A U.Va. richer in black culture|
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.
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
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
At the suggestion of her god-brother, Mark Troy Holbrook
she transferred to U.Va. in 1998.
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
And she organized an Afro-centric tour of Washington, D.C., which
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.
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
willingness to help out have made her an important asset
for students wishing to make changes
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
Turner said that his office is conducting
a national search for Levy’s
replacement and plans to have someone on board by Aug. 1.