Our History

The University of Miami Alma Mater rightly extols “Southern suns and sky-blue water, on Biscayne’s wondrous shore.” The lyrics of a “Genius of the South,”

James Weldon Johnson, of Jacksonville, Florida are no less true and reflective of the Center for Global Black Studies. His “Negro (Black) National Anthem” reminds us that 

“We have come, over a way that with tears have been watered.

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.”

Since the UM Trailblazers of the 1960s, Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni advocated for a Center for Black Studies at the University of Miami as one tangible means toward repairing histories of exclusion and to cultivating a “culture of belonging” amongst this under-represented constituency. After more than fifty years of advocacy, civil disobedience following the 2020 police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among many others ignited an “incandescent moment” of reconsideration of racial justice locally, internationally, and on the UM campus, which proved to be a catalyst for change as much as Dr. Jafari Allen’s vision and Andrew W. Mellon Officer’s grant to inaugurate “The Miami Initiative on Global Black Studies.”

The desire for what President Frenk eloquently calls a “culture of belonging” was shared by Black students and communities throughout the U.S. As the Black Student Leadership Roundtable reported in 2020:

On May 7th, 1968, United Black Students (UBS) delivered a letter of requests to the University of Miami. The list of recommendations was delivered to then-university President Henry King Stanford. The document was called “Program Objectives of Priority to be Submitted and Acted upon by the University of Miami Administration”. The objectives included “provisions for the recruitment of Negro (Black) students, 200 scholarships to Negro applicants and courses in Afro-American culture and background”. Other requests of the university administration included “a racially - balanced Security Force, a minimum percentage of Negro (Black) students attending UM, Negro speakers, Negro faculty members, and dozens of additional courses”.1 Another past example of a set of recommendations delivered to the University administration was the 2015 Presidential Task Force Addressing Black Students’ Concerns. Charged in February 2015 by the Office of the President, this task force convened faculty, staff, and students alike to review university statistics related to Black faculty and staff representation. The task force conducted qualitative surveys, benchmarked aspirant peer institutions, and issued several actionable recommendations related to diversity, Black scholar (faculty, staff, and student) support, and

increasing Black recruitment and retention.2 These examples were highlighted specifically to convey a trend of requests delivered to the university related to Black and diverse communities. Creating the on-campus infrastructure to better support diverse communities, increasing the hiring and retention of Black faculty and staff, diversity-related training among several other requests have consistently been requested of the university administration from 1968 to the present.

The vision for what is now the University of Miami Center of Global Black Studies emerged from Dr. Allen’s initiative to create an intellectual hub that would highlight Miami as a crossroads of the Black world by bringing scholars, artists, advocates and community members together to critically analyze and celebrate cultures and to find solutions to pressing problems. In 2017, Drs. Jafari Allen and Donette Francis gathered a multidisciplinary group of faculty researchers in the College of Arts and Sciences (Drs. Allen and Francis), the School of Architecture (Prof. Germane Barnes), School of Education and Human Development (SEHD Dean Dr. Laura Kohn-Wood), the Miller School of Medicine (Dr. Sophia George) and Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (Prof. Ta-Shana Taylor) who applied for a ULINK fellowship “Reproducing Race in Miami.” The project, (briefly described below) was rejected for funding by the university’s ULINK program.

From police abuse to neighborhood destruction and displacement, and the myriad congenital and infectious diseases to which African-descended populations are disproportionately vulnerable; race (and class, gender, and sexuality intersecting with race) invites apparently inexhaustible and mostly uniformed public debate. The Reproduction of Race in Miami research project addresses the key societal problem, or “grand challenge” of the material effects of racism (and its intersections), in the areas of health and wellbeing, cultural belonging, and equal access to institutions, and the built and natural environments. Our focus is to study socioeconomic, cultural, spatial, temporal, and biomedical factors that link the experiences of African descended populations in South Florida to communities in other areas of the US, Caribbean, and South America. The vulnerabilities African descended populations face are still little understood in a critical transnational context. Thus, the Reproduction of Race in Miami constitutes a model for other sites around the world. The current funding request is for Phase I of the project: Mapping Sedimentary Blacknesses in Miami.

Faculty persisted. Continuing to pursue and expand collaboration at a different scale and register. After Center co-director, Jafari Allen received a $150K Andrew W Mellon Foundation Officer’s grant (January 2020), the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences requested a proposal for the establishment of a Center for Black Studies. Recognizing that the scope should be expanded, the President and Provost commissioned a multi-campus working group to articulate what President Frenk called the “grand vision” that would include all UM schools. The Center for Global Black Studies received budget approval in July 2021 and appointed its Business Manager, Ms. Kristine Stephenson, in November 2021. Our logo, adopted by former Africana Studies Program Director Dr. Edmund Abaka, is an Adinkra symbol (Nea onnim no sua a, ohu) meaning “S/he who does not know can know from learning"-- highlighting the lifelong quest for knowledge. In 2018, Dr. Allen commissioned UM alumnus Izia Lindsay to add multiple colors to this important Ghanaian symbol to represent Black diversity across nations, regions, classes, genders, and sexualities.

Through creating and maintaining a central Black Studies research and public education infrastructure, the Center for Global Black Studies aims to advance the University of Miami’s global vision of excellence, relevance, and distinction through, for example, interdisciplinary research groups, external and internal fellowships, educational programs, and translocal collaborations. Honoring Black Studies traditions and innovating global partnerships, our vision calls for the inclusion of students and other university community members as well as local and global partners. While global in orientation, the Center's unique vision highlights Miami as an important place where the U.S. South and the Global South intersect to support cutting-edge and field-shifting scholarship.