Published: Feb. 3, 2023 By ,

The Center for African and African American Studies celebrated its official grand opening to an energized, packed house and many high-profile surprise guests, including Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders, who stopped by on National Signing Day, and Gov. Jared Polis, who made a video appearance. 

Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and Boulder community members packed the narrow halls of Macky Auditorium on the first day of Black History Month to tour the center’s new digs. Guests chatted, enjoyed appetizers and hors d’oeuvres and watched performances from high school and CU Boulder students, all while learning more about the center’s mission.

“This is a safe and sacred space where everybody is welcomed, they are respected, they are protected. It's incredibly inclusive,” said the center’s founder and director Reiland Rabaka, who is also an ethnic studies professor. “We are building bridges from students to faculty, from faculty to students, from this center on the Boulder campus to the broader Boulder community.”

Also known as the CAAAS (pronounced ‘’the cause”), the center was created in 2021 as a place to research, promote, preserve, interpret and disseminate knowledge about the histories, cultures and arts of Africa, African Americans, and the wider African diaspora. More than that, the CAAAS was made, in part, by students, for students with the hope that it provides a welcoming space for generations to come. 

During the event, Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano announced a $1 million match over the next five years to help promote the center’s continued growth and evolution as the first center of its kind at any public university in Colorado. Alumni and longtime CU Boulder supporters Jeannie and Jack Thompson jumped at the opportunity to support CAAAS, committing a gift to create an endowed fund that will provide annual dissertation awards for doctoral candidates involved in CAAAS. 

“I am actually a fan of the shorthand CAAAS because it reminds me that, for every cause, there’s also an effect,” said DiStefano. “I have confidence that the CAAAS will grow, evolve and advance with the guidance, staff and student leadership, with the support of all of us gathered today. I’m proud to celebrate ‘“the cause”’ and I can’t wait to see all of the effects.”

For those who got there early, they got a surprise guest appearance: Coach Prime.

Alongside Rabaka, CU’s new football coach toured the space adorned with vibrant, geometric fabrics and filled with tables and couches for students and visitors. He also spent time greeting guests and encouraging others to visit when they come to campus.

Gov. Jared Polis also made a video appearance during the event. 

“This center will be a hub for teaching, research, creative work and important dialogue that won’t just strengthen our students and this campus, but will better the entire Boulder community, as well as the state of Colorado,” Polis said. “In Colorado, we know we are made stronger by diversity and through community, and our brightest future is one in which everyone can thrive.”

Also in attendance were CU President Todd Saliman, CU Board of Regents Chair Lesley Smith, Regent Wanda James, Regent Ilana Dubin Spiegel and Boulder NAACP President Annett James.

Community and culture: Center for African and African American Studies hopes to bridge the community