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Campus & Community

‘Freedom House’ at 50

Nyumburu Celebrates Milestone Anniversary as Center for Black Culture on Campus

By Annie Krakower

Students congregate at the Nyumburu Cultural Center Amphitheater after a Black Terps Matter protest in June 2020.

Students congregate at the Nyumburu Cultural Center Amphitheater after a Black Terps Matter protest in June 2020.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Through discussions and dance, poetry and pageants, classes and camaraderie, the Nyumburu Cultural Center has for half a century served as a campus hub for Black social and intellectual interaction.

Nyumburu, meaning “freedom house” in Swahili, opened in 1971 in a World War II-era Army surplus building in the old “gulch” area of campus, yet “was like an instant oasis” for Black Terps, former director James Otis Williams recalled in a 1996 Black Explosion article.

After moving to the South Campus Dining Hall in 1977, Nyumburu settled into its current, more central Campus Drive home in 1996. Over the years, the center, led by Ronald Zeigler Ph.D. ’83 since 2000, has presented lectures and seminars, hosted art exhibits, scholarship pageants and musical performances, and offered academic courses on blues, jazz, creative writing and more.

This fall, staff, alums and student ambassadors are holding a series of reflections, conversations and tours dubbed “Nyumburu Cultural Center at 50: A Legacy of Nurturing and Empowering Students Through Black Cultural Awareness.” On Saturday, the center will hold its hybrid 50th anniversary celebration, with speeches, entertainment and a few surprises in store.

Students in 1972 gather in the newly established Nyumburu Cultural Center.

Students in 1972 gather in the newly established Nyumburu Cultural Center. (Photo courtesy of Terrapin yearbook)

Dancer

Nyumburu sponsors the Miss Black Unity pageant, won in 1986 by Paula Gwynn. (Photo courtesy of Terrapin yearbook)

Terps perform at Juke Joint

Terps perform at Nyumburu’s Homecoming staple, Juke Joint, in 2019 at the Stamp Student Union. (Photo by Chris Wright)

Nyumburu Cultural Center Director James Otis Williams and university President Brit Kirwan join other UMD administrators in breaking ground on the center’s Campus Drive location in 1994.

Nyumburu Cultural Center Director James Otis Williams and university President Brit Kirwan join other UMD administrators in breaking ground on the center’s Campus Drive location in 1994. (Photo courtesy of University Archives)

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