There was a cool bite in the air and an ominous threat of rain, and the sun played hide and seek behind the clouds. But that did not stop black students all across the campus from gathering together Saturday afternoon for the university’s first annual Black History Month portrait.
More than 100 students donned their Sunday finest and flocked to the Main Administration Building and then the Nyumburu Amphitheater for the photoshoot, and in spite of the bleak weather, the crowd remained positive and enthused. Ladies were positioned in the middle and men stood along either side, imitating the black-and-white schoolhouse photos of the early 20th century. Students shouted, “Wooo!” in jubilation after the first shot was taken, and “Black Power” fists were raised during the final photos.
The event was spearheaded by junior physiology and neurobiology and community health major Damien Pinkett, president of the university’s Black Student Union. Pinkett said as he was researching black history to prepare the organization’s events for the month, he stumbled upon the story of Hiram Whittle — the university’s first black undergraduate. Whittle first transferred from then all-black Morgan State University in 1951, and in a 1952 Terrapin yearbook photo, Whittle stood out as the only black student in the photograph.
Pinkett said this inspired him to take a whole new photograph — one that displayed just how much the campus has changed in the 61 years since he enrolled.
“I just wanted to show a picture, show how far we’ve came since then,” Pinkett said. “I chose the administration building to show how far we came on the University of Maryland, from not being admitted to now where we’re striving and black retention rates are going up as well.”
Pinkett said a framed photograph will be sent to university President Wallace Loh, and he also hopes to have it mass-produced and distributed to every student on the campus.
And the meaning behind the photograph was not lost on the students who attended.
“I thought it was a good thing to give us a symbol of what it means to be united,” said senior government and politics major Adedoyin Adedapo, who serves as president of the university’s NAACP chapter.
But current students weren’t the only ones in attendance. 1995 university alumna Deborah Pollock also learned about the portrait through Facebook and decided to take part.
“I think it’s a struggle for people of color at the University of Maryland,” Pollock said. “I think it’s good when we can come together and show support.”
And Pinkett hopes this first photoshoot will only be the start of an annual tradition.
“We’ve accomplished something and shouldn’t stop here,” he said.
— Ashley Dupigny-Leigh is a sophomore letters and sciences major and a student blogger for The Diamondback.