By Ayana Archie
As she wrote, Breonna Massey, a junior government and politics major, began to cry. She said she thought of the many sacrifices made in order for her and other black students to call themselves Terps. This was the topic of her piece “I am Maryland” at Friday night’s Black Monologues held in Stamp’s Hoff Theater.
“I have to speak for black people on campus, for the people in Baltimore,” Massey said.
The university’s roots began with Charles Benedict Calvert, a Maryland representative from 1861 to 1863. He was a fervent advocate for agricultural education and bought 420 acres of the Riverdale Plantation for $21,000 in 1868. Calvert began the construction of Maryland Agricultural College, which would become the University of Maryland.
“Maryland has a unique history,” Massey said.
Knowing Our History, a report on slavery and the University of Maryland, is housed in the Maryland State Law Library. It hypothesizes that slave labor was not used in the construction of the buildings, but it is unclear as Calvert was a notable slaveowner.
Nevertheless, Massey highlighted the grounds’ history as a plantation and its inherent presence of slaves.
She also told her audience to take note of the very chairs they were sitting in.
“You see these chairs were probably made by my cousin, or the boy next door,” Massey said. “But they say I made the choice to do well.”
Massey is referring to the likelihood that the chairs were most likely made by Maryland Correctional Enterprises, which relies on prison labor. They supply much of the stock furniture for this university and others, such as desks, tables, beds and dressers, a fact the administration has received many objections for.
Massey had mixed feelings about the university for the aforementioned reasons, as well as reasons specific to her and her family. She said her grandmother was a proud Terp fan. She watched as many games as possible and jubilantly cheer the teams on,
“She was in the nursing home in Maryland gear,” Massey recalled.
But she could not attend due to segregation.
A generation later, Massey’s mother, who graduated high school in the late 1970s, was also denied. The university accepted its first black student in 1951, but discrimination and racism within the campus was far from dissipated. At the time, many black students opted to attend the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, including Massey’s mother.
UM Eastern Shore was almost shut down in 1947 due to a lack of access to resources, a lower quality of education and the suspicion that the university’s sole purpose was to deliberately keep black students from attending this university. These problems were still relevant when Massey’s mother attended the school years later.
When she got her acceptance letter to this university, her family was beaming. While she has her critiques of the school, she said she realizes she has a purpose here.
“[My family] realize[s] going here is a privilege I can’t abuse,” Massey said.
Not only does her attendance have a special meaning to her mother and her grandmother, but also to her younger cousins. Since her parents attended UM Eastern Shore about 30 years ago, she said there have been no other college graduates in her family. She is setting a good example.
As a result, she made it her mission to get the most of her experience here. Massey said she views her intersectionality as a black woman and a Terp as a duty to speak out when wrongdoings occur.
“How do I have the audacity to be quiet?” Massey said.
When it comes to the relationships between the administration and black students, Massey said she feels there is much to be done. One area of improvement she points out is in resources, such as access to mental healthcare and both academic and financial support.
Massey made a critical point that diversity and inclusion are two different things, which is something she says the university has yet to recognize.
“But diversity has become my newest enemy,” Massey said in her piece. “A wolf cloak in sheep’s skin, hiding your racist ass, taking what you want from my culture, but then making fun of the ones it belongs to. My ancestors built this place, and all we got was Nyumburu.”
Her poem earned a resounding “ooh” from the audience.
Her hope is that rather than focusing on statistics, the administration will try to understand the culture and issues of the black community on campus and work to meet their demands. Her sentiments are the university hears the demands, but has not listened.
“But at least you can hear me as I scream ‘I am Maryland!’” Massey said in the last line of her poem. “Now, can you hear me?”
Featured Photo Credit: Breonna Massey performs her pieces “I Am Maryland” and “Black Girl Magic” during Black Monologues in the Hoff Theatre. Massey is a junior government and politics major with a minor in law and society and was one of three hosts of the event. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Ayana Archie is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.