The African American Studies program celebrated its 50th anniversary on February 20 and 21 with the unveiling of a new historical marker, commemorative speeches, musical performances and a symposium reflecting on the program’s significance.

The celebration not only honored the program’s past, but looked to its future: African American Studies is in the process of becoming a department within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with a pledge of four tenure-track lines committed to the field. A new space for the program has also recently opened in Turlington Hall.

Interim Director James Essegbey.

“This is the time to build bridges and strengthen already existing ties,” wrote James Essegbey, interim director of the African American Studies program and an associate professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, in a letter marking the occasion. “I look forward to continuing our collaboration and starting new ones in the coming years with the goal of fostering a fulfilled academic experience for our students.”

Addressing the crowd of more than 100 at a ceremony commemorating the historical marker unveiling, Dean David Richardson said that African American Studies reflected the goal of a liberal education: To free the mind.

With the marker and the new space, Richardson said that “African American Studies will take its rightful place in the vision of the University and its students.”

In his remarks, University President Kent Fuchs called the African American Studies “one of the defining elements of our University.”

The two-day festivities also featured a film screening of “The Making of the Institute of Black Culture at UF” and performances by 1000 Voices of Florida, the Pazeni Sauti UF Africa Choir, Agbedidi and more.

Take a look at the photos below for more scenes from the celebration.

All photos by Efren Vasquez – CLAS Media Services

Click here to watch panels from the symposium

Picture of Carolyn Luysterburg
Carolyn Luysterburg, photo byTimothy Sofranko for the College of Liberal Art’s and Sciences

UF Alum Works to Connect Gators

When CAROLYN LUYSTERBURG ’11 was eight, her father took the family on a tour of 20 national parks. Stunned by their beauty, Luysterburg discovered a love for nature and science.

So, when the opportunity came for her to register for a national parks course at the University of Florida 10 years later, she jumped at the chance — and fell in love with geology.

“Geology is the science that you can use to understand all the sciences — math, physics, chemistry and biology — to understand the earth,” Luysterburg said.

Today, Luysterburg is an exploration geologist for the energy company Shell, where she evaluates the feasibility of deep-water wells, while her high school sweetheart-turned-husband, CIRO LUYSTERBURG ’11, works for another major energy company, ExxonMobil.

After graduation the couple relocated to Houston, where Luysterburg launched the UF Houston Geological Society to provide a place for fellow UF alumni to network. With this new outpost of the Gator Nation, she is advancing the sense of connectedness that drew her to UF in the first place.

“I absolutely love the Gator Nation and the spirit,” she said. “I travel internationally for work often and find Gators just about everywhere.”

Luysterburg is especially appreciative of her UF mentor Jon Martin’s advice. Martin, a geology professor who specializes in chemical hydrogeology, encouraged Luysterburg to apply for internships and present at conferences, then continued to be her advisor through grad school.

“He taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to,” Luysterburg said. “Those lessons are still with me today. He made a huge difference in my life.”

She’s proud to be at Shell, where she relishes the opportunity to collaborate with people from around the world.

“There’s just incredible diversity when you work for one of these large international companies like Shell,” Luysterburg said.

In addition to conducting international research at Shell, Luysterburg is actively trying to connect alumni with their alma mater through the UF Houston Geological Society.

“I want to encourage alumni to get involved and give back to department and sponsor students,” Luysterburg said. “We don’t realize when we’re in school, but tons of alumni are continuously supporting us. We need to do the same for the next generation.”

Luysterburg was honored for her efforts when she received the Horizon Award at the college’s Evening of Excellence. The award recognizes professional accomplishment or service to the university by a recent alumnus or alumna.

“UF taught me many things, but my most valuable lesson was learning how to be both a team player and an inspiring leader,” she said. “I am proud to be a Florida Gator, and I hope I can make my university proud too.”

Click here to see more stories from the Summer 2019 Newsletter. 

Dr. Vincent Adejumo Receoves Teacher of the Year Award

Dr. Vincent Adejumo won a Teacher of the Year Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences during the spring 2018 semester.  Dr. Adejumo has been a Lecturer in the UF African American Studies Program since 2015 and had served as a graduate teaching assistant since 2011.  He teaches a number of courses including the online version of Introduction to African American Studies, Black Masculinity, Black Wall Street, and The Wire. Congratulations Dr. Vince!
A picture of Dr. Vincent Adejumo receiving award

Dr. Sharon Austin’s Promotion to Full Professor

Dr. Sharon Austin’s third book, The Caribbeanization of Black Politics: Race, Group Consciousness, and Political Participation in America, was published by SUNY, Albany Press in March 2018.  She has also been promoted to the rank of full professor.  You can access some of her articles for The Conversation at the links below.  Congratulations Dr. Austin!
Could Andrew Gillum be the next governor of Florida?
why Florida democrats can’t count on the so called black vote?
How Stacey Abrams black girl magic turned Georgia bit more blue?

A picture of Dr. Sharon Austin

AFA Students Present Research at Academic Conferences

In  the fall of 2017, Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn took three African American Studies students, – Kayla O’Neal, DeAunte Fox, and Syleena Powell—to the Annual Meeting of the Association of African American Life and History (ASALH) Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio to present their research on a panel entitled “The Implications of Gender and Race in Three Dimensions”.  The title of O’Neal’s paper was “Black Children and Zero Tolerance Policies in Florida’s Schools.  Fox’s paper was entitled “A Content Analysis of Black Male Relationships in the films Get Out, Moonlight, and Fences.”  Finally, the title of Powell’s paper was “The Strong Black Woman Stereotype and Black Female Coping Strategies.”

A picture of Dr. Patricia Hillard with his students
In March 2018, Tiara Telfair and Jasmyn Sullivan presented research at the National Conference of Black Political Scientists Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.  Pictured below in the photo on the left are Dr. Robert Brown of Spelman College, Tiara Telfair, Allison Austin, and Dr. Sharon Austin.  Pictured in the photo on the right are Dr. Robert Brown, Dr. Sharon Austin, Allison Austin, Jasmyn Sullivan, and Tiara Telfair.

A picture of Tiara Telfair and Jasmyn Sullivan with students

African Americans in Paris Spring Break Class

During the 2018 spring break in March, Dr. Sharon Austin accompanied 13 students to Paris for the African Americans in Paris class.  This was the fifth consecutive year the class was offered.  The students watched online lectures, read materials, completed papers, and took an exam before traveling to France.  While there, they listened to lectures and visited several historic sites of significance to African American ex-patriates who fled the U.S. and lived in France to escape American discrimination and injustices.  The students visited the suburban home of the late entertainer Josephine Baker, Versailles Palace, and the Louvre Museum.  They also took a cruise of the River Seine and visited the Eiffel Tower as well as several of the cities’ neighborhoods such as Montmarte and Goutte D’Or.  Many visited Amsterdam, Barcelona, London, and Rome on their free day.  The course will be offered every year during spring break. For more information,visit our website, YouTube page, or contact Dr. Austin at  Below is a photo of them after hearing a lecture by Professor and Scholar/Activist Louis-Georges Tin.

A picture of Dr. Sharon Austin and her students

Dr. Manoucheka Celeste Wins A Second Book Award!


A picture of Dr. Manoucheka
Dr. Manoucheka Celeste, Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Gender, Women’s Studies, and Sexualities Research, recently won the Diamond Anniversary Book Award from the National Communication Association for her book, Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the African Diaspora: Travelling Blackness (Routledge 2017). This Award is given to “the most outstanding scholarly book published during the previous two years.”  For more information, see 2018 NCA Award Winners.  This book also won the 2017 National Communication Association Outstanding Book Award from the African American Communication & Culture Division and the Black Caucus.  Congratulations Dr. Celeste!

AFA Faculty Win Grants!

Intersections grants poster

Several of the African American Studies core faculty members, affiliate faculty members, and advisory board members are members of research teams that have been awarded Intersections Grants from the Mellon Foundation (organized by the Center for the Humanities and Public Sphere).  See the information below and information about each of the four grants

The African American Studies faculty, affiliates, and advisory board members involved in these grants are:

Tanya Saunders, Manoucheka Celeste, Bryce Henson, Ben Hebblethwaite, Paul Ortiz, Nick Vargas, Chris Busey, Agnes Leslie, Stephanie Birch, Katheryn Russell-Brown, Lauren Pearlman, and Sharon Austin.  Sophia Acord and Barbara Mennel of the Center for the Humanities also assisted with these grants.

On a crisp November day in 2003, Bob Graham ’59 stood on what remained of Lincoln High School’s track in Tallahassee, Fla., telling supporters and TV cameras that after almost 40 years in elected office — first as a state legislator, then as a two-term Florida governor, and finally as a three-term U.S. senator — he would not be seeking re-election to a fourth term in Congress. In his speech, Graham spoke of his intention to remain active in public life and his desire to create a nonpartisan policy institute that would focus on preparing the next generation of citizen leaders.

“My decision should in no way be viewed as a statement that I have completed all that I want to accomplish,” he said on the dismantled track, which he had been refurbishing during one of his iconic workdays. “I intend to continue to make a difference, albeit in a different way after January 2005.”

David Hedge, a political science professor at the University of Florida, listened intently as Graham announced his retirement on C-SPAN. Hedge was intrigued. He knew that Graham’s UF roots ran deep. Graham graduated with high honors from the university with a degree in political science. He was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and, even more importantly, met his wife of nearly 60 years, Adele, on the steps of Tigert Hall.

“I immediately contacted the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, then-Dean Neil Sullivan, about the possibility of creating a center at UF,” Hedge recalls. “This was something a number of us thought universities should be doing, particularly in terms of public leadership.”

Sullivan and then-UF Provost David Colburn subsequently met with Graham and pledged to commit the necessary administrative support and funds needed to bring Graham’s vision to fruition at UF. In summer 2005, Graham announced the creation of his namesake, the Bob Graham Center. UF made it official in 2006.

A Vision and Mission

Graham hoped to create a center that would encourage the active participation of citizens and increase understanding of democratic institutions. A Harvard University law graduate, Graham’s vision for the Bob Graham Center was shaped by the work of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

“After retiring from the Senate, I spent a year as a senior fellow at the Kennedy School,” Graham says. “Because of my experience there, and because there were quite a few centers that were already doing public policy well, I wanted to focus on what I thought was missing — centers dedicated to developing human potential for public and civic leadership.”

From the outset, the Graham Center’s mission was to provide students with the broad training necessary for careers in public leadership and to provide a forum for the public discussion of state, national, and global issues — a calling that remains central to the center’s programming today.

In its earliest days, the center established a public lecture series, for which it remains well known on campus, in the Gainesville community, and beyond. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough served as the center’s inaugural keynote speaker. Former President Jimmy Carter, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, and journalist Nicholas Kristof are just a few of the other renowned guests that the center has hosted.


well-dressed man stands in calf-deep in swamp with jacket over shoulder and pants rolled up Gov. Bob Graham made a case for the Everglades — and the cover of Newsweek, ca. 1980. D. Robert “Bob” Graham Political Papers, University of Florida.

“Persuading decision makers, building coalitions, and researching facts in order to support your position from a level of greater understanding are the skills that we are equipping students with.”

The undergraduate certificate program (now a minor in public leadership), the Tallahassee Internship Program, and the Policy Scholars Program (now the Askew Scholars) became the first few of many opportunities offered by the Graham Center to enhance the undergraduate academic experience by providing hands-on civic engagement.

Ann Henderson joined the center as director in July 2009. Henderson brought with her an extensive background in state, national, and international issue management and had overseen a number of nonprofit organizations before arriving on campus. Under her leadership, the center received a $3 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in fall 2010. The grant proved critical to the center’s development, funding numerous programs including the development of an online civics course and the Fellows-in-Residence program.

The fellows program brings state leaders to the university to share their expertise and experience with UF faculty and students. Fellows are individuals who have a record of professional distinction but have also been recognized for their civic leadership. Past fellows have included Martha Barnett JD’73, former president of the American Bar Association; Nancy Hardt, M.D., professor emerita, UF College of Medicine; Preston Haskell, founder of the Haskell Company; and Hyatt Brown ’59, former CEO of Brown & Brown Insurance and former Speaker of the Florida House.

Reflecting on his experience as a fellow-in-residence, Brown says he was most impressed by students’ eagerness and the diversity reflected in those he interacted with at the center.

“I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Young people bring great energy and new ideas. They are enthusiastic because their outlook is toward a positive future,” he said. “We are bringing people together from different courses of life — places, cultures, backgrounds, ideological beliefs — everyone coming together to learn from one another. That in itself is a super contribution to their overall educational experience.”

Haskell too was impressed with his interactions with students, but what stood out to him was the great social benefit that the center provides in teaching students how to work cooperatively with others and encouraging interdisciplinary research.


important man gestures emphatically, sitting at table with others listening
U.S. Rep. John Lewis spoke at the Graham Center on Oct. 16, 2015. Bob Graham Center

“It’s important to have the skills necessary to build consensus — to see the value in compromise, the ability to lead when necessary and to understand when it’s appropriate to let others lead,” he said. “Working collaboratively and having a broad base of knowledge across many disciplines is the key to success.”

Today, the fellow in-residence program continues thanks to the Knight Foundation’s generous support. Gainesville real estate developers and philanthropists Ken ’72, MBA’73, PhD’81 and Linda McGurn ’73, JD’78 will serve as joint fellows this spring.


Civic Engagement

Colburn, provost and senior vice president emeritus, took the helm of the center in 2012. With funding support from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost, Colburn added several programs to the already impressive catalogue of opportunities for students. The Graham Civic Scholars program, which commissions students to conduct county-level research on statewide issues; the Healthy Civic Campus and Community initiative, a social entrepreneurship grant program; and the Future of Florida Summit, a gathering of students from Florida’s colleges and universities to propose solutions to problems facing Florida, all have been established in the last five years.

“Active involvement is the only way to effectively master the skills needed to create change,” Graham says. “Persuading decision makers, building coalitions, and researching facts in order to support your position from a level of greater understanding are the skills that we are equipping students with.”
Of recent note is the center’s success in providing civic engagement opportunities through student internships. The center has placed more than 200 interns throughout Florida. Past internships have included positions with local and state government offices and agencies, the media, professional associations, and nonprofit organizations.

Last fall’s introduction of an innovative virtual internship program opened the door for UF students who previously were unable to take advantage of the traditional internship experience because of financial constraints. This program will serve as a vehicle for expanding internships significantly over the next few years.

The center’s newest internship venture is a partnership with the City of Gainesville that provides four fellowships each fall as part of the university wide town-and-gown effort. Fellows will work with the city manager’s office to provide a more citizen-centered approach to local government.

Centered on Students

Few roles the Graham Center and the university serve are as important as shaping and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders. “Every time I am at the center, I am impressed with the quality of students who have been drawn to the idea of active civic engagement,” Graham says. “They are smart, personable, and enthusiastic — exactly what our democracy needs for the next generation.”
Graham’s commitment to students is apparent to those who interact with him while he is on campus and is reflected in the center’s work.

“The center is a place you can tell he really cares about,” says Graham Center alumna Liana Guerra ’15. “He is always there — interacting with students, listening to them. He believed in me. He believes in students.”

students use devices to engage with survey displayed on large screen in front of them
The Bob Graham Center encourages civic participation and discussion regarding current issues. Bob Graham Center

Before graduating from UF, Guerra, now the deputy chief of staff to U.S. Congressman Darren Soto, completed a Tallahassee internship through the center and was an Askew Scholar. The Askew Scholars program — named for former Gov. Reubin Askew who passed away in 2014— provides distinguished undergraduates the opportunity to develop their civic understanding and skills under the direction of a faculty mentor.

Guerra credits her public service trajectory to her involvement with the center. “Without the Bob Graham Center, I firmly believe I would not be where I am today,” she says. “The funding I was provided as an Askew Scholar allowed me to take an unpaid internship in Washington D.C., which led to my first job after graduation.”

As a Tallahassee intern in 2013, Guerra was placed in the office of then-state Sen. Darren Soto. Guerra kept in touch with Soto and his team throughout his 2016 congressional campaign, and when Soto won the Central Florida seat, he hired Guerra to serve on his team permanently.

“The center opened that door for me and will continue to do the same for other students,” Guerra adds.

A Home in Pugh Hall

Located in the heart of the UF campus in Pugh Hall, the Bob Graham Center stands at the cornerstone of the university’s academic, intellectual, and civic life. A $5 million gift from Jim Pugh ’63 and his wife, Alexis, made possible the construction of Pugh Hall in 2008. The couple later pledged an additional $1 million to name the building’s teaching auditorium in honor of another former Florida governor, Buddy Mackay JD’61 and his wife, Anne.

“Adele and I are grateful for Jim and Alexis’ gift, which made possible the building that the Graham Center calls home,” Graham says. “Their generosity has its signature in many places across our great state. They have done many fabulous philanthropic things together.”

Graham and Pugh met as Sigma Nu fraternity brothers at UF in the late 1950s and have remained friends since. The two maintained a shared love for UF and a commitment to education and public service.

grandfatherly man sits in comfy chair and interacts with mobile device

Sen. Bob Graham, shown here in September 2017, makes a point to visit with faculty, staff, and students at his eponymous center as often as he can. Lyon Duong / UF Photography

While Graham went on to an illustrious career in politics, Pugh, a building construction major, became a nationally recognized developer. Pugh is considered one of the nation’s most prominent homebuilders, and his real estate development firm, Epoch Properties, is annually ranked as one of the top multifamily housing developers in the U.S. Fittingly, the building that bears his name is an architectural focal point in the historic district of the UF campus.

“Bob Graham and I have been friends for 60 years,” Pugh says. “Alexis and I have carefully followed his career and witnessed his extraordinary leadership and character. He’s the real deal.”

Pugh always wanted to find a way to give back to his alma mater, and he and his wife were exploring philanthropic opportunities at UF when they learned that Graham was planning to establish a public service center at UF.

“Bob was convinced that the center would enrich the lives of students and provide valuable civic engagement opportunities,” says Pugh. “My wife and I were looking for an appropriate financial contribution to our beloved university, so the connection of donor support to the university and a place to house the Graham Center was a natural fit.”

A Legacy of Leadership

2016 was a milestone year for both Graham and his eponymous center. The center celebrated 10 years on the UF campus, and Graham celebrated his 80th birthday. While the center will surely be part of Graham’s lasting legacy of leadership and service to the state of Florida, Graham himself dismisses the idea of legacy building.

“I don’t believe in shaping your own legacy. That is the work of historians. You do what you think is right and important and hope that the benefits of your actions stand up to scrutiny over time,” Graham says. “I believe it is important for college-aged young people to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a citizen in our democracy.”

In Graham’s view, providing students with an understanding of their rights and responsibilities and arming them with the skills needed to operate effectively as citizens is the best antidote for the decline in civic engagement.

“If the beginning of the 21st century has shown us anything, it is that our democracy is under assault,” he says. “This assault is evidenced by the decline in citizen involvement in public affairs, lack of participation in community problem solving, and a waning in voter turnout among our country’s youngest voters.”

Graham believes the center has a role to play — not only in changing this disturbing trend but also in fostering civil discourse and encouraging other universities to follow suit.

“The increasingly partisan and polarized political climate has frustrated the ability of our democracy to create policies that benefit all citizens,” Graham says. “The center hopes to stand as a source of enlightenment and as a beacon for other institutions to do the same.”

What’s next for the Graham Center? Colburn says an expansion of internships and undergraduate research opportunities. Greater faculty engagement and an elevation of the center’s statewide and national presence also are on the horizon.

“Establishing an endowment to underwrite the center’s programs will be essential,” says Colburn. “The center fosters the intellectual enrichment and public engagement of our students. We want them to prosper professionally, but we also want them to give back to their communities. They will be the better for it, and so will we.”

As for Graham, he will continue to tout his message of engaged and informed citizenship and champion issues of importance to Florida and the nation.
In October, Graham was recognized by the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for his continued contribution to the state and the university. During the college’s Evening of Excellence, Dean David Richardson presented Graham with the inaugural Civic Champion Award. “Of our many alumni who commit their lives to public service, the first person who comes to mind is Sen. Bob Graham,” Richardson said at the ceremony. “Bob Graham is the epitome of what it means to be a Civic Champion.”

Graham remains a civic champion. Throughout his public service career, he has advocated for better schools, economic opportunity for all citizens, government transparency, the preservation of natural resources, and a strong, participatory democracy. He has represented the nation and UF with distinction, honor, and integrity. The Graham Center will ensure that legacy by nurturing the next generation of state and national leaders.

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group of people pose in front of stage with Greek columns
Left to right, Associate Director of the Center for Humanities and the Public Sphere Sophia Accord, Executive Director of the Florida Humanities Council Steve Seibert (holding Hugh
Manatee), Associate Director of the Florida Humanities Council Patricia Putnam, Program Coordinator of the Florida Humanities Council Keith Simmons, Master Lecturer of History
Steve Noll, Professor of History Sean Adams, and Associate Professor of History Paul Ortiz. Hannah Pietrick/UF Photography

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