Scholarship Recipients

Three decades of community and support

By Nastasia Boulos

Three decades of community and support

By Nastasia Boulos
For over 30 years, the University of Miami Black Alumni Society has worked to advance the interests and needs of the black community at UM and to promote the rich history of black alumni at the University.

As a student at the University of Miami, Denise Mincey-Mills, B.B.A. ’79, had few black classmates and few mentors to guide her along the way. So when she and a group of former students organized the first Black Alumni Reunion event in November 1989, there was more to it than reminiscing about old times. The reunion, which included a presidential meet-and-greet and post-game victory party, set the stage for what became the University of Miami Black Alumni Society (UMBAS).

Now, 30 years later, the Black Alumni Society has grown into an organization continuously working to advance the interests and needs of the black community at UM and to promote the rich history of black alumni at the University.

The early leaders of the group, including Mincey-Mills, Stanley Thornton, B.S.I.E. ’81, Phyllis Tyler, B.B.A. ’79, Margery S. “Bunty” Johnson, B.S. ’79, Melissa Rolle-Scott, B.S.I.E. ’79, and David L. Wilson, B.B.A. ’82, identified a need to nurture the success of the black community within and beyond the University.

“We came together for a party but also for a purpose,” Mincey-Mills recalls. “To give back and ensure that current and future students had the support they needed to graduate.” Because while they remembered the struggles – financial and cultural – they had faced as some of the first undergraduate students of color at the University of Miami, they also remembered the connections they’d made and the life-changing education they’d received.

“The question was,” Stanley Thornton remembers, “what can we do to pay it forward?” The answer was scholarships, mentorship, and support for students. Working with campus groups like United Black Students (UBS), they connected with students and provided career counseling, networking, and mentorship –  even creating handmade business card books for students in the early 90s. Many hired black students or connected them with jobs.

With assistance from the University of Miami Alumni Association, they set up the Black Alumni Scholarship Fund, raising $17,000 in the first year. 

The scholarships have for over 20 years now impacted the lives of hundreds of students, including alumnae Monica McCann, A.B. '96 and Terri-Ann Bennett, B.S. ’06, M.D. ’10. To McCann, the scholarship meant she could complete her senior year. She is now a successful grant writer and regularly gives back. For Bennett, the support of the Black Alumni Society went far beyond the scholarship. “As a black female immigrant and first-generation college attendee and graduate,” she says, “the BAS was my backbone as an undergraduate student.”

Today, the group continues to grow through the work of a team of dedicated individuals. The first elected Executive Board for the Black Alumni Society, led by Wendy-Ann Dixon-Dubois, has established 3 key priorities that have guided and will continue to drive their activities through 2021: regional connections and alumni engagement, financial support and fundraising, and mentoring in partnership with the Toppel Career Center. 

Fourteen students were awarded scholarships in 2019. Events hosted across the country, like last year’s Juneteenth Celebrations, continue to provide an opportunity for alumni to build lasting relationships while bridging generational gaps and raising awareness about the work of the Black Alumni Society.To celebrate a 30-year legacy of giving and to support students and the University, the Society's leadership launched the 30 for 30 campaign to raise funds for scholarships.  

In addition to its scholarship efforts and the development of impactful programming, the UMBAS also works to highlight and preserve the rich history of black students at the University of Miami. The First Black Graduates project, an on-going endeavor led by a committee of passionate black alumni, identified and honored the students who blazed the trail of desegregation in the 1960s and '70s — the UTrailblazers. The group is now working to preserve the legacy of black students at the University through the Legacy Memorial Project.

As to the future of the group she helped build step by step, Mincey-Mills is not worried. “The Black Alumni Society is surpassing all my dreams right now,” she says. “The current Society leadership is stellar and are doing big things. I like that — it gives other kids something to grasp for. I really feel like the Black Alumni Society has a root in the ground and we are here to stay.”