Editor's note: In honor of Black History Month, the UC Merced newsroom is highlighting some of the organizations, services and people who serve or represent the Black community on campus.
An organization that was created in a time of tragedy and crisis has been a force for good for UC Merced's Black community.
The Black Alliance was formed after interdisciplinary humanities Professor Maria Martin brought together Black staff and faculty in the wake of the May 2020 death of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis.
"I wanted to provide a supportive space for people to express themselves," Martin said. "I was really feeling the heaviness of that period."
Since then, according to the organization's website, the Alliance has "sought to connect, serve, and advocate for Black individuals on and off campus."
The Alliance holds regular meetings, speaker events, movie screenings and socials to bring those groups into one room together.
The off-campus part of the Alliance is intentional, and important.
"We do center our work around the campus community but we do like to bring in our external community as well," said Charah Coleman, the current director of the Alliance. Coleman is the founding program manager of the campus's Financial Wellness Center, which provides financial educational services to students.
"As a university that serves the Valley, we want to create a positive relationship with our community members," she said. "We're not just here to take from them; we want to elevate their voices and their concerns."
The Alliance creates opportunities through a wide variety of programs and services.
"We provide more professional wellness services to Black faculty and staff and create culturally relevant spaces for them to network, while broadening our reach to warmly invite Black undergraduate and graduate student group representatives, and Black community group representatives so that we can hear their concerns and needs, and support them," Martin said.
The Alliance has hosted several events. This includes faculty and staff healing circles with the Black Girl Doctor, a welcome event each fall, walk-and-talk socials, a glamorous end-of-year dinner, and various speaker series including perspectives on global Blackness, environmental justice and health disparities. Most recently, members held a disability activism series which featured a panel of entrepreneurs, nurses, Ph.D.s and mothers who care for Black people with Down syndrome. The Merced community's Liz Dobbins, who owns a business that cares for the disabled, was also featured. The group also did a theater buyout with free concessions, in collaboration with the African Student Union, for all campus and community members to see the movie "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."
In terms of advocacy, the Alliance holds accountability meetings with Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz that center on staff and faculty support and student and community member concerns, helped to finalize the Black Student Resource Center on campus, supports events of the Black Student Coalition and advocates for fellowships that would support graduate cohort diversity at UC Merced.
Martin said she worked with UC Merced's Medical Education director to conduct two focus groups about healthcare in the Central Valley to pinpoint issues and how the new Medical Education pathway curriculum could address them.
"I also made suggestions of Black doctors to invite for consultation on the curriculum and to do talks so that there are diverse experiences in the building of the medical curriculum," Martin said.
Externally, Martin said the Alliance has worked with community organizations such as Love, Faith, and Hope, Sharing Love Ministries, Restorative Justice League, Harvest Park Education Center, and the Deltas of Atwater.
"We have met with school districts in the area as well as supported the Black middle school and high school graduations yearly," she said. "Recently we formed a collaborative of Black community groups that offers diverse mentors to Black and Latino community youth through College Corps. The Black Alliance fellows, who are UC Merced students, collectively received $65,000 in stipends from doing this work."
Though the Black Alliance focuses on the Black community, it does not limit participants.
"We invite allies as well," said Coleman. "Our spaces are Black-centered but we invite anyone who wants to learn."
Recently, the Alliance welcomed a new board and members are looking forward to continuing to grow the organization and expand what it offers its members.
"There are a lot of opportunities for scholarship," Coleman said. "We look forward to hopefully providing work-study opportunities, as well as professional and skill development."
In addition, Martin said going forward, "the Alliance hopes to press for UC Merced to cultivate more of a culture of inclusion, including the hiring of Black faculty, staff and senior staff, supporting recruitment and retention of Black grad and undergrad students and more connectivity with the Black community in Merced. We will also be doing more events that center on community building, wellness, rest and recreation."
Indeed, Coleman added, the theme the new board crafted for this year is "Centering Black Joy and Rest."
Said Martin, "I look forward to the Black Alliance becoming a strong and supportive organization for the faculty, staff and students we are advocating for and for community members that we want to connect with and welcome to campus."