A Tribute Grows from Tragedy
Francesca Freeman-Lujan, J93, thinks often of the winter day in 1991 when Lena Bruce, E92, showed up at Tufts in a new leather coat, a gift from her mother. Freeman-Lujan, Bruce’s little sister in the historically black, service-oriented sorority Delta Sigma Theta, admired the coat—she’d always wanted one like that, she said. Bruce took it off and gave it to her. “You never had one,” Bruce told her. “You want it, you have it.” Freeman-Lujan would never forget that.
Lena Bruce was murdered by an unknown attacker in 1992. Stricken by grief, Freeman-Lujan returned the coat to Bruce’s mother and took a semester off from school. When she returned, she founded Lena Bruce Day and established a scholarship fund in Bruce’s memory. “She was an extraordinary human being when it came to being generous,” Freeman-Lujan recalled recently. “In many ways, she helped me get through college, and I know she would have wanted to help others from similar backgrounds get an excellent education.”
Fundraising for the scholarship fund fell by the wayside for a time after Freeman-Lujan graduated. But in spring 2015, DNA evidence led to a suspect in Bruce’s cold case. As the case went through the judicial process, Freeman-Lujan and her sorority sister Leslie Keyes, J90, decided to start a new fundraising effort for summer internships in her memory. “This revelation was very difficult for our community at Tufts, in Delta Signa Theta, and Lena’s family and friends,” Freeman Lujan said. “We channeled that difficulty into the fund, as a tribute to Lena.”
She and Keyes also named the fund in memory of Anita Griffey, J90, a Delta Sigma Theta sister who died in a car accident in April 1990 just before graduation. The Bruce-Griffey Leadership and Diversity Internship is awarded to students who receive financial aid, are involved with the Africana Center, and are committed to leadership, diversity, and service, as Bruce and Griffey were. “We wanted to pay tribute to these strong women by helping a current Tufts student who exemplifies the same characteristics as Anita and Lena,” Keyes said in 2017. Andrea Nelson Meigs, J90, who joined the effort, agreed. “These women were incredible leaders on campus and actively involved in local community service projects,” Nelson Meigs said.
Working with Kimber Smith, J99, the Tufts Alumni Association, the Tufts Black Alumni Association, Africana Center Director Katrina Moore, University Advancement staff, and a handful of other alumni, classmates, and sorority sisters, they set a goal of $3,500 for their inaugural fundraising year.
With the support of more than 100 alumni, family, and friends, they raised more than $10,000—more than enough to fully fund two stipends for summer 2016. “People responded well. They felt a strong connection to Lena and Anita and to their classmates, and they really came together,” Freeman-Lujan said. The team was also able to quickly raise $3,500 to support a summer intern in 2017 and two more in 2018.
The Bruce-Griffey Leadership and Diversity Internship has helped defray the cost for students to pursue meaningful opportunities in areas ranging from biomedical research to youth advocacy. Freeman-Lujan, who received a Distinguished Service Award in 2018 from the Tufts Alumni Association in recognition of her group’s service to past and future students, said the group plans to keep its fundraising going strong. “The fund has been a great opportunity for a lot of students of color,” Freeman-Lujan said. “I hope people will keep it alive and well.”
To support the Bruce-Griffey Fund, please visit go.tufts.edu/brucegriffey.
An Internship with an Impact
When Ashley Alphonse, A19, got the email awarding her the 2017 Bruce-Griffey summer internship, she jumped up and down. Being able to intern at the immigration and refugee unit of Greater Boston Legal Services would be her first chance to get hands-on experience in immigration law.
On her first day, clients were understandably a bit wary of the new face. “At first they were like, ‘Who’s this girl? Can we trust her?’” Alphonse recalled. But before long she was greeting clients, interpreting for some of them—the child of Haitian immigrants, Alphonse speaks Creole—and eventually helping some file for employment authorization and temporary protective status. “Soon it was, ‘Where’s Ashley?’,” Alphonse said. “It was nice to gain their trust.”
Alphonse, a prelaw student double-majoring in French and political science, is now considering a career in immigration law. And said she wouldn’t have had this opportunity if not for the Bruce-Griffey internship. The story of Lena Bruce and Anita Griffey, the young women the fund honors, makes it even more meaningful. “I know they made a difference while they were here,” Alphonse said, “and that’s all I’m going to try to do while I’m on this Earth: make a difference.”
Remembering Anita Griffey and Lena Bruce
Anita Griffey came to Tufts as a second-semester transfer student from Atlanta. The primary breadwinner for her family, she was also among the first to attend college. Supported by financial aid, she worked full-time during her first semester to help pay for her education. Griffey (at right), the president of Tufts’ African American Society and an officer with the student chapter of the NAACP, had accepted a position with Traveler’s Insurance Co. after graduation and was planning to use her salary to take care of her ill mother. Then in 1990, just a month shy of graduation, she died in a car crash on her way to buy materials to make a pillow for a friend.
Lena Bruce, a younger sorority sister to Griffey, grew up in Philadelphia, where—following in her mother’s footsteps—she was a community activist. In Boston, Bruce (at left) mentored at-risk youth. She was also the only African-American woman in her electrical engineering class. After graduating with honors, she began working at the engineering firm Stone & Webster. Tragically, in July 1992, she was murdered in her Boston apartment by an unknown intruder. Two decades later, DNA evidence finally led investigators to her killer, who was sentenced to life in prison for her murder in December 2017.
Rather than focus on the deaths of their friends, those who knew them choose to celebrate their extraordinary lives and legacies. “If these women were alive today,” said Andrea Nelson Meigs, J90, “I have no doubt we would be reading about them as leaders.”