I am taking this entire week to recover from all the hanging out I did with my fellow alums at the University of Maryland Homecoming this past week. I sit in a café writing and reflecting on all that has changed at my alma mater since 1989. More to the point, I am reflecting on all that has happened to change Black life at the university since the first Black undergrad (Hiram Whittle) was admitted in 1951, the first Black grad student (Parren J. Mitchell) in 1952, and the first Black Women (Elaine Johnson) in 1955.
For the Blacks who attended UM before the early 1980s, it was a largely racist and unwelcoming step toward a better life in America. The majority of the administration, faculty, staff and students called and treated those students as if they did not belong. So much so that the federal government had to step in and insist the University change its treatment. One item on that list was use of the word “Nigger,” which, if you talk to anyone who came through UM between 1951 and 1979, was the first word they heard when the stepped on the campus. As a result of their treatment, it is difficult to find Black graduates for the 1950 and 1960s, because almost all transferred to more progressive and welcoming institutions of higher learning.
By the 1980s and 1990s, UM had been transformed into a mini-HBCU, with a Black student body that numbered close to 1,500. Those students enjoyed total access to university resources and a prospering and successful Black student body. When I arrived at UM in 1989, I was overwhelmed by the large campus and the 35,000 predominantly white students. But within weeks I was enveloped in the arms of the Black Terps and have remained so for the past 25 years. I can’t tell you the hundreds of incredible benefits that have sprung from my time at UM, but can attest to the fact those benefits arose out of the great relationships forged during my time at UM, and nurtured ever since.
And here are some of the facts to bear witness to the facts that the benefits of UM are not mine alone:
- The University of Maryland has the largest group of Black Alumni of any predominantly white institution in the United States of America.
- The University of Maryland produces more Black Lawyers than any institution including HBCUs in the country.
- The University of Maryland instituted a rule that all athletes will be allowed to stay at the university and complete their degrees.
- The University of Maryland graduates 86% of its matriculating Black males and 89% of its matriculating Black females, more than any other similar school.
It is now time for the Black alum of the University of Maryland to take their rightful place in shaping the next 100 years of Black life at our wonderful institution. Black Alums have amassed power, influence and money both nationally and internationally, and it is time that those resources are put to great use for the next generation of leaders, lawyers, engineers, scientist, businesspeople, artists and others seeking a top-notch education.
Because many alums identify more closely with their classmates, fraternities and sororities and organizations than they the university itself, it can be difficult to determine how best to make a contribution to serve the next generation of Black students. Below are a few rules for giving that will help ensure your contributions can reach, and more importantly affect, the future wellbeing of Black students at UM:
Target your giving. If you want to help provide money scholarships for Black students, make sure your money is earmarked specifically for that purpose. Unless your money is earmarked, it can end up anywhere the university sees fit. Neither Bill Gates nor Warren Buffet give money unconditionally, so why should you?
Find a UM organization you care about and give through them. Give through a group focused on the community you seek to help. Such donations give that group more power and influence, and help them achieve their mission. In addition, those donations send a message to the university that this group is a force to be reckoned with. Giving through a specific organization also provides you with more opportunities to observe how your money is being spent, and allows you to play a greater role (if you want to) in helping that organization meet its goals.
If you had a bad experience with racism and bigotry while at the University, you are just as responsible to give to the current student population if you have the resources to do so. America has been a largely challenging experience for Blacks, but the Black students of 1951 – 1979 are as needed as the grads from 1980 to the present. You need to come see that your sacrifice was worth it. In 1951 if someone called you a nigger you took it; by 1989 the person who used such words was not tolerated by the University or the Black students. Now that’s progress!
Today’s students have a different perspective of race relations that we did, and our perspective was far different than those first UM pioneers in the 50s and 60s. But we stood on the shoulders of those that came before us, because their influence paved the way for the seats we took. We must use our influence to pave the way for today’s students, though our commitment to them in time, service, and money.
Don’t just give money. Be visible. Go to alum functions; go to football and basketball games. Volunteer to mentor a student. Provide internship opportunities at your job or business. The ability to help another person’s life turn out better is real power. Call your friends who went to school with you and encourage them to make their power and influence felt at your alma mater. Your network is your net worth.
Give out of love, not obligation. I appreciate UM for the opportunities and relationships it provided me. I choose to give to the university because I love the young people I may never meet, and relish the opportunity to positively influence the outcome of their lives. I encourage you, as fellow alums, to do the same. It is a blessing to be able to help others, and UM has helped me provide that blessing. Being a contributing member of UM alumni community has also has provided numerous financial opportunities and unforgettable memories.
But if you are reading this and weren’t lucky enough to have gone to the University of Maryland, I am sure that there is an educational institution that helped you (or could have), and the students there could use your help. These rules still apply.
The easiest way to get involved and implement these rules is to reach out to fellow alum that you see working hard for the university and ask how you can be of service. Other than that go to homecoming next year and experience what you helped to create.
Wishing you Wealth, Wellness and Wisdom