COLUMBIA — For MU senior Rachel Davis, the message conveyed at Arvarh Strickland’s candlelight vigil was empowering. It reminded her of stories told by her parents, both MU graduates, of discrimination they experienced as young adults and how they overcame it.
Davis said her mother, Desiree, who majored in nursing in the late 1970s, was the only African-American person in the program’s graduating class. When her mother reached out to an adviser for help finding a tutor, the adviser, instead, told her to switch her major. Davis said her mother didn’t take that advice.
She said her father, Lenny, experienced discrimination before graduating with a degree in engineering in 1980.
“Both of them walked out with their degrees,” Davis said. "To know that I can come here, and I can look at the department and see people who are like me, and know that there is a building named after someone who is like me, it just gives me hope for the future."
The University of Missouri Legion of Black Collegians and iGUIDE Leadership Team sponsored the vigil in Strickland's honor on Monday evening, outside the academic building named for him. Strickland, who was hired in 1969 as the first black professor at MU, died April 30 at age 82.
Before he retired from MU in 1996, Strickland worked to improve minority-hiring efforts and increase black student enrollment.
The vigil included a prayer that Strickland’s impact on MU be remembered, a poem recitation, a keynote speech from Kaylan Holloway, founder of the iGUIDE Leadership Team, and a dance and vocal performance.
MU senior Paetyn Cage said Holloway’s speech about passing on your "light" to help others, represented by the candles held by the vigil’s attendants, inspired her to continue Strickland’s legacy.
“It didn’t feel right to not show up for somebody who made all these accomplishments for me, who made all of this possible for me,” she said.
In the vigil’s closing remarks, Marnae Chavers, president of the Legion of Black Collegians, challenged those in attendance to think about what their impact on MU will be. Davis said Strickland’s impact encouraged her to pursue her career and service goals, as well as motivate younger students to achieve what they want in school.
“It’s just great to come back and pay respects to someone who blazed a trail so that you can walk it,” Davis said. “That’s why I came out.”
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