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Community reflects on Joseph Jordan's time as director of Sonja Haynes Stone Center

The Sonja Haynes Stone Center will be the main voting location on UNC's campus on election day. Pictured on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.

From 1991 to 1993, students, staff and public figures fought for a free-standing Black cultural center at UNC. 

In 2001, Joseph Jordan became director of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History. 

In 2004, the free-standing building went into operation. 

Jordan will be stepping down as director of the Stone Center, but will continue to be vice provost for academic and community engagement at the University.

Jordan’s peers, family, friends and former students gathered Thursday to appreciate his 21 years of dedication as director of the Center.

The event was a warm and lively celebration of Jordan’s time as director. Speakers ranged from former colleagues to current students – all expressing their gratitude for the role that Jordan played in their lives as director. 

Jordan’s role as director involved community outreach and the planning of Stone Center events such as meetings, discussions and exhibitions.

During the event, each speaker highlighted a different aspect of Jordan’s character and his work as director.

“We live our days on the basis of the options which we take. How a person deals with his or her available options is determined in large part by what it is he or she seeks to become or do in life,” Professor Emeritus Genna Rae McNeil said, quoting theologian and scholar Howard Thurman. “Joseph Jordan made a choice more than five decades ago to take a principled stand with his life for justice, truth-telling and excellence.” 

McNeil said she recognized Jordan’s sacrifices to lead a variety of academic and community-oriented programs in and outside of the Stone Center.

“You raised us up so we could stand on mountains,” McNeil sang at the program. 

Tanya Shields, moderator of the event and associate professor, spoke about the many meetings, programs and exhibitions that occurred at the Stone Center throughout Jordan’s time as director. 

“Joseph cultivated a joyful, complicated space of intellectual rigor and curiosity, with community at its heart,” she said. 

Local retired attorney and public defender, James Williams, said he appreciated Jordan’s willingness to engage and support efforts outside of campus and in the community. 

He said that individuals who are able to visit the Center have more opportunities to inquire and challenge previous beliefs. 

Jordan also handled trying times as director with confidence, said Isaac Unah, political science associate professor.

“As a friend, I value you. I value the work that you have done to keep this building and this institution and the mission of the Stone Center what it is today,” Unah said. 

During the event, Jordan said he owes much of his success to an organization of women in Washington, D.C., who helped guide him. He also said his work aims to honor his grandparents, who immigrated to America from Trinidad in 1919. 

He reflected on the physical building that came to fruition while he held the position, as well as the revolutionaries he was able to meet and learn from.

“You don’t have to stay in one place to be engaged, but wherever you go, you have to commit yourself to struggle with something important,” Jordan said.

The incoming director, who is yet to be announced by the University, shared a few words via Zoom call. 

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“I would say this publicly, and with great humility, one of the reasons I felt comfortable accepting the position of a new director of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center is because of Dr. Jordan,” they said.

The incoming director also said they felt comfort in knowing that they will be free to make their own mark on the Center, but have Jordan nearby for encouragement.

Other speakers, including former associate dean of The Graduate School, Jennifer Gerz-Escandón, also praised Jordan’s diligence in ensuring the new director would be prepared for their role at the Stone Center. 

“We know that your studious focus on passing the torch in a way that allows the fire to still burn is going to make a huge difference to the Stone Center,” she said. “For that I just wanted to say thank you, and we look forward to your next chapter.”