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Introducing the Frieson Black Cultural Center


The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees has unanimously approved a proposal to rename the building previously known as the Black Cultural Center for alumni Ron and Don Frieson.

The popular student programming and support building located on Melrose Avenue is now named the Frieson Black Cultural Center. Ron and Don Frieson (pronounced fry-son) are African-American identical twins from Memphis who attended UT in the late 1970s. The renaming recognizes the Friesons’ $1 million gift to the facility, and their leadership and commitment to diversity.

“The Friesons’ generous gift and the renaming of the cultural center will help raise the visibility of diversity at UT.”

Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek

“A cultural center is very symbolic for making sure from a multicultural perspective that kids from all walks of life have an opportunity to come here and be successful,” said Ron Frieson, president for foundation and external affairs at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Ron earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from UT in 1981 and an MBA from Georgia State University. Ron previously served in several key positions for AT&T, including president of Georgia operations and inaugural chief diversity officer. He also served an interim role as the president and CEO of Atlanta Urban League.

Ron and Don Frieson

Ron and Don Frieson

Don Frieson is executive vice president of operations for Sam’s Club. Prior to joining Sam’s Club in 2012, he led the integration of 300 Massmart stores operating in sub-Saharan African nations into Walmart International. Don earned a bachelor’s degree in business operations management from UT in 1990. He also completed an executive education program at Dartmouth College. Don is a current board member of KIPP Delta Academy.

When established in 1976, the Black Cultural Center was located in a university-owned residence at 812 Volunteer Boulevard, where it operated for more than twenty years.

Don said the Black Cultural Center was a place where he could find respite and cope with the challenges of college.

“When you walked in it, it was like walking into home. There was a porch that kids would hang out on—it was literally a house transformed into a support facility.”

In 2002, the current facility was opened at 1800 Melrose Avenue. In the heart of the campus, it is a vibrant, thriving facility that is home to the Office of Multicultural Student Life.

“A cultural center is very symbolic for making sure from a multicultural perspective that kids from all walks of life have an opportunity to come here and be successful.”

Ron Frieson

The 13,700-square-foot facility houses a computer lab, a multipurpose room, and study and gathering spaces for students and the campus community to learn, share ideas, and discuss experiences.

“The Friesons’ generous gift and the renaming of the cultural center will help raise the visibility of diversity at UT and improve the familial atmosphere and feeling of ‘home’ at this facility,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek.

While the facility is named for the brothers, they note the gift was made in honor of their entire family. Ron hopes this gift will inspire other alumni to give back.


Ron and Don Frieson at the Frieson Black Cultural Center

“The Frieson brothers have created a lasting legacy on our campus by supporting a facility that is a home away from home for many African-Americans and students of color,” said Rickey Hall, former vice chancellor for diversity.

The gift will help the Office of Multicultural Student Life provide additional academic support, diversity workshops, peer mentoring, and leadership development opportunities based out of the Frieson Black Cultural Center.

Tanisha Jenkins, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Life, said, “I am grateful that these accomplished alumni have chosen to stay connected to our campus and community. The Office of Multicultural Student Life is excited about the increased opportunities that we will be able to provide for students through the Frieson Black Cultural Center.”

“It is fulfilling to know that there are people who believe in the students at this university and want to generously help build our futures.

It is even more satisfying to know that these individuals are alumni who have been down a successful road and are lifting others as they climb.”

Pamela Sanchez, junior and member of Diversity Educators

This gift affirms the importance and value of diversity and inclusion to ensuring all students develop twenty-first-century leadership skills that allow them to be global citizens and lead in an ever-changing diverse nation and world.

Don believes, “a global mindset today is imperative. You can’t just look left or right. It’s all about what’s happening throughout the world. No matter what field of study, field of work, students will have to deal with the global economy and global impact.”

The Friesons will be on campus in October to participate in the Frieson Black Cultural Center ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Chrystina Williams, senior and co-chair of the Black Cultural Programming Committee, looks forward to meeting them: “I am beyond excited and grateful for this generous gift. We will use this opportunity to continue to make the Frieson Black Cultural Center a more diverse and inclusive place for all of campus life. I very much look forward to meeting the Friesons and sharing my gratitude with them.”

As we embark on celebrating the fortieth year of the center, we look to this gift as a pillar of how much we have grown since the facility was established in 1976 and where we want and need to be in 2056 when we celebrate its 80th anniversary.

Information about how to contribute to diversity and inclusion funds is available at this link.