Upperman African American Cultural Center celebrates 25 years


Upperman African American Cultural Center

This year UNCW’s Upperman African American Cultural Center celebrates its 25 anniversary.

Veronica Wernicke, News Editor

This year UNC Wilmington’s (UNCW) Upperman African American Cultural Center celebrates its 25th anniversary. The Upperman Center is a place of support, education and advocacy for Black students at the university. 

The center, which opened in 1995 in honor of Dr. Leroy Upperman, located on the second floor of the Fisher Student Union (room 2021) has been a gathering place for the UNCW Black community since its installation. Dr. Upperman was a physician and surgeon in the Wilmington area for over 50 years and was also heavily involved in the community.

“Dr. Upperman’s love of education and desire to provide opportunities for the advancement of African American students played a major part in his bequest for funds for scholarships and activities that promote academic achievement and African American heritage,” as stated on the Upperman Center’s webpage. 

One major event the Upperman Center will be hosting in celebration of 25 years is Virtually Black, the Association for Black Culture Center’s (ABCC) 29th conference. This event will take place virtually from Oct. 29 – 31 and include workshops, podcasts, guest speakers, virtual art galleries and blog space. 

“We are planning on doing a couple of podcasts with different cultural centers, directors around the country, some who are new and some who have been there for a while,” said Manuel Lloyd, the Program Coordinator for Cultural Enrichment Programming. “Giving people kind of have a greater sense of the work of cultural centers, around the country. That’s kind of the big, celebratory thing we’re doing now.”

This was also yet another event that the Upperman Center had to pivot alongside the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the associated health concerns.  

“So all black cultural centers, multicultural center, diversity and inclusion offices around the country they are all coming together to present on various topics and talk about their work,” said Lloyd. “It is for staff and students [undergraduate and graduate] and so students will also be able to present their work with the hope of possibly finding a career and making networking connections. That is really the big goal of the conference.” 

Aside from hosting this years ABCC’s conference, the Upperman Center also plans on coming together with the Mohin-Scholz LGBTQIA Resource Office and Centro Hispano to record a podcast. 

“So it is called ‘At the Intersections’ and will be about all of our centers kind of working together,” said Lloyd. “And how we work together and introduce and use intersectionality as a model.”

Another big thing the Upperman Center is working on in conjunction with their anniversary is the podcast Chop it up, where they talk about what it is like running a Black Cultural Center and talk with student guest speakers.  

“We had our BSU president and vice president on the podcast last month,” said Lloyd. “This month, we are doing our NPHC, our National Panhellenic Council, our historically black Greek organizations. So we have four members who will be on that podcast. We’ve got one on black holidays and then food culture and tradition.” 

All these podcasts and information regarding events will be available on the Upperman Center’s website. 

They also plan on having an art exhibit, All Eyes on Me, on Sept. 25. The exhibit which will be in-person and have virtual aspects will feature 25 images for 25 years.  

In the past 25 years, the Upperman Center has accomplished a lot and feels proud of where they are now. Sean Palmer, Director for the Upperman Center,  described the Upperman Center as the “Gucci Prada” of cultural centers, due in part to the size of the university and center. 

“We have probably one of the most innovative spaces across the country,” said Palmer. “We tend to be seen as a cultural center. I think our students do not realize that they have a cultural center that is called upon by many other cultural centers to help them work through their issues and we are constantly supporting other cultural centers in their work multicultural centers. In many ways, we are spearheaded, we are at the forefront of all of that. One of the reasons that we are able to do the cultural center conference virtually is because people see us as the center to be able to pull this off. So they are like, oh, my goodness, of course, it is got to be at Wilmington.”

Palmer said he is also proud of the ways the Upperman Center has helped create a space for student’s work to be seen and allowed them to create community. They currently have a traveling exhibit which further allows student’s work to be seen by others outside of Wilmington. 

“I think I am most proud right now that we have about 15 black student organizations that are on our yard,” said Palmer. “We have a literary magazine [and it] is breathtaking. I mean, just the images alone, and that the university is starting to appreciate all the Black students even though they’re less than 800, are there about 850 of them, [but it] has never really shifted [from] that.”

Palmer also acknowledged the strong relationship their center has with the university and the Wilmington community and said he is deeply grateful for their support.

“Even in the centers most difficult periods, the University [has been supportive],” said Palmer. “I think our Black and Brown and LGBT and white communities even liberal white communities have been very good to the cultural center in terms of being strong benefactors, allies and co-conspirators.”

Looking forward, the Upperman Center has already started working on its next five-year plan. In the next five years, UNCW will actually celebrate 60 years since they first started admitting Black students to the university. Palmer said they would also like to take students abroad to Africa and more trips in general as a center. 

“We look forward to broadening black culture, creating a larger black cultural space, we are hoping that we will get some more space and staff so that we can do this work more effectively,” said Palmer. “We look forward to building an African Studies program that is not just a minor. We look forward to doing more work with the Gullah Geechee culture. So thinking about all of the ways in which a specific Black ethnic group is apart of this coastal community from Wilmington down to Florida is something that we want to continue to make sure is a part of the commitment to the university. And then really hopefully ushering in more Black students, we’d love to be able to be supportive to growing Black student populations.”