Why #UMDMelanin Matters, Doing It For The Culture

To celebrate International Women’s Day and the achievements of women, Pulsefeedz asked contributor Aysia Morton to give us her personal accounts of what it was like to participate in the #UMDMelanin campaign which went viral on campus earlier this semester. Viewer discretion is advised as some content may be sensitive.

While living in a society like today’s it can be very easy to forget that, as a black woman, you are beautiful. Period. You know, when the hair on your head hair grows in kinks and curls toward the sky and not straight to the ground. When you can’t match the color of your skin to anyone else’s in that movie you’re watching, or when the curve of your hips and the size of your lips makes everyone else in the room that much more uncomfortable.

But one photographer who attends the University of Maryland, Olasubomi Adesoye, also known as Boomi, wanted to make known the importance of it all; the diversity in black skin, black bodies, and black hair. This all stemmed from an idea he had to not only celebrate this year’s Black History Month, but to make an impact. While attending a PWI, our voices can often go unheard and silenced. But Boomi took a very creative route to enforce that black womanhood is beautiful, showcasing the many shades of black women amongst our campus.

As I talked with Boomi, he explained how many of the events on our own campus inspired #UMDMelanin.

“…I chose to do the series because of everything that is happening not just in the world but on the very campus I have been for 5 years. I wanted to believe that being at a prestigious school like UMD [racism] was not as prevalent but boy was I wrong. You have things like the email where a student said black girls are 74.58% easier to sleep with because of MLK Day and BHM or students who attend the same school and freely use the word “nigger/nigga” and even admit they use it. I am not one for politics or protesting or shouting my opinions loudly but I am not one to sit around and be idle. I will do what I can, I will showcase my pride, and we will be heard and that’s why #UMDMelanin came to be.”

Boomi created a team that included creative directors Cheyenne Fogg and Chioma Agbaraji, videography from Mayowa Photography, and director of public relations Rae-Ann Steele. With their help, the #UMDMelanin project was brought to life.

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“I chose to showcase all females because in a way I wanted to say thank you to every ‘strong black independent woman’ in my life and in the world. I wholeheartedly believe women are what keeps this earth spinning and I’ll admit that to anyone. This series was meant to showcase and capture the essence of being an African American female here at UMCP. I wanted each of their stories to be heard. I didn’t want to just showcase pretty pictures but I wanted you to see them in all their glory, walk in their shoes, understand them, and in just a little glimmer of hope correct the ignorant thinking that is prevalent on this campus. Apart from my videographer, everyone that worked on this series was an African American female.”

I was granted the chance, along with 15 other beautiful black women, to be the face of this project. Why fifteen women? Well, Boomi decided that he wanted to showcase a woman a day starting February 14, 2016.  Individuality was a key component within this project. Not only was he showcasing black women, but also the differences within black women that makes us each who we are – our personalities.  The team left some parts of the creative process up to the models.  Each of us picked a specific location on campus that was historic, or held some type of meaning to us, no model picking the same place. We were also able to choose the type outfits we wore.

These components, location and visuals, really shaped how we were portrayed in the shot.  Boomi’s only requirement was to wear the color white, a sign of purity and peace. This freedom allowed for the individuality to take the forefront of the project. There were times during my personal shoot when he would say, “It’s all you, be yourself” or “It’s your world, I’m just living in it.”

Being able to be part of something that represents black women in such a positive light brings me immense joy. I have not always been the confident woman I am today and this project reminded me of that. It reminded me that when I struggled with recognizing my beauty, there were not projects like these that I could look up to. But now that I have developed this unshakeable love for myself and black women, this project has reinforced it. All I can do is hope that it gives the same feeling to those who come in contact with this project.

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Other models and their experience with #UMDMelanin:

Day 13: #UMDMelanin Location: Nymburu Amphitheater —- My name is Courtney Rianne Humphrey. I am a woman of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. There is nothing in this world that I enjoy more than being a Black woman. There’s so much tenacity, endurance, humility, and wisdom that it takes to be a Black woman and I am blessed to have all of those character traits. God’s second best gift to this world was the Black woman. That’s why I’m proud to be a Black woman. My favorite quote describes us completely: “She was a beast in her own way, but one idea described her best. She was unstoppable and she took anything she wanted with a smile.” –R.M. Drake That quote right there is us. We are life. -Courtney R. Humphrey

A photo posted by Olasubomi Adesoye Photography (@oaphotography1) on

Courtney Humphrey – 

I wanted to take the time to appreciate and celebrate the skin I was born in. Too many times, we as Black people, and Black women, are under appreciated, disregarded as standards of beauty, and completely robbed of our culture. This campaign gave me a chance to take it all back. So loving my melanin attached to my college experience was taking back the power from society. Black girls loving themselves and each other is nothing short of a powerful thing. I chose to have my shoot at the Nyumburu Ampitheater because that is a stomping ground for Black Unity and especially being a member of a BGLO (Black Greek Letter Organization) the Ampitheater is a cultural landmark for me.

Day 6: #UMDMelanin Location: Riggs Alumni Center —- I am Rae-Ann Jaziel Steele. I am from Englewood, New Jersey but my parents are from Trinidad and Tobago. Growing up, my parents always encouraged my two sisters and me to be proud of where we come from. As of today, I am not only proud to be Trinidadian, I am also proud to be black. When I was younger, I used to aspire to meet society’s standards of beauty: long, straight hair, thin frame, a narrow nose bridge and small lips. But now, I love everything about myself and my culture– my tight curls, small curves, and full lips. Black history month is a time to celebrate black excellence and beauty. It is a time to embrace everything that society tells us isn’t conventionally beautiful. It is a time to be proud of the glow in our melanin. -Rae-Ann J. Steele

A photo posted by Olasubomi Adesoye Photography (@oaphotography1) on

Rae-Ann Steele –

My name is Rae-Ann Steele and I am a sophomore majoring in physiology and neurobiology. #UMDMelanin has had a huge impact on me because it allowed me to build a bond with other women that face the same everyday struggles as I do. This project has made me appreciate the strides that we have made as a people and the amount of hardships that blacks have overcame throughout these past years. I am so proud of the movement that we have started and I want us, as a black community, to continue to demonstrate our pride of being black and our persistence to continue defying stereotypes.

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*Cues India Arie and thinks how beautiful it is to be a black girl*

Continue to follow #UMDMelanin on social media through Instagram and Snapchat @OAphotography1


Day 9: #UMDMelanin Location: Xfinity Center(Main Entrance Stairs) —- I am Aysia Monae Morton & I am an extremely proud black woman. I come from black & Caribbean decent. To me being a black woman means being multi faceted, breaking boundaries, & dismissing stereotypes. I am a black girl who graduated early & is in college. Both my mother & father are in my life. I listen to Future but I also listen to John Mayer. I have a passion for the arts but I also love computer science. Yes, I am very opinionated but I also love listening to what others have to say. I am not what society portrays me to be. For this photoshoot, I decided on an athletic shoot because I’ve been an athlete all my life. My body is basically all muscle & when I was younger it was my biggest insecurity. I never realized how beautiful my body was until recently. I’m strong & I embrace it. As black women, we are strong. We had to take on this “strong black woman” facade because of our history and our circumstances. We were forced to be strong. We have had no choice but to be- mentally & physically. But thats not all we are. We do break down, have feelings, & have mental health issues. We do love with all our hearts, and give until there is no more of us left. Black women, we aren’t robots. We do need support and we do need love. We deserve to be loved & uplifted. We deserve to love ourselves, & it starts with us. Black History Month is a time of celebration & education. A time to celebrate all the beautiful cultures and accomplishments of black people. Educating ourselves and others on our struggles, past and present. This month just places an emphasis on the indefinite power and love we possess as a people. We deserve to be uplifted & it starts with ourselves. -Aysia M. Morton

A photo posted by Olasubomi Adesoye Photography (@oaphotography1) on