Nineteen alumni and professors — from the first woman chair of the University Board of Trustees to the founder of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program — will have existing, need-based scholarships named after them to honor the paths they forged at UNC.
They're being called Bridge Builders. These are some of their stories and how they contributed to the Carolina community:
Everything came full circle for Nikole Hannah-Jones when she came back to Chapel Hill to deliver the 2017 Spring Commencement for the School of Media and Journalism last year. Now Hannah-Jones, a 2003 journalism master's graduate and an investigative reporter for The New York Times Magazine, is being further honored as a Bridge Builder.
Hannah-Jones is a Roy H. Park Fellow whose education benefited from the generosity of donors, so her selection as a Bridge Builder carries special significance.
“It's an amazing feeling that this scholarship, that will help other students realize their dreams as well, will be named after me,” she said.
After graduating from UNC, Hannah-Jones reported for the News & Observer, The Oregonian and ProPublica before settling in her current position at The New York Times Magazine. Hannah-Jones’s investigative works are long form and usually call attention to civil rights issues.
“I’m definitely proud of the fact that my work has contributed to the subject of integration being something that reporters and society at large are talking about again,” she said. “For a long time, it was a dead issue, and I think I have helped bring it back to the forefront.”
In addition to this work, Hannah-Jones also founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, which actively recruits editors of color. Wells is Hannah-Jones’s personal hero, and the message the Society sends to budding reporters similar to Hannah-Jones is important.
“I hope that other black and brown girls will look at someone like me who has big red hair and wears big hoop earrings and likes wearing glittery eye shadow and see that you don't have to conform to an image in order to be successful and in order to reach the height of your career,” Hannah-Jones said. “I hope that I can be an example of not compromising your values or your morals for your identity in order to succeed.”
Close family, friends and students of Michael Green knew him as an avid traveler, a collector of toy and real cars and a keen jokester.
Green was also the founder of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program at UNC and influenced the development of the American Indian Center at UNC. The University honored him as a Bridge Builder posthumously.
“I think that one of the greatest impacts he made was helping develop a new approach to American Indian history that puts American Indians at the center of their history,” Green’s wife Theda Perdue said. “When he became a historian, history was still very much dominated by a white-centered or European-centered history. It was in white relation, not really the history of the Indians. He is one of the people who helped change that.”
Green’s mark lives on through his impact on students. Many have gone on to teach all around the world, Perdue said.
“He had a magnificent sense of humor and lots of funny sayings his graduate students continue to like to quote,” Perdue said. “He cleaned up his language a bit but not entirely.”
Green graduated from Cornell College and the University of Iowa and worked during his time at school, so his inclusion as a Bridge Builder is a recognition of his experiences.
“He loved teaching students, and he was very concerned about increasing this equity in higher education, and I think he would be enormously pleased that this is a need-based scholarship,” Perdue said. “I also think he would see it as a kind of contribution to our nation, to our state, to our community, because we are better off if education is broadly accessible.”
Bryan Brayboy was humbled and surprised when he heard his name was among the Bridge Builder honorees. Brayboy, a member of the Lumbee Tribe, graduated from the University in 1990 and went on to encourage and aid American Indian students in earning graduate degrees.
Brayboy said he and his family bleed Carolina blue, so the honor is something he cherishes.
“When you love a place and it loves you back, it's pretty overwhelming, and so I think that what it means to me is a recognition of whatever it is I've done to get this, is pretty incredible,” he said.
Of everything Brayboy has achieved, his highlights feature one year in which Brayboy’s college programs helped 10 American Indian students reach their doctorates out of only 55 American Indian doctoral students nationally. Overall, he has helped over 150 American Indians teach American Indian children.
“Those programs are really meant to help American Indian people earn degrees that will allow them to work with their communities to create futures of their own making,” Brayboy said. “I really hope to help American Indian communities to create futures that they want for themselves.”
For Brayboy, who worked as a public school teacher and now resides as a professor of indigenous education and justice at Arizona State University, some of his favorite memories from UNC include running for senior student body president and rushing Franklin Street after victories over Duke University.
“It's been 27 years since I was there,” Brayboy said. “I made some lifelong friends. The lessons of the place, the quality of the place, it just follows you. It really does get in your blood. So how 'bout them Heels?”
Anne Cates graduated from UNC in 1953 and later became the chair for the University’s Board of Trustees. As the first woman in this role, Cates marked a milestone in women’s work at the University.
Years later, Cates persists in her efforts to improve UNC by remaining involved with the Carolina Club and General Alumni Association.
“We'll never stop doing for Carolina because you all are the future,” Cates said. “It was worth every bit of the building.”
Although Cates also worked as a vice chairperson of the Board of Visitors and the president of the Educational Foundation, one of her legacies rests in her work in creating the Carolina Covenant scholarship program, which allows low-income students to graduate debt-free.
An additional accomplishment for Cates came when she worked with lobbyists and women across the state to pass legislation so that women do not have to pay out of pocket for mammograms. Cates said only one man dared to vote against them.
“We found we had to pull a bunch of strings to get that done, and I was very proud,” Cates said.
Cate’s memories of her own college days consist of rooting the team on at every football and basketball game. For the students attending now, Cates holds much optimism.
“The future of this country all depends on your shoulders and it's your turn, and I hope you all do a better job than my generation,” Cates said.