Meet five Black Case Western Reserve University community members who are making history

From pioneering research to transformative educational and social initiatives, members of the Black community at Case Western Reserve University stand at the forefront of shaping history. While Black History Month usually focuses on the past, it’s equally important to consider who’s making history today. 

In honor of Black History Month, The Daily is putting a spotlight on some of the remarkable contributions of 11 individuals—students, faculty, staff and alumni—whose contributions are leaving indelible marks on the university and beyond. 

Read on to get to know five of these CWRU community members who exemplify brilliance and commitments to making lasting impacts, and get to know six others

Biographies have been edited for length and clarity.

Jad Kamhawi Oglesby 

Fourth-year undergraduate student 

Photo of Jad Kamhawi Oglesby

“I believe celebrating Black History Month is important because it is a time for us to really recognize and reflect on the sacrifices made by the great Black men and women who came before us. In doing so it allows us to carry on their will and strive towards equality and social justice!”

Jad Kamhawi Oglesby is a fourth-year student at Case Western Reserve University, double majoring in political science and economics with a minor in Arabic on the pre-law track. Throughout his time at CWRU, he has been involved with various different organizations and extracurriculars. His most notable contributions to the campus community include playing varsity soccer, serving on both Black Letter-winning Athlete Coalition (BLAC) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and joining Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He played varsity soccer all four years at CWRU and was captain for the last two years of his collegiate athletic career.

As a founding member of BLAC, he worked to create a group with the goal of fostering a community of Black varsity athletes at CWRU. He also served as president of SJP, whose objective is to spread awareness on campus of the Palestinian struggle for human rights and the right to exist. Oglesby serves as the president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Pi Chapter as well, which has been serving minority communities in Cleveland since 1914. He continued serving the communities of Cleveland working as a councilman’s assistant to Ward 5 Councilman Richard Starr, where he drafted resolutions targeted particularly toward developing poorer neighborhoods and providing greater opportunities for the communities of Cleveland. He hopes his time at CWRU has served as an example for other Black students to embrace their identity and culture, use their experiences to enhance CWRU and to continue the tradition of thinking beyond the possible!

Jasiah Harris

Second-year undergraduate student

Photo of Jasiah Harris

“It is important to recognize Black History Month because it is an opportunity to shed light on all of the astounding and impactful contributions African Americans have accomplished in our country. I also believe it forces African Americans to pause and take a moment to have a deeper understanding of our own roots and histories.”

Now in his second year at Case Western Reserve University, Jasiah Michael Harris is majoring in accounting with a minor in Spanish. During his time at CWRU, he has been involved in various groups within and outside of campus. He is a member of the varsity baseball team, the social media manager for BLAC (Black Letterwinning Athlete Coalition) and social media intern for our University Athletic Association conference, and a leader for Team Impact, which matches children facing serious illness and disability with college sports teams. With Team Impact, he has been able to help his baseball team foster a mutually beneficial relationship of belonging, empowerment and resilience with a child who they call Little RJ. Unfortunately, Little RJ is facing a serious illness, but with the program, they’ve been afforded the opportunity to create a world in which Little RJ feels supported by something bigger, and in turn, their team has been transformed by a greater purpose. 

According to Harris, one of his most notable accomplishments has been joining Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Pi Chapter. Pi Chapter has been serving the community of Cleveland since 1914, and Harris is honored to be part of the daily efforts the organization makes to better the community. On the topic of service, Harris also holds a finance internship at MyCom, an organization focused on supporting less funded schools in the Cleveland area. Harris hopes his actions and relationships at CWRU have inspired other Black students and shown them that the sky is truly the limit!

Noël Mellick Voltz

Faculty member at the College of Arts and Sciences

Photo of Noel Voltz

Noël Mellick Voltz, the Climo Assistant Professor of History at Case Western Reserve University, specializes in African American, early American, and African diasporic histories. As the assistant director for the university’s Africana Studies program, she joined CWRU in 2020, previously holding positions at the University of Utah and Trinity Washington University. She earned her PhD from The Ohio State University in 2014.

Voltz’s research delves into the experiences of Black women in slavery and freedom in the United States and the broader Atlantic World. Her upcoming book, The Sword in Her Hands: Antebellum Louisiana’s Free Women of Color and their Sexual Negotiation for Freedom (under contract with the University of Illinois Press), explores how free women strategically used relationships across the color line as a means of negotiation for their freedom . Voltz has presented her work at leading national and international conferences and received grants and fellowships, including a Laird Bell Postdoctoral Fellowship at Carleton College and a Summer Research Fellowship at the National Humanities Center.

Aside from her research, Voltz is deeply committed to teaching and student mentorship, offering courses on African American history and Africana Studies at CWRU. Her mentorship efforts were recognized when she was nominated for the Diekhoff Award for mentorship by graduate students. In 2023, she received a Mellon Foundation Higher Learning Grant to establish a History Praxis Lab focusing on African American and Indigenous citizenship and political participation in the 19th century United States. Outside academia, Voltz enjoys family time, including building Lego with her husband, John Bickers, and her two sons, Cairo and Gabriel. She is also an enthusiast of reality television.

Melvin Smith

Faculty member at Weatherhead School of Management

Photo of Melvin Smith

“Recognizing Black History Month is important because it provides an opportunity to highlight the often downplayed or overlooked accomplishments of Black people in this country. It is always a source of pride for me to take this time to acknowledge and celebrate what we have been able to achieve as Black people despite all that we have had to endure and overcome throughout our history. It also serves as a source of motivation and strength to continue fighting the battles that persist to this day.”

Melvin L. Smith is a professor in the Department of Organizational Behavior and faculty director of executive education at Weatherhead School of Management. He is also board president of The Edge Sports and Arts Academy and board member of the Will-Burt Company (Compensation Committee Chair). Additionally, Smith serves on the Global Board of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) Thought Leadership Institute, as well as serving on the Scientific Advisory Board for BetterUp Coaching. He is also the outgoing board chair of the Graduate School Alliance for Education in Coaching (GSAEC). 

Smith received his PhD in organizational behavior and human resource management from the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business. He also holds a BS in general management and accounting from Purdue University and an MBA in marketing from Clark-Atlanta University.  

Smith’s research and teaching focus on leadership and emotional intelligence in the workplace, as well as the development and use of human and social capital in organizations through executive coaching. He is co-author (with colleagues Richard Boyatzis and Ellen Van Oosten) of the book Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth (Harvard Business Review Press). His work has also been published in a variety of academic and practitioner journals including Harvard Business Review, Organization Dynamics, Academy of Management Learning & Education, Journal of Management Development, and the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.   

Smith has worked with executives in Canada, Dubai, India, New Zealand, Scotland, and Trinidad and has served as a visiting professor at ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.

Jacquelyn “Jakki” Nance (LAW ’92)

Graduate of the JD program at the School of Law and CWRU trustee member

Photo of Jakki Nance

“Black history is American history. Each of us is a product of our history – the history of our family, our community, our country and our world. Our social identities shape our personal experience, but our history is what got us where we are today. I cannot truly understand the world in which I live without appreciating those who came before me and charted the path on which I am privileged to walk.”

Jakki Nance, an attorney and Northeast Ohio native, is a dedicated education and special needs advocate, fueled by her experience as the mother of two adult children on the autism spectrum. With over 25 years of nonprofit board experience and 15 years serving on K-12 private and parochial school boards, she passionately promotes awareness, acceptance, access, and inclusion for neuro-diverse individuals.

As vice chair of the national board of Autism Speaks, Nance leads the Nominating and Governance Committee. She also spearheaded the Emerging Leader initiative, which she’s working on bringing to fruition. Nance actively works to forge partnerships in Northeast Ohio, aiming to enhance autism resources and services, particularly focusing on the transition to adulthood and adulthood. In addition to her role at Autism Speaks, she serves as a trustee for Case Western Reserve University, where she holds the position of vice chair of academic affairs and student life. Recognized for her contributions, she received the 2023 Flora Award and will be inducted into the Society of Benchers at the School of Law. Alongside her husband, Fred Nance, she will be honored at the 2024 Autism Speaks Cleveland Chef’s Gala.

Nance, President of Philanthropic Solutions, Ltd., has provided strategic planning and resource development advice to nonprofits and athletes, working with prominent figures such as two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Swin Cash, the LeBron James Family Foundation, the WNBA, and State Farm Insurance. A graduate of Spelman College and Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Nance is also a member of the Leadership Cleveland Class of 2006, demonstrating her commitment to leadership and community service.