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Black Cultural Center celebrates milestone anniversary

When Meligha Garfield first took on the role of the inaugural director of the University of Utah’s fledgling Black Cultural Center (BCC) in 2019, he had a preliminary plan for how he thought the resource center would operate. However, as often happens when launching a new venture, he realized he would have to pivot from his original game plan.

“In learning about the environment that I was entering and becoming familiar with the different constituents the center would be serving, it took some time to understand the kind of climate I was coming into on campus,” Garfield said. “My initial plan shifted, and I didn’t have a full plan until maybe a year or so into the job.” 

Ironically, the onset of the COVID pandemic allowed him to take a little extra time to evaluate what would be the best path to take in providing programming that would be useful and valuable to the students he was charged with serving.

“The biggest course of action that we saw at the time was needing to launch some programs that would support students and provide scholarships,” he said. “It really changed the nature of the center from not only being a social space, but also one of academic rigor and exploring one’s individual identity.”

He said one of the significant goals he set early in the development of the BCC was to have students who interacted with the center to learn what leadership development looks like, though not necessarily through a traditional lens.

“I got some input from some students and from some colleagues of mine from around the country and was able to develop what would be our first leadership program called Operation SUCCESS,” Garfield said. “We looked at leadership development through program development. We asked, ‘How do we shape leaders who are looking to shape and improve Black communities?’”

It was from then on that the center worked to create and design programs that were innovative and impactful which could be replicated in varying environments such as urban or rural communities across the nation or around the globe. 

After operating as a solo shop for a couple of years, Garfield was able to bring on a program coordinator, then eventually a third staff member as a second program coordinator. Today, Sara Cody and Ephraim Kum round out the three-person staff who oversee the center’s three flagship programs, Operation SUCCESS, the Male Success Initiative and Generation Next.

In addition to the main programs, the center also conducts various ongoing identity development workshops that serve students of every background and heritage.

“These programs are designed to uplift not only African American students, but students of any ethnicity, faith tradition or individual personal identity,” Garfield said. “The cool thing is that we are able to attract a diverse array of students into our programs. No one is excluded.”

“We don’t have to just be about providing development to Black students,” he said. “That is what helped us to collaborate with other centers, with different campus partners and community partners. It’s what allowed us to broaden our programming and provide enrichment on such a large campus-wide scale since our inception five years ago.”

Meanwhile, Garfield announced recently that he will leaving U in March to take a director position at another university where he hopes to continue his work helping students achieve their highest potential and be closer to family. The move happens to coincide with the Utah legislature eliminating Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion programming at public institutions statewide. Despite the perceived setback, he expresses optimism for the future of the center he developed and led for the first five years of its existence.

“In the face of uncertainty, the next five years hold the potential for the Black Cultural Center at the University of Utah to flourish as a testament to resilience and community strength,” Garfield said. “Though challenges may loom, our excitement remains undeterred, fueled by the conviction that our voices, stories, and culture are indispensable to the fabric of our university. With unwavering determination, I know the center will continue to nurture and celebrate our heritage, ensuring that the legacy of the Black Cultural Center perseveres, even amid adversity.” 

“I would love to see the center grow its programming and connect even more with the community through projects and student support,” he said. “I also hope that we get to have a deeper connection in leadership development and post-graduate success.”

The BCC anniversary also coincides with the fifth annual Black Faculty & Staff Awards, which is hosted by the Black Cultural Center. The awards event will take place on Feb. 26, 2024, from 6-9 p.m. at the Cleone Peterson Eccles Alumni House located at 155 Central Campus Drive in Salt Lake City. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.