February 2023 Alum of the Month: Ivan Henderson ’95
Ivan Henderson ’95

Photo by: John Cruice

Ivan Henderson ’95 says Black History Month “should be a reminder to renew our year-round recognition of the critical contributions of African Americans to the building and evolution of this nation and world.” As the former director of the Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage and recently named executive director of the Delaware Historical Society, he is passionate and committed to sharing African American history and culture with diverse audiences. 

Henderson has always been interested in collective and individual origin stories, especially those of African Americans. “I grew up experiencing the richness of Black culture in the Midwest and noticed the elements that resonate across the country when I met African American students from other regions at Hotchkiss. I wanted to know how our stories connected, what common or varied circumstances might have brought us to Hotchkiss—and our ancestors to this country—and how an understanding of these things might empower us and affirm identity.”

Henderson learned about Hotchkiss while in middle school in St. Louis, MO. “Classical Junior Academy made information about the A Better Chance (ABC) program and private schools available to us. ABC, along with a village of people—including my mother, Renay Henderson, my guidance counselor, Lucie Gaye Gerren, and Hotchkiss admissions’ Curtis Spence—all helped me apply to Hotchkiss.”

He enjoyed language arts, Spanish, and math during his time in Lakeville. Voice lessons, drama, and dance enhanced his experience, as did headmaster’s holidays, running cardiac hill, getting lost in the woods, and managing girls basketball. He credits Spence and the Black and Hispanic Student Alliance (BaHSA) for exposing students to Black arts and culture.

 “Mr. Spence was the first voice to assure my mother and middle school that Hotchkiss could support my growth away from home without washing me of my values and love for community,” he said. “He once drove hours to take us to see the pivotal film Daughters of the Dust. He taught me the names of Black scholars, artists, and historians whom I have since met and collaborated with professionally.”

Hotchkiss and the ABC program “brought me into contact with other people of color who now populate much of my extended village,” he continued. “I found intellectual stimulation that matched my social development.”

He appreciates the friends and mentors he met in Lakeville. “I was blessed to come to Hotchkiss from St. Louis with my best friend Keith Bernard ’95. When we visited Hotchkiss, my hosts were Benjeil Edghill ’94 and Steven Turner ’94. I name those three people—and I could name many more—because we remain brothers linked through experience, overlapping origins, and a true appreciation for our collective potential and duty to pay it forward.”

Henderson earned a bachelor's degree in English from Harvard College. “A friend at Harvard once told me that she and others assumed that Keith Bernard, Kevin Johnson ’95, and I were upper-classmen when we first arrived because we already seemed well-adjusted to college life,” thanks to their time at Hotchkiss.

Soon after, he unexpectedly became interested in museums. He helped facilitate a half-day symposium for middle-schoolers at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, where they viewed objects and visited exhibitions covering African American art, history, and culture, and responded creatively through writing, visual art, and dance.

 “I had an ‘aha moment,’ realizing that this museum could enrich people’s lives as an active forum for learning—as opposed to the static temple I had previously caricatured museums to be,” he said. He began working at that same museum, which led to his master's degree in leadership in museum education from Bank Street College of Education.

Through his work at the Delaware Historical Society—which counts the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage among its branches—he strives to “build connective tissue” across departments and subject matter to share the histories of all Delaware residents with an increasingly diverse audience. His time at Hotchkiss helped prepare him for these leadership roles. “The preparation and academic environment at Hotchkiss taught me to prioritize, think critically, accept new ideas, and admit to and learn from mistakes. I developed my leadership style and built relationships with people from other backgrounds. I got to know both those who looked like me and those who did not.”

Henderson says he lives a Black history year in a Black history life. “I recognize February as a chance to welcome new people into the discourse, hoping they learn new things and consider how the things we learn can affirm identities, shape our decision-making, and build our capacity for empathy,” he noted. “When working in Philadelphia, while walking by the Liberty Bell and the National Constitution Center, clarity came to me: African American history is American history; American history is a key piece of world history; therefore, African American history is a key piece of world history.”

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