A historic project is underway at the University of Miami after a decade of planning.
Entitled “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” the legacy memorial will be realized as a wall emblazoned with the names and visages of Black alumni, faculty and students who have made a lasting impact on the university.
The project is the work of the Black Alumni Society and its First Black Graduate Committee, which has committed to a $25,000 fundraising goal. If met, the wall will be unveiled in February 2022.
The mural-like installation’s inaugural featured honorees will include UM’s first Black graduate Benny O’Berry, First Black scholarship athlete Ray Bellamy, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and former NFL star Burgess Owens.
“We started this project under Donna Shalala and we’re finishing it under President Julio Frenk, so it’s been a long road,” said Denise Mincey-Mills, co-chair of the committee. “We are really looking forward to a place where you can go on campus to find out about African American participation at the university – our legacy, those that came before us and the shoulders upon which we stand.”
The $25,000 funding will go toward the purchase and installation of an interactive digital component that will highlight biographical information about each individual featured on the wall, as well as other information about related efforts underway at UM.
The technology was directly inspired by an interactive display embedded into a lunch counter depicting the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. At the exhibit, museumgoers sit down and engage with touch screens to learn more about the protests; the information then appears on a larger projection screen above the counter.
The committee’s co-chairs journeyed to the museum to help them determine how best to present UM’s project. Coincidentally, Derek Ross, the museum’s director of construction, is a UM graduate himself. Ross gave the group a personal tour through all of the exhibitions and the idea for “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” came to fruition once they came across the interactive display.
The project has undergone three phases.
Inspired by the 50th anniversary celebration of desegregation at UM, in 2011 the Black Alumni Society searched for the university’s first 500 Black American graduates as a way to document the journey and impact they have had on the school. A member worked with the admissions office and was able to identify almost 700 Black Americans who graduated during the 1960s and ’70s.
Phase Two established a scholarship endowment which has raised more than $200,000.
Fundraising and finalizing execution of the wall project is Phase Three.
Antonio Junior, another project committee co-chair, said he was humbled to look through the archives and discover how Black Americans have impacted the university.
“We had students that were arrested for protesting because they were not [getting access to] the classes that they wanted to take,” he said. “Just to see that and see how we have evolved to now being able to go into the university – as we do so now – is because of these people who fought to have inclusion.”
However, Junior said that despite progress, enrollment numbers at UM have not changed. Black students currently represent less than 10% of the student body.
“Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” will have a permanent home at UM’s Oscar E. Dooly Memorial Building. The location was deliberately selected for its significance, as the building is the first permanent academic structure that opened on the Coral Gables campus.
“We wanted to put our legacy on a building that we knew would be on campus forever, that they would not tear down to make room for something else,” Mincey-Mills said.
As of deadline, $5,500 had been raised for the legacy wall through a GoFundMe page. Those who wish to support the wall may make a donation there (visit GoFundMe.com and search for “U TRAILBLAZERS Our Black Legacy Matters”) or by visiting development.miami.edu and searching for “UTrailBlazers.”