Honorary Alumnus Awards

Abbie Darst ‘03Leave a Comment

Keith and Kathy Bullock
Bullocks honored for 27 years of service to Berea

After dedicating 27 years of service to the mission of Berea College, Keith and Kathy Bullock were named honorary Berea College alumni at a ceremony during the 2017 homecoming festivities.

Joining the Berea College faculty in 1991, Kathy began directing the Black Music Ensemble, an 80-voice choir that specializes in performing sacred African-American music. She currently serves as the chair of the College’s music department and has given numerous presentations, performances, lectures and workshops throughout the United States, Europe and Africa. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in music theory at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

Keith has served in various positions on campus including head resident of Bingham Hall, the College’s bus coordinator, and chaperone for multiple international tours and programs. Currently, Bullock serves as the coordinator of the Black Male Leadership Initiative, an adapted mentorship program for coaching African-American male students to aid in their successful completion of college study.

Kathy – I had finished my doctorate but hadn’t started teaching full time. A friend called and said she had the perfect place for me–Berea College–and I should apply. She also told them she had the perfect candidate for what they were seeking. It was a small liberal arts college that wanted someone with a doctoral degree who could work with a gospel choir.

I just wanted a job teaching, and I thought I could get started at Berea and then move on. When I first got here, I enjoyed the students, but it was very different, and I wasn’t sure how it would work. Keith had a full-time job in the Washington, D.C., area and had no desire to move to Kentucky and start all over.

Moving to Berea was like moving to the moon. Coming from D.C. with all the diversity, and to come to a small town in Kentucky with very few people who looked like me was very odd.

Kathy Bullock and son Phillip sing together

Music is embedded in the Bullock family’s DNA. Kathy and son, Phillip, perform a song at the award presentation as Keith looks on.

It’s hard to pick one thing that stands out about my time at Berea. One has been building up the Black Music Ensemble to become an accredited, diverse organization that represents a lot of what Berea stands for. When I first started, it was a student group. Establishing a solid foundation for BME and making it a group that uplifts folks has helped students to stay involved because they share that joy.

Two memories that jump out: receiving the Seabury teaching award–I’ll never forget that feeling of affirmation from my students, whom I love, and my peers. And of course Ghana. The entire Ghana experience and the transformations and connections that have happened are profound.

Keith – On our Ghana trips, we take students who have never flown or been that far from home before. Their eyes are opened wide because they see things that they have never seen or heard before, and I see something new every time. These experiences have had a tremendous effect on me and the vast majority of folks we’ve taken. We do all of this because we love the students.

Kathy – My desire from the beginning was to fight against the stereotype of helping these poor people that can’t do anything and we have to go help them. This is a phenomenal people. We come to learn from this rich tradition and about us and how it informs us and allows us to learn more about ourselves. This is not a mission trip. The goal is to approach this from a place of appreciation and respect, to learn and then engage connection.

Keith – One thing that stands out to me in my time at Berea was working with students in the residence hall those years. There was a learning curve I had to acquire to work with them and them with me. When I went from Bluegrass Charter to head residence coordinator of Bingham, I hadn’t learned the skill set to do that, but I had managed people before. I quickly realized it was different.

To grow closer to the crew, I took them to Washington, D.C. I wanted them to see another side of me and for us to bond and learn who each other were. There were a few bumps in the road, and I decided to cut the trip short and release them from their contracts because I didn’t think it was a good fit. Then after talking to Ann Butwell (1987 Berea alumna and education abroad advisor in the Center for International Education), I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have to let things end that way. So, I sent them letters saying they could come back, and we could work this out. For the next three years, they were the best staff I ever had. We still keep in contact to this day.

Kathy – It was here at Berea that I fully understood and found my life’s mission, and that is one of service and of being a conduit for healing and uplift to others using music. That will be with me wherever I go as long as I’m alive. I have my Berea time to thank for that in terms of my career and in terms of family. My son grew up here. Mine and Keith’s connection blossomed as we shared in work here together. Who I am today is largely because of this experience at Berea and the people I’ve met in this journey. It’s like it’s in our DNA now.

Keith – Before coming here, because of childhood challenges I’d faced, I’d grown to be very self-absorbed and felt there were things I didn’t get that I deserved. Coming here, I had to reevaluate what that meant. I could be selfish, but then I looked at the students and what the College is trying to do, and thought these students deserve to have that pursuit of happiness. In eastern Kentucky I saw the same conditions I grew up in. The skin color was different, the drug of choice was different, but the hopelessness was the same.

We don’t do it for the awards–those are nice, and it’s nice to know someone has appreciated what you’ve done, but that’s not why.

Kathy – It’s important for folks to know where you end up might not be where you started. Twenty-seven years ago if you had asked if we’d be at Berea College, be named honorary alumni, and had our hearts opened this way, we would have said, ‘No.’ But if you are following your heart and the call on your life, you will receive back more than you think. It’s not supposed to be easy, that’s not the way this journey works. But you have to persevere, stay focused, and learn along the journey. It’s not all terrible, but it’s not all wonderful either. But through all of it, if you continue to be true to your call, yourself and your mission, things will always turn out better than you could have imagined. Where we are at in this place together, is much more
beautiful than we could have thought would happen.

Keith – All that happened for us to stay here and do all we’ve done in Berea is all because of God. He put us here for such a time as this. He takes ordinary people and lets them do extraordinary things. We’ve been blessed beyond measure.

Award Nominations

Nominate a fellow alum for one of our four alumni awards or a non-alumni for our Honorary Alumnus award. All nominees are considered for both their accomplishments in their professional life as well as their service to Berea College.

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