Nyerere Davidson never imagined that a gathering with friends from around the country would produce an iconic photo representing the future of historically black colleges and universities, but the 2008 Florida A&M University graduate couldn’t be happier about it.
“I just thought it would be a nice illustration to counteract the stereotypes about young black people,” says Davidson, a Milwaukee native and recent transplant to Washington D.C. who organized the shoot as a commemorative moment for his birthday celebration last month in the District.
“This is a range of different people from different parts of the country, different shades, different looks and different styles representing what black excellence looks like. And all of us are from HBCUs.”
Davidson is a marketing executive with the YMCA’s national headquarters, and promotes the organization’s Healthy Living/Healthy Communities initiative. A former volunteer with the YMCA’s community-based Black Achievers program in Milwaukee, he says that imagery is a powerful part of connecting with black youth and showing real possibilities in education and professional life.
“With everything going on at Mizzou, and in cities throughout the country, I think this shows young black people in a totally different way,” he said. “We’re all professionals — doctors, fashion designers, corporate executives — but we’re young and we embrace our responsibility to our communities and what our image means to the outside world.”
“Today we live in a world where there is so much attention devoted to the distorted portrayals of African Americans specifically black males,” says Jacob Waites, a 2010 Cheyney University graduate who was among the attendees featured in the photo. “A society where one image can have a huge impact on perception. This is why it’s imperative that images such as the one from Nye’s 30th birthday brunch is so essential. It’s time to dispel the exaggerated views of African Americans and give the world a real-world experience.”
Friends with alumni ties to FAMU, Claflin, Howard, Morgan State, Alcorn State, Tennessee State, Morehouse and Cheyney are represented in the image. Many say they are proud of their HBCU experience and aware of the role that scenes like this play in promoting similar experiences for future HBCU students.
“Being a part of this photo was iconic for me — when we came together, W.E.B. Dubois ‘Talented Tenth’ essay came to mind,” says Kimberly Guy, a 2002 Tennessee State alumna. “He asserted, ‘The Talented Tenth of African Americans must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people….Negro Colleges must train men [and women] for it.’”
“In an era of social media with its sometimes derogatory and stereotypical portrayals of African Americans, I feel this photo captures the essence of the Talented Tenth. As a proud HBCU alum, this pic represents collectively all professional black in society that are proudly commited to carrying on the legacy established by our forebears while exceeding society expectations for our race. We are leaders, we are pillars of the community, and we are ‘regular folk’. But most importantly we are young, gifted, and Black.”