It was not a lecture, not a discussion, but it was Branden Snyder’s (B.A. DAAS, Political Science ’10, MPP ’19) first plane ride that shaped his decision to pursue a major in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS). On a 17-hour flight to South Africa, Snyder credits his conversation with DAAS Program Associate Elizabeth James in shaping and rearranging his imagination, allowing him to visualize a future in community work built around accountability and direct action.

Snyder’s story is one of many from DAAS’ event in the Trotter Multicultural Center on February 16, 2023, entitled “Black Studies Matter,” which featured a group of five intergenerational alumni of the program discussing the impact of Black studies on their personal and professional lives. The program was moderated by DAAS Chair Matthew Countryman and cosponsored by the Black Student Union.

Several of the panelists, including Ozi Uduma (B.A. DAAS, Anthropology ’14), Assistant Curator of Global Contemporary Art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, noted DAAS’ ability to broaden their career pathways through close relationships with advisors and professors. It was in these conversations that Uduma realized she wanted to go into the curatorial and artistic spaces.

“I could come to DAAS in the moments that I felt things did not make any sense,” Uduma said. “They (value) community and caring about people at the same time as talking about intellectual, scholarly-produced theory. This shaped who I am and the kind of work I want to do.” 

An ulterior motive – following a person she was dating – brought DAAS into the life of Dorian Ballard (B.A Economics ’17, MHSA ’21), where she credits the DAAS class “Oil, Violence, and Environment” in focusing her career in the environment and public health fields. Ballard also earned a minor in DAAS.

“I write this in every cover letter – I love the context DAAS gave me to do work in community engagement,” Ballard said. “The statistics, the math – the context to apply (what you’ve learned) – it is important in any job you have.”

Context was already familiar to JuJuan Buford (B.A. DAAS, English ’02), whose journey to DAAS began in middle school. Surrounded by books, he began to familiarize himself with authors on Black community empowerment. Through meeting individuals in the DAAS program, Buford discovered a career in business development, where his goal is to help thousands of Detroiters over the next decade become employers, giving them equity, control, and agency through entrepreneurship.

“In many respects, I feel I was destined for DAAS,” Buford said. “I sat with individuals of the Black Action movement, and they taught me their history. Because of my upbringing and these people, learning that history was a tool to make an impact in my community.”


This article was revised on April 26, 2023, to correct the title of the course mentioned by Dorian Ballard and the details of JuJuan Buford's career.