys the brotherhood and good times, the logo focuses on the work it takes to achieve those things.

Designed by Sanders and Bristow, the logo “is a bison with the words, ‘Through the Storm,’” said Bristow, explaining that bison don’t run from rough conditions. Unlike many other animals, bison survive storms by facing into them.

“You can’t run from the hard things in life. No matter what, ABB faces the storm and we work it out,” Bristow said. “We come from different cities, and different lifestyles, but when we put our heads together, what comes out of this house is wonderful to see.”