AUSTIN (KXAN) — Amid the rise in protests and national conversations surrounding racial injustices in summer 2020, Austin resident Martin Taylor had one question at top of mind: How do we take a moment and help make it a movement?
Taylor, managing director at Vista Equity Partners in Austin, began looking into programs and endeavors here in Central Texas he could donate to that could help facilitate the next generation’s movers and shakers. Landing on the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males at the University of Texas at Austin, he said he was drawn to the idea of amplifying leadership, mentorship and internship opportunities for Black men who have historically been overlooked in certain industries and subsectors.
“I really was trying to find ways to create, to help facilitate exposure and experiences for underserved communities,” Taylor said. “How do we create more experience and exposure for underserved communities, to allow them to have different career options and just plant that spark, plant that seed that someone might have exposure to?”
On Wednesday, UT announced Taylor had made a $1.5 million donation to the university, with $750,000 allocated to the Sweatt Center to expand its resources and scholarship opportunities for future cohorts of students. Taylor said the core focus of the program, paired with the historic legacy of its namesake, aligned with his vision on how to champion the next generation of Black students, entrepreneurs and creatives.
Formerly named the African American Male Research Initiative, the center was renamed in October 2019 after Heman Sweatt, known for his civil rights advocacy and legacy as the first Black student to be admitted to the UT School of Law in 1950. His admission came following the Supreme Court’s ruling on Sweatt v. Painter that granted Sweatt the right to attend.
“If we’re going back to the history in terms of Heman Sweatt, he was the catalyst for helping to integrate the 40 acres,” said Darren Kelly, associate vice president for academic diversity initiatives at UT. “His lawsuit to get into and gain admission into the law school helped pave the way for Brown v. Board of Education and the further desegregation across the United States, but certainly, really directly here at UT.”
The Sweatt Center’s services cater to undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students and include:
- Black male student orientation
- Academic coaching, advisement
- Internship programs
- Study abroad opportunities
- Collegiate Black Male Retreat
- Weekly empowerment meetings
- Undergraduate research
- Student-athlete programming
Emmanuel Williams, a December graduate from UT studying business and textile design, was a member of the Sweatt Center throughout his time at UT.
This spring, he’ll begin a job with clothing company Levi Strauss in San Francisco. He said his studies in Beijing — a place he pulls a lot of design inspiration from — helped open up doors and opportunities he might not have received otherwise.
“It was this opportunity to just see how big the world is,” he said. “It was just opportunity that led to even job opportunity.”
As part of his new involvement with the Sweatt Center, Taylor met with several members, including Williams, to get a better perspective on their experiences and aspirations and how to continue to better the initiative and expand its student reach.
“To expose these men to these job opportunities, a career opportunity…if my funding in some way can help add more students to that mix to get to go on those field trips, to those experiences?” Taylor said. “If they can broaden what they have exposure to, I think that just lifts everyone up to some degree.”