Makuu: The Black Cultural Center is a nexus of academic, professional and personal growth for University of Pennsylvania students interested in Black culture and the African Diaspora. Through advising, leadership development, network facilitation, and cultural programming, we expand student access to the University’s resources, enhancing our campus and global communities.

Makuu: The Black Cultural Center

3601 Locust Walk, Suite G17
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6224


William Adger
William Adger, c. 1883.
First African American to graduate from the College of the University of Pennsylvania
Nathan Francis Mossell
Nathan Francis Mossell, c. 1882
First African American to earn medical degree from Penn

Black student presence at the University of Pennsylvania dates back to 1879 when three students – William Adger, Nathan Mossell, and James Brister – enrolled. Over nearly the next century, small numbers of Black students came to Penn and encountered even fewer Black faculty and administrators. In the 1960s, things began to change.

Prompted by national cries for equality and access, as well local tensions over Penn’s expansion into largely Black neighborhoods, Penn responded by drastically increasing the number of Black students enrolled. Other colleges and universities around the country followed a similar pattern. As Black students began to organize, they actively sought to improve their campus experiences, which were oftentimes hostile and isolating. Students proposed Black Studies programs and Black Cultural Centers, and formed Black Student Unions, arts groups, and community-based initiatives.

At Penn, among the earliest campus-based Black cultural efforts were the Afro-American Studies Program (now the Department of Africana Studies) and W.E.B. Du Bois College House. These institutions nurtured Black students and student interests, and continue this critical work today. In 2000, the Vice Provost for University Life established another resource center for Penn students interested in Black culture. Founded to support Umoja, an umbrella group of Black student organizations, Makuu: The Black Cultural Center provided a platform for the academic, cultural, and social development of students. By 2001, in concert with advocacy and community-building work happening in other cultural spaces, VPUL established the ARCH – Arts, Research, and Culture House – in the heart of campus, to serve as a home for Makuu, La Casa LatinaPAACH (Pan-Asian American Community House) along with CURF (Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships). The name Makao Makuu, Kiswahili for “home” or “headquarters,” was suggested by William James Anderson III (SEAS ’02) during a naming contest, and ultimately selected as the winner.

Dr. Karlene Burrell-McRae served as Makuu’s first director, leading the center through its first decade. Dr. Brian Peterson became the second director in 2011.

Our Team

Brian Peterson

Brian Peterson, Ph.D.


Brian (he/him) is a three-time graduate of the University of Pennsylvania – first from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and later earning his master’s and a doctorate from the Graduate School of Education. Presently he teaches two courses: ‘People of African Descent at the University of Pennsylvania'(AFRC) and ‘Inequity and Empowerment: Urban Financial Literacy'(URBS). He also serves as a pre-major advisor. He is the proud father of five children (Nia, Jalen, Nicholas, Myles, and Quincy), four books (including Higher Learning: Maximizing Your College Experience), and one academic and cultural enrichment program, Asé Academy.

Michelle Gillard Houston, M.S.Ed.

Michelle Gilliard Houston, M.S.Ed.

Associate Director

Michelle (she/her) joined Makuu in 2015, bringing a wealth of experience as a creative producer, culture connector and multicultural programming professional for academia. An advisor/advocate in black cultural identity with a focus on Black women and girls, Michelle serves as a pre-major advisor in the College, campus advisor for Campus Curlz, African American Arts Alliance (4A), Black Student League (BSL), Sister Sister, a member of WOCAP (Women of Color at Penn), and founding advisor to AfroLatinX at Penn. A fervent supporter of Philly’s black arts community, Michelle served on the board of Black Star Film festival.

An avid traveler and tour leader, Michelle has curated epic adventures for herself and other black travelers across five continents and 35+ countries and counting, all while documenting these travel deeper experiences on her Nikon and personal blog.

A proud HBCU alum, Michelle holds a B.A. in Communications from Howard University and an M.S.Ed in Counseling from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Student Organizations

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