“I would not be here if it weren’t for someone like you who paved the way,” said Erika H. James, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, as she greeted Hettie Simmons Love, the first African American graduate from the School’s MBA program. Gathered in front of the Brick House statue at the gateway to Penn’s campus last month, the historic meeting between the School’s first Black female dean and first Black MBA graduate was the culmination of efforts by the National Youth Foundation, a non-profit organization whose vision is to promote diversity, inclusion, and gender equality through innovative literary programs. The group’s co-founder, Sophia Hanson, and student coordinator, Isabella Hanson, led a youth writing workshop with Philadelphia-area students in grades four through six to write and illustrate a children’s book, Hettie Simmons Love: Penn Pioneer.
The book depicts the story of Hettie’s life growing up in the Jim Crow South, continuing her education at Fisk University, and then being admitted to Wharton, where she completed her degree with a concentration in accounting. At that time, she was the first and only Black student and one of two women in the program.
The book was a labor of love for its organizers, complicated but not thwarted by the challenges of the pandemic that forced Zoom interviews and meetings in parking lots to exchange artwork and drafts. As they neared completion of the book, the 98-year-old Love had two requests: She was aware of the appointment of Wharton’s new dean in July 2020 and thought perhaps a quote from James might be included in the book. She also desired to return to the Penn campus from her home.
After graduating from Wharton, Love was unable to leverage her credentials in the same way as her white classmates due to racist and sexist practices of that time and was shut out of opportunities in the field. Instead, she made use of her scholarship, working in the finance department of the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia, serving as treasurer of her church, providing bookkeeping services to local black businesses, and raising the couple’s children Karen and George Jr. In the 1960s, Love and her late husband, Dr. George H. Love, moved to Harrisburg, Pa., where he continued his career as an educator and was instrumental in the desegregation of the public school system.
Last month, traveling from her home in Harrisburg, Love joined a 30-car processional of family, friends, and fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters, escorted by the Philadelphia Fire Department and Penn Public Safety to Penn’s West Philadelphia campus. Adorned in AKA’s pink and green colors, she was greeted on Locust Walk by James, who celebrated her return as a Penn pioneer. “We are very honored to acknowledge what you have meant to the Wharton School,” said James as she presented Love with a special certificate. “It’s so inspiring to me, inspiring to your family, and to others … that it has resulted in a book in your honor.
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SOURCE: The Tennessee Tribune, Wharton Magazine