February 10, 2024 | Matt Kucinski

“When we at Calvin say that we stand on the strong shoulders of those who went before, we must remember intrepid pioneers like Rhae-Ann Booker,” said Joel Carpenter.

Rhae Ann Booker, who served at Calvin for two decades, died on February 3, 2024, at the age of 56.

“During her years at Calvin, she put her heart and soul into making this a place that is better equipped to serve all our students,” said Carpenter.

Laying the foundation

Carpenter, who served as provost at Calvin from 1996 to 2006, first crossed paths with Booker during the early days of the anti-racism project on Calvin’s campus. In 1998, Carpenter said the officers of the Christian Reformed Church underwent anti-racism training and then challenged the Calvin community to do the same. It’s there where he first saw Booker’s fingerprints on the foundations of Calvin’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts.

“Calvin, Rhae-Ann was unafraid to testify, did not feel like home to her, even though she was a Calvin graduate,” said Carpenter. “So, how could that change? How could we make Calvin a place where not only do people of color feel at home but become equal partners and co-owners of the campus community?”

It's these questions that drove Booker to devote 20 years of her career to working at Calvin.

“That [addressing those questions] was the aim of the Calvin anti-racism initiative and From Every Nation (FEN, 2004), Calvin’s long-term plan to become a just, reconciling, and cross-culturally partnering place,” said Carpenter. “If you look at the back page of FEN, you will see Rhae-Ann’s name there as one of its architects.”

Taking action, opening doors

Carpenter noted that Booker not only helped craft the document, but she also “played a major role in giving legs to the ideas and principles” that were listed on its pages.

During her two-decade tenure, Booker served in many roles, as an evaluator, the director of pre-college programs, director of multicultural student development and as assistant dean of academic multicultural affairs. In each of her roles, she was about opening doors and helping Calvin feel more like home for all.

“She exemplified servant leadership and the example of putting God first, the other person second, and herself third,” said Nygil Likely, Calvin’s chief diversity officer. “Her legacy will be rooted in the work of pre-college programs and most notably through the Entrada Scholars Program.”

Creating signature programs

The Entrada Scholars Program is Calvin’s premier college access program. Since it was launched in the early 1990s, almost 2,000 racial ethnic minority high school juniors and seniors have participated in the program and found a clearer pathway to higher education. Who was there from the start? Rhae-Ann Booker.

She was also responsible for helping create UnLearn Week, which is now the kickoff event for a broader initiative: UnLearn 365, programming designed to help unlearn biases and promote biblical anti-racism.

An ongoing legacy

“Rhae-Ann is a champion and pioneer of excellence in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging,” said Wiebe Boer, president of Calvin University, who also worked for Booker in the 1990s as an Entrada coach. “Calvin University is where we are today because of Rhae-Ann and the legacy she has forged.”

To honor Rhae-Ann’s significant contributions to Calvin University, this past month the President’s Office and supporters of Rhae-Ann’s work established a scholarship in her name that will serve to continue her legacy of opening doors wider for all students to have opportunities to pursue their educational goals. The $2,500 Dr. Rhae-Ann Booker Entrada Scholarship is set to be awarded to a student for the first time in 2024-2025.

Booker is survived by her husband of 30 years, Michael, her bonus daughter, Acelia Jones (Jason), two grandchildren, four siblings (Daniel, Ezekiel, Jennice, and Jewellyne), and her father Rayford Richardson Sr.

A memorial service is being held on Saturday, February 10, 2024, at Noon at the Calvin University Chapel (1845 Knollcrest Circle SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546).

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