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 anonymous donor created the endowment out of respect and admiration of Okoth’s life and love of music. The funds will support opportunities for students to foster a greater understanding and celebration of Black American music.
“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.
A native of Kenya and an elected member of the Kenyan Parliament, the Honorable Ken Okoth ’01 passed away in 2019 after a courageous battle with cancer. He left behind a diverse legacy—a love of music, history, culture, language, and scholarship across all communities.
Okoth grew up in the Nairobi neighborhood of Kibera, Kenya’s largest informal settlement. Building upon modest roots, he earned admission to the prestigious Starehe Boys Centre and School in Nairobi. As a result of his achievements and tenacity, he received a scholarship to St. Lawrence, where he majored in German and minored in European studies and English writing.
At St. Lawrence, Okoth was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa. He served in the Thelomathesian Society, was a staff writer for The Hill News, and studied abroad in Denmark. After graduating, Okoth later served on the St. Lawrence University Board of Trustees as a McCurdy-Sprague trustee. Through his work as an elected member of the Kenyan Parliament, Okoth was widely recognized as a visionary leader of his Kibera, Nairobi community, and his country before his passing in 2019.
Well-known for his love of music and singing with the Laurentian Singers and the Singing Saints, the Ken Okoth ’01 Black American Music Project will support the exploration of Black music history and origins, musical genres such as blues, jazz, and gospel, and the complexity and influence of Black American music traditions on the world through visual displays, lectures and talks, seminars, and live performances. The program is expected to start in the fall of 2022.