The Black Bread Company co-founders

Founders of “The Black Bread Company”, Jamel Lewis, Charles Alexander and Mark Edmond (left to right) will be the guest speakers during SIU’s Trio Week Kick-off event at 5 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Student Center Auditorium. Alexander is a double alumnus of SIU. (Photo provided)

February 18, 2022

Successful Black entrepreneur alumnus headlines SIU TRIO Week celebration

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Charles Alexander has had quite a journey from a childhood on Chicago’s South Side to Southern Illinois University Carbondale to co-founding a gourmet sliced bread company worth about $50 million. In celebration of TRIO Week Feb. 21-26, Alexander is returning to speak at his alma mater along with The Black Bread Company co-founders Jamel Lewis and Mark Edmond.

National TRIO Week celebrates SIU’s TRIO Programs, which include Project Upward Bound, TRIO Student Support Services and the McNair Scholars Program. These programs help traditionally disadvantaged students become successful in high school, college and graduate school.  Along with tutoring, mentoring, workshops, financial literacy, undergraduate research and numerous other types of assistance, TRIO connects students with additional help through initiatives such as the Saluki Summer Bridge Program and the Trio Achievers student organization,

Working in the office as a Saluki, Alexander saw firsthand the positive impact TRIO has on lives and he will speak 5-6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 21, at the Student Center Auditorium. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Alexander was raised by his grandmother and uncle, attended Kenwood Academy and went on to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech communication at SIU. He was very active on campus, served as president of the SIU Beta Eta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., revitalized the Black Male Roundtable and was active in numerous other SIU organizations.

Working as a graduate assistant for TRIO on campus, he saw on countless occasions the vital role the program plays in the lives of college students. After earning dual degrees, he went on to work for more than a decade in secondary and postsecondary education, largely focusing on academic support services.

Alexander strongly believes that college is a gateway for minority students to achieve social, career and economic equity, and in every position he’s held, he has focused on helping students find a way to affordably attend college. As a Black man growing up in the Woodlawn area, he understands the financial challenges many students face as well.

He credits SIU with instilling in him “the importance of grit, persistence and networking” and said these tools have assisted him in his educational, career and entrepreneurial endeavors. The Black Bread Company is the world’s first Black-owned gourmet sliced bread company, and Alexander serves as the director of communications. He and his co-founders, longtime best friends, encourage other people to follow their dreams and believe in their ideas.

Other events happening during the week include:

  • TRIO Give Back, a weeklong community service event: Gloves, hats, scarves and other winter items will be collected at the TRIO office in Woody Hall, Room 214, and donated to the Carbondale Warming Center at week’s end.
  • Life Beyond College panel discussion, 5 p.m. Feb. 24, Old Main Room at the Student Center: Panelists will discuss their personal journeys after college and offer tips and strategies to achieve professional goals and share information about internships and other opportunities. All are welcome.
  • TRIO Day Student Conference: This is a celebration and time to reflect on increased access to higher education and improved success for students from nontraditional backgrounds. The virtual event is 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Feb. 26 and the registration fee, due Feb. 21, is $45. Contact the Trio office at 618-453-6977 for tickets and information.

TRIO Week sponsors include TRIO Programs, Student Support Services, Project Upward Bound, McNair Scholars, the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the School of Communication Studies, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the Division of Student Affairs. For more information about TRIO, the week or the many services the office provides, call 618-453-6973 or email