Photo from UD’s first Black Excellence Ball. The event is recorded in a timeline of black history at UD, which you can access here.
I joined Black Action Through Unity’s (BATU) executive board my sophomore year with an astounding passion to impact the lives of black students on campus. I did not possess a vivid vision of what this impact would look like during that time, however, I had ideals and was driven by a naïve sense of duty to black people on campus.
At the beginning of the FA ’18 – SP ’19 academic school year, BATU celebrated its 50th anniversary as a student organization on campus. Prior to this, BATU celebrated its first BATU Black Excellence Ball during the spring of 2018. The Black Excellence Ball birthed from the creativity of our remarkable past BATU Vice President Veronica Halfacre with the purpose of providing black students a space on campus where they can fashionably, eloquently, and unapologetically celebrate their excellence on campus.
With BATU having such an outstanding previous year, and then going into celebrating its 50th anniversary on campus, I had a unique balance of apprehensiveness from the standard that was present and motivation to continue that work.
The timeline wasn’t always the plan. The executive board began the school year planning for the 2nd Annual Black Excellence Ball to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, and as a group, we wanted to bring something different to the event. Together we brainstormed having a Black Excellence Gallery that had various displays of black art and history on campus would be a great addition to the event.
When brainstorming, much of our contemplations revolved around questions of improvement: How can we make this better? How can we make students feel like when they walk into KU Ballroom, it’s the BATU Ball not KU Ballroom? What can we do differently?
Together we simulated an idea to add a Black Excellence Gallery that would highlight black student arts and black history. Immediately, I was inspired to pilot this initiative transforming our ideas into a reality. During this planning process, I was referred to the University’s archives where I would work with university archivist Kristina Schulz; one of the kindest people I’ve met on campus.
When I entered the archives, I remember introducing my vision to her, which was to collect an overabundance of black history that was recorded and conjure an artistic way for students to connect with the various realities of the past. Coincidentally, Ms. Schulz had worked with the Women’s Center on campus to create a timeline that highlighted various important events regarding womanhood at UD overtime.
I almost imagined there was a literal light bulb that materialized over my head when I saw the timeline. I remember, in that direct moment, as if I had already lived it before, I had zero questions, zero concerns, and was immediately determined to make it happen. I am going to make this timeline; the Black history timeline; the Black Excellence Time.
Regardless of my ecstatic ambition, this journey by no means was an easy task. I sacrificed an overabundance of time in the archives recording notes from past articles, Flyer News, documents, Black led magazines, etc. I captured pictures, recorded stories, and often had to creatively interpret a story being told to connect to the timeline. Yet, with all this time, I did not even see my presence in the room as a sacrifice. I felt so at home with what I was learning about the past black students on campus to the point where I almost never wanted to leave the archives once I began research.
I was also able to recruit Quinton Thomas (past BATU historian) and Alexis Wingfield (past BATU vice president) to assist with collecting the information. Two remarkable black students that helped me achieve the goal. Alexis Wingfield, who is a McIntosh Scholar, also provided me an abundance of information that she received from being a McIntosh scholar that helped.
Besides the assistance from others, spiritually, the more I would enter the archives for research, the more I felt as if I was connecting with the ancestors of campus; moments of research became moments of intimacy. To where I was guided and driven by an energy that was more than what my ambition could sustain; I began to feel the weight of the work as this journey of creation drew closer towards the final product.
So, as I began to feel closer to the research, I wanted to make sure that these stories I was capturing during my research were not just your typical “first” statements. “The First Black this, or the first black that.” These “first” statements do have a place in our history because they define a component of defiance, resilience, and transcendence that black people have and continue to demonstrate in spaces that were not designed for them.
However, people often limit our history to this “first” narrative. This narrative has made us forget our history before white people and has also created an unrealistic sense of co-dependence which is not the case when you read the story of many of these “firsts.” I truly wanted to make the Black History Timeline an intimate piece of work that we could connect to in the following ways:
First, I wanted to go beyond the first statements. I wanted to tell stories of events, people, and circumstances that would create a connection; a connection that is beautiful.
Second, I wanted the timeline to be a bonding experience. So, the timeline begins from the first Black Graduate at the University of Dayton to the present time and is consistently updated so students understand that their very presence is history, and alumni are also able to connect to the history being made by the new generation.
Third, I wanted the timeline to be real, unapologetic, and truthful. Since there is so much black history being omitted from our history books and not talked about by the University, I didn’t want the timeline to hold anything back. Instead, I wanted to truly provide an authentic feel to the reality that has not been shown. The reality is the University has not always been for the common good, and still has much work to do; black people throughout time can attest to that. Ultimately, I would be doing a disservice to the people on campus if I filtered the history.
As I reflect, I remember the day I recognized the magnificence of the timeline. When someone mentioned the significance of this work from the perspective of how it would impact future black students that attend the University, this realization connected at an emotional level. This emotional feeling was just my contemplation of how wonderful it is that future generations of black student Flyers now have a blueprint to refer to for a substantial load of information regarding black student life on campus. It is surreal, divine, and an absolute honor that I was placed in the position to be a catalyst in providing that information.
Nonetheless, this timeline is just the beginning. UD has a long ways to go when it comes to truly becoming an institution that represents the common good for all students—especially black students. The student neighborhood is still being called ‘the ghetto’ from people who have no idea what it feels like to live in an actual ghetto nor have any intention of rejuvenating those areas for the residents in those areas.
Though it is so very primary in how we should understand the world, Black history is still viewed as secondary in classes, and our philosophy, our religion, and our history is overly satirized for white audiences. Our classes also fail to tell the full story of history because they omit so much of black people’s impact.
Students also still battle for representation in the classroom, battles similar to the ones of the past memorialized in the timeline. There was a time during 1969 where Black students were demanding for the University to bring in 1000 black students, and today, we still haven’t met this goal. There are just so many strides that still need to be made to initiate change; more importantly, progress.
However, to begin this progress, the University needs to confront its tendencies to pacify issues versus solve problems. Things are not alright, things are not perfect, and they never will be if there is an illusion continuously perpetuated that things are. If the people in the administration and leadership are not willing to confront real problems truthfully, then they need to find people that do; which includes people that are familiar to the struggle and needs of the student.
I am almost sure, and have the utmost confidence that my peers and the community coming behind me will continue to be the change that we want to see. If you read the timeline, you will see that much of the change was advocated for by students who were here to get a degree but left with more than a piece of paper in their hands.
Ultimately, these students left with an imprint on the world that their spirit will forever carry. If there is any community I believe will continue to push towards the philosophy of the Common Good, I believe it is the community I have chosen to represent, and advocate for. Black students have yet to stop breathing their excellence through the ventilated systems of UD. It did not start with me, and it will not end with me.