When the rigors of college life were intense, Don and Ron Frieson found a home away from home at the Black Cultural Center.
The Frieson (pronounced fry-son) brothers returned to their alma mater today for a ribbon cutting to celebrate the renaming of the building to the Frieson Black Cultural Center. The Friesons recently gave $1 million to the center in tribute to their family.
“The University of Tennessee holds a really special place in our hearts; the education, the experiences, and the friendships that we developed here have all played a role in contributing to the fabric of the men we have become,” Don Frieson told the audience, which included their immediate and extended family.
The Frieson Black Cultural Center will celebrate its fortieth anniversary next year. Its current location on Melrose Avenue opened in 2002. Before then it was based in a university-owned residence at 812 Volunteer Boulevard.
“Facilities such as this one can play a very prominent role in shaping inclusive and diverse mindsets that are required to successfully navigate our global economy,” Don Frieson added.
Ron and Don Frieson are from Memphis. Ron, who earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from UT in 1981 and an MBA from Georgia State University, is president for foundation and external affairs at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Don, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business operations management from UT in 1990 and completed an executive education program at Dartmouth College, is executive vice president of operations for Sam’s Club.
“The Friesons’ generous gift and the renaming of the cultural center recognizes their leadership and commitment to our campus and the diversity we hold so very important,” Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said. “The Friesons’ gift will let us expand the services provided there, which will offer our students even more support and opportunities for success.”
Ron Frieson said he and his brother hope their gift ensures that future students find the support they need to succeed.
“My desire is this naming will serve as a catalyst for others to get involved in the direction of the university,” he said.
He noted that importance of supporting organizations that invest in minority education and achievement.
“So it is up to us, and we have an obligation to make sure we provide support to an institution like this that has planned and methodically determined to serve every student and provide opportunities for every student,” he said.
The Friesons’ gift will help the Office of Multicultural Student Life provide additional academic support, diversity workshops, peer mentoring, and leadership development opportunities. The center provides academic support, cultural and social programming and gathering and study spaces for students and the campus community to learn, share ideas and discuss experiences.
“The Frieson brothers have created a lasting legacy on our campus by supporting a facility that is a home away from home for many African Americans and students of color,” said Rickey Hall, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion.
Tanisha Jenkins, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Life, said, “We’re very grateful that the Friesons have stayed connected to our campus and community. It speaks volumes that their own experiences on our campus with this center have motivated them to give a gift that will help us grow our services to help today’s students even more.”
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