July 9-22, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 13
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Levy legacy: A U.Va. richer in black culture

 

Levy legacy: A U.Va. richer in black culture
La TaSha Levy
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
As director of the Luther P. Jackson Black Cultural Center, La TaSha Levy initiated several innovative programs and brought prominent speakers to U.Va., including comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory.

By Brandon Marshall Miller
As a high school student, La TaSha Levy decided against applying to the University of Virginia. She saw it as a traditional, conservative and perhaps even racist place. She didn’t think she’d fit in.

So she disregarded the recommendations of her high school counselors to apply to a number of prominent, predominately white institutions, including U.Va., and enrolled instead at Hampton University.

“I wanted to go to a historically black college, and I wanted to avoid the issue of racism that I thought was prevalent at predominately white institutions,” said Levy, who grew up in Washington, D.C.

But after two years at Hampton, Levy decided to leave. She was disappointed in her experience there, though she realizes now that her expectations were unrealistic.

I was expecting an African-centered curriculum, and it was Euro-centric,” she said. “I also thought it would be a place where all black people had unified goals. But realizing that that wasn’t the case wasn’t a bad thing. I learned that black people are not monolithic, and we have different interests and aspirations.”

At the suggestion of her god-brother, Mark Troy Holbrook (A&S, ’94), she transferred to U.Va. in 1998.

“He told me it would be a good fit for me,” Levy said, “and that with the school’s tradition of student self-governance, I could shape my experience here. I found that to be true.”

The University’s welcoming environment was a pleasant surprise to Levy, and her fears of social hostility and academic neglect were allayed by the presence and programming of the Office of African-American Affairs and several black faculty members, including M. Rick Turner, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, and Ishmail Conway, Upward Bound Program coordinator.

Levy designed her third and fourth years to her liking. She launched the Griot Society (a support organization for students majoring in African-American Studies). And she organized an Afro-centric tour of Washington, D.C., which the Office of African-American Affairs continues to offer.

In 2001, a year after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in African and African-American Studies, Levy was hired by the Office of African-American Affairs as director of the Luther P. Jackson Black Cultural Center.

“I asked La TaSha to be director of programming because of her maturity, especially her cultural maturity, and her potential to broaden the University’s cultural vision,” Turner said. “Her cultural insights have not only benefited the Office of African-American Affairs, but the University as a whole. I knew she would be good, but she’s been much more valuable than I had anticipated.”

Levy’s innovative programs include “Food for Thought,” a biweekly lunchtime discussion on various topics; “Black Screen,” an African or African-American movie screening and discussion, also biweekly; and “Sister to Sister,” a biweekly roundtable discussion for black women students on identity, image and sexuality.

She brought speakers to the University for the annual celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – including, most recently, the comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory — and has encouraged students to assume greater roles in planning and organizing the event.
She also has served as a student mentor, especially to black student leaders. Her experience in programming, expertise in African-American affairs, and willingness to help out have made her an important asset for students wishing to make changes on Grounds.

“It was important for me to offer consistent programming and opportunities every week for students to learn about and discuss current issues relating to black communities, and racial issues at U.Va.,” said Levy, who has enjoyed her directorship, but will leave the University to begin a graduate program in Africana Studies at Cornell University this fall.

Though she’s leaving the Grounds, her footprints will remain — footprints that have helped to strengthen the University’s ties to the local community, according to Pat Lampkin, vice president for student affairs.

“La TaSha’s creativity and leadership have benefited the University in important ways,” Lampkin said. “The programs she has brought to Grounds have built strong bridges within the Charlottesville community, and they have introduced us to major figures, vital topics and worthwhile questions.”

“Because of her work, there has been a marked increase in U.Va.’s exposure to a wide variety of black professional and intellectual elites, and a rise in consciousness regarding national issues and inter-racial relations, all of which have enhanced U.Va.’s already-rich environment,” said Myra Franklin, president of the Black Student Alliance.

Franklin also appreciates Levy’s personal warmth.

“She provided moral support in times of need, and was a positive reinforcer in times of success,” Franklin said. “She criticized us when necessary, but most of all she helped us grow. Over the years, her support and guidance have taught me that I can do anything I wish to do in life, though I may struggle.”

Levy plans to keep her options open until after she earns an advanced degree.

“I don’t want to be boxed into one thing,” Levy said. “I would love to teach at a university, but I also want to organize educational institutions in black communities that will help to socialize our children and supplement their education.”

Turner said that his office is conducting a national search for Levy’s replacement and plans to have someone on board by Aug. 1.


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