PEMBROKE — Growing up in the Union Chapel community, Chancellor Robin Cummings is no stranger to Lumbee Homecoming.
Since 1968, Lumbees have flocked to Robeson County during the Fourth of July to take part in the annual festivities and reunite with family and friends.
Each year, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke partners with the town of Pembroke in support of Lumbee Homecoming, which is sponsored by the Lumbee Regional Development Association.
This year, Cummings took advantage of Lumbee Homecoming by organizing a social event to reconnect with graduates of UNC Pembroke. On June 30, Cummings and his wife, Rebecca, hosted UNCP alumni at the chancellor’s residence during the first-ever “Star Spangled Celebration.”
More than 200 alumni and university supporters enjoyed an evening of food, music and entertainment. Members of the university’s board of trustees, alumni board, foundation board and Givens Performing Arts Center advisory board also attended.
The idea originated during the 2015 Lumbee Homecoming, shortly before Cummings was named chancellor.
“We ran into a lot of UNCP alums last year,” Cummings said. “And we said this would be a great time to pull our UNCP alums together and celebrate our university and tie it to Lumbee Homecoming. We really appreciate everyone for joining us … .”
Attendees raised lit sparklers as UNCP music major Caleb Sasser performed a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” Eight-year-old Chloe Locklear stole the show, reciting a rousing speech about her love of reading. The outgoing Little Miss Lumbee impressed the guests with a brief history lesson of UNCP.
“One of my favorite things is to grab a book and go on an adventure,” said Locklear, a rising third-grader at Green Grove Elementary. “My native ancestors paved the way for me a very long time ago and thought ahead to the future, so I, along with many other natives, could learn how to read and earn an education.”
“The Croatan Normal School was approved in 1887,” she said. “Its main goal was to train American Indians to become teachers. Since the school’s inception, UNCP has graduated thousands of students over the last 129 years and continues to provide an excellent education for all people as our forefathers had envisioned.”
Cummings will celebrate his first year as chancellor on Friday.
“We’ve had a great year,” he said. “A lot of good things have taken place here and Rebecca and I have really enjoyed our time here. It’s been a fantastic year.”
Cummings rattled off several ongoing and future projects on campus, including a $3 million grant from the N.C. Department of Transportation to enhance Prospect Road and construct a new campus entrance. A new Student Health Building is under construction and $23 million was included in a state bond to construct a new School of Business building.
A new agreement with Sandhills Community College — Pembroke Pathway — will provide a $1,000 scholarship for SCC nursing graduates who enroll at UNCP and complete their bachelor’s degree.
Partnerships with other four-year universities are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, Cummings said.
Cummings and other university representatives played a major role in many Lumbee Homecoming events. Cummings attended a dedication ceremony at the Pembroke park in honor of the late Milton Hunt, long-time town mayor and former UNCP trustee.
He also took in the Miss Lumbee pageants, the annual AISES powwow and Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin’s State of the Tribe address. After walking in the homecoming parade, he and his wife held a “Meet and Greet” in front of Old Main.
Cummings also attended a ceremony honoring former U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, who served in the U.S. House from 1997 to 2015. The Lumberton native was recognized for his years of support for federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe. Cummings also thanked McIntyre for his support for the university.
During the week, the chancellor took a break in his busy schedule to visit the food vendors outside the LRDA office. Cummings enjoyed a traditional collard sandwich prepared by Willie French Bryant III, better known as the “The Cornbread Man.”
Mark Locklear is the public communication specialist for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.