University of Miami: Two-day extravaganza showcases UTrailblazers and Black students


With just the swipe of the screen, the legacy, history, and future of the Black experience at the University of Miami can be experienced thanks to a gift from University of Miami alumnus and trustee Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. The permanent interactive digital exhibit and reflection space commemorates the University’s Black community.

Last weekend, the University hosted an extravaganza to formally celebrate Taylor’s gift and to honor its first Black graduates at the Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. Breezeway dedication. The two-day celebration kicked off on Friday and ran through Saturday evening and included a pass-the-baton ceremony for students, alumni, and faculty and staff members and a concert featuring Grammy-winning artist Regina Belle that benefited the UTrailblazers/First Black Graduates Endowed Scholarship Fund.

“That space was really important, not only for former University of Miami alumni or African American students to see how far we’ve come, but it’s incredibly important to me, for people who are not African American graduates, or new students to see that we have been on this campus and we have contributed to this campus in meaningful ways for a very long time,” said Taylor, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Society for Human Resource Management.

At the dedication ceremony President Julio Frenk, along other prominent community members and local government officials—including Congresswoman Frederica Wilson; Whittington Johnson, the first Black faculty member; alumni Denise Mincey-Mills, Antonio Junior, and Phyllis Tyler, co-chairs of the Black Alumni Society’s First Black Graduates Project Committee—addressed the audience to share their thoughts and feelings of such a celebration.

“Johnny, thank you for challenging others through your philanthropy,” said Frenk at Friday’s dedication in the Bill Cosford Cinema. “We are grateful for your leadership.”

County commissioners Oliver G. Gilbert III, Christine King, and other local government officials issued proclamations to Taylor, recognizing his contributions to the University community and beyond. Inspired by photos from Taylor’s upbringing, alumnus and visual artist C.J. Latimore unveiled a heartfelt painting at the ceremony that will be on display in the Otto G. Richter Library for the next four months.

Immediately following the dedication, a traditional ceremony where current UTrailblazers symbolically pass the baton to the newest generation of student leaders at the University took place. The rite included an Oleku performance with a libation and a formal welcome of the next leaders.

Later that evening, participants enjoyed a self-led tour of the UTrailblazers displays in the Kislak Center, home of special collections and archives for “Our Legacy Matters.”

Jamie Williams-Smith, the Student Government president, was in awe of the weekend celebration and was honored to be recognized at the baton ceremony.

“This is honestly a full circle moment,” said Williams-Smith. “It’s a really humbling experience. Because as a senior who is about to graduate, it’s bittersweet because I know that I can be up on that stage one day, giving back and pouring into the next generation to come.”

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