St. Lawrence University Announces $500,000 gift to fund the Ken Okoth Black American Music Project

By St. Lawrence University

St. Lawrence University President Kathryn A. Morris announced that an anonymous Laurentian has made a gift of $500,000 to create the Ken Okoth ’01 Black American Music Project.

The gift is made in support of the St. Lawrence University Black Laurentian Initiative to promote a greater understanding and celebration of Black Americans.

Naming the project, which will engage the St. Lawrence community in exploring Black American music and its heritage, for Okoth honors his journey from childhood in Kenya to St. Lawrence, where he sang and made music with his fellow Laurentians.

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“This gift is a wonderful way to support the goals of the Black Laurentian Initiative, celebrate the important role of Black music in our cultural heritage and history, and honor the memory and impact of a beloved member of our community,” said President Morris at a reception in Nairobi, Kenya, where she is visiting St. Lawrence University’s Kenya Semester Program. Okoth’s wife Monica and brother Jeff were present for the announcement. 

Jeff Okoth, Saint Lawrence University President Kathryn Morris, and Monica Okoth.
Jeff Okoth, President Morris, Monica Okoth

Ken Okoth ’01 had a tremendous and long-lasting impact on the St. Lawrence University community. He came to Canton directly from his home in Nairobi, Kenya, engaged in music as a member of the Singing Saints and Laurentian Singers, and later served on the St. Lawrence University Board of Trustees as a McCurdy-Sprague Trustee. An elected member of the Kenyan Parliament, Okoth was widely recognized as a visionary leader of his Nairobi community of Kibera and country. He passed away in July 2019 after a courageous battle with cancer.  

The project bearing his name will highlight Black music history, both styles, such as the blues and jazz, and the individuals who wrote and performed, through visual displays, lectures and talks, seminars, and live performances. The program is expected to start in the fall of 2022.