15 Days. 16 Women. 15 locations.

Produced by Mayowa Photography.

One of the main reasons I am proud to be a student at the University of Maryland, College Park is because of the large black student body. Coming here from a predominately white high school opened my eyes up to the diversity within blackness that the world tries so hard to deny.

The #UMDMelanin project, produced by the OA Photography team, encompasses the wide range of black womanhood found at this university. Every black woman does not look, act or sound the same; not even on one college campus.

In honor of Black History Month, this post will take you through the manifestation of this masterpiece, unveiling the behind the scenes work and stories from the perspective of #UMDMelanin's main photographer, Olasubomi Adesoye. At the end, enjoy the entire project featured below with mini facts about each woman's shoot. 

The Idea

In my conversation with Olasubomi, he told me that this idea stemmed from a similar one also about uplifting the beauty of black skin. Yet one day he woke up and decided that he wanted to showcase female students each day starting on February 14th, Valentine's Day. The whole idea only took three days to put together. He gathered a team of creative directors, Cheyenne Fogg and Chioma Agbaraji, along with OA Photography's public relations director, Rae-Ann Steele, to produce this extensive project.

Olasubomi says the model recruitment was random. Him and his team went into Stamp Student Union with the idea that they did not want 16 women that looked the same. As you can see in their work, all of the models are different shapes and shades. "All I told them was come in all white," Olasubomi said.

He wanted these pictures to showcase who these women were, their personality. One of the crucial parts of this project is the title of each photo. "The title is their words," Olasubomi says. That was one of my favorite parts of #UMDMelanin. There are so many occasions you just see pictures of beautiful black women, but this project gave each student her voice. It humanized her skin tone and made her story art. 

Location is Key

"The location is part of their story." It was news to me that Olasubomi let each model choose her location. It told me a lot more about their personalities. I like that in each picture, any Maryland student is able to pick up on where exactly on campus it was taken. Any collegiate campus has it's own special culture and this project mixed campus culture with black excellence.

Olasubomi says it was rare that two women would pick the same location. If they did, the most popular was the Frederick Douglass statue in Hornbake Plaza. He also made it clear that the order of each shoot determined the order of each day. Not everyone was able to take pictures on the same day and sometimes these shoots were in between class times.

These pictures captured the black woman at every stage of the black UMD experience. You see us in the classroom, at Mckeldin, eating at Route One, studying in the library. No matter where we are, our melanin still embraces our experiences instead of defining them. The locations and the skin color made this project cohesive while the different looks and words gave this project diversity.

The Response

Olasubomi made sure to give credit where credit was due. He told me that his team gave this story it's first platform on social media. Once people saw the first post with Cheyenne Fogg addressing her thoughts on Black History Month, they wanted more. He tells me that the response has been nothing short of incredible. People have been coming up to him with praises and most of his models have expressed their gratitude as well.

A tweet from model Courtney Humphrey about what #UMDMelanin has done for her.

Olasubomi says that this project really was a thank you to every woman in his life and in the world. This was his way of celebrating blackness and black womanhood. To me, this project exemplifies what every person should spend Black History Month doing, utilizing their talents to showcase and discuss the status of Black people in our world today.

When asked about his future plans, Olasubomi told me nothing is finalized but he does have some projects in mind. Many people have asked him if he plans on focusing on the black men of UMD. He says yes, but instead of honing in on one location he wants them to hone in on one object. He told me that new projects would come later, for now he wants to give this one the platform that it deserves. To see the first gallery showing of the #UMDMelanin project, RSVP for the upcoming Pan-African Conference.

For more information on what OA Photography is doing next, follow its social media platforms on Twitter: @iam_subomi, Instagram: @oaphotography1 and Snapchat: oaphotography1.

Logan Nelson

  • Class: Senior
  • Major: Communication
  • Location: Knox Rd. and Baltimore Ave. (Rt. 1)
  • OA Fact: "She's just poppin' out, your eyes immediately focus in on her."
  • Twitter: @Logantylerr

I am Logan Tyler Nelson. I am a firm believer in being unapologetically Black, respecting the journey, learning to fail forward, and a passionate advocate for empowering women of color. Born and raised in Baltimore, I have always had this energy around me to constantly hustle for your dreams. Outside of my future career path, I aspire to have my own interview series that will inspire women around the country that look just like me.

I am proud to be black because I stand on the backs of countless trailblazers that aren't afraid to go against the grain and who know that with no struggle, there is no strength. Black History Month is an amazing time period that inspires me to not only take the time to express my sincere gratitude for those that came before me, but to also recognize the journeys of countless Black individuals that I am surrounded by on a frequent basis.

Angela Townsend

  • Class: Junior
  • Major: Criminology & Criminal Justice
  • Location: Frederick Douglass Statue (Hornbake Plaza)
  • OA Fact: "At that moment, with the shirt and the cape, she was literally one with him."
  • Instagram: @lalaamorena Twitter: @lalatownsendd

I am Angela Townsend. I am an Afro-Latina who has had the privilege of exploring my identity as an African American & Puerto Rican woman, while discovering the cultures that run through my veins.

Growing up, I always identified closer to my Puerto Rican side due to my context and surroundings, but it is never too late to continue learning and exploring my African American roots. Black History Month is a month of remembrance, learning and appreciation but it doesn't stop at the end of February. It's a life long event.

Ashley Lyles

  • Class: Senior
  • Major: Criminology & Criminal Justice
  • Location: Shuttle UM Bus (125 Campus Circulator)
  • OA Fact: "It (the cameras above) translated, we are being watched at all times."
  • Instagram/Twitter: @VIVALALYLES

I am Ashley D.M. Lyles and I believe Black history is about inheritance. All too often those who have paved the way for us are removed from the pages of history.

To me, Black history is about acknowledging these wrongs and accepting the inheritance to fight. As these heroes fought for us, we must fight for them, and also fight for those coming after us. Like them, we make black history everyday. We are Black history.

Breechaye Milburn

  • Class: Senior
  • Major: Psychology
  • Location: Administration Building (McKeldin Mall backdrop)
  • OA Fact: "She started displaying this stance, this beauty, and I was like wow, you're unfair."
  • Instagram/Twitter: @slimchayedee

I am Breechaye N. Milburn and I am proud to be black because I deserve to be. Everyday I am reminded that I don't matter - that little girls and boys who look like me just don't matter. But this country was built on the backs of my ancestors. Prisons profit off of our sons, uncles and fathers.

The world wants our lips, hips, swagger, style and grace. Nah we matter. Because despite everything we've been through, we're still here -- still here, living, breathing, rising and exuding greatness in more ways than one.

For me, Black History Month is a daily, weekly, yearly celebration of all the ways that we matter. All the ways that we're imitated but never duplicated. And as such, I'm proud to be black because I deserve to be.

Nicole Dei

  • Class: Senior
  • Major: Broadcast Journalism
  • Location: Mckeldin Library
  • OA Fact: "You’re looking at this beautiful African American female, reading, trying to get through this school work, but at the end of the day knows her worth, knows how beautiful she is."
  • Instagram: @nikkidei_27 Twitter: @alldei_nikki

I am Nicole Ofosua Dei. I am a senior broadcast journalism major from New Jersey who has dreams of becoming a groundbreaking television producer, who can also be a representative of the black community.

I'm not going to lie, growing up in an all-white neighborhood made it hard for me to be proud of being black, but more importantly, it made it hard for me to be proud of my darker complexion. Being told by my mother everyday that, "Your black is beautiful," was hard for me to internalize because all I heard from my surroundings were, "You're too dark" or "You're smart for a black girl."

 But then there came a time when I became proud of my history and even more proud of my roots. It was in that moment when I stopped worrying about what others thought of my blackness. This is what black history month does for us. It gives us the time to reflect on how resilient we are as a people. It gives us the time to not only understand just how far we have come, but that we also have a ways to go. Black History Month is the time where we celebrate the beauty that is the black human.

Rae-Ann Steele

  • Class: Sophomore
  • Major: Physiology & Neurobiology
  • Location: Riggs Alumni Center
  • OA Fact: “Her beauty is showing through this reddish-purplish colored staircase that really brought out her skin tone.”
  • Instagram: @_Raebandzz Twitter: @_Raebandzzz

I am Rae-Ann Jaziel Steele. I am from Englewood, New Jersey but my parents are from Trinidad and Tobago. Growing up, my parents always encouraged my two sisters and me to be proud of where we come from. As of today, I am not only proud to be Trinidadian, I am also proud to be black.

When I was younger, I used to aspire to meet society's standards of beauty: long, straight hair, thin frame, a narrow nose bridge and small lips. But now, I love everything about myself and my culture-- my tight curls, small curves, and full lips. Black history month is a time to celebrate black excellence and beauty. It is a time to embrace everything that society tells us isn't conventionally beautiful. It is a time to be proud of the glow in our melanin.

Nzinga Acey & Bria Sladden - Best Friends

  • Class: Senior
  • Major: Finance & Information Systems
  • Location: Memorial Chapel
  • OA Fact: “This is how it always is, I made them hold hands because they are always interacting with one another, laughing, and being free with one another.”
  • Instagram: @Nzingaaa

My name is Nzinga Nadine Acey and I am a junior from Atlanta, Georgia. Black History Month is a time for members of the black community to not only recognize our greatness within ourselves but also give the greater world an opportunity to view and appreciate the many aspects of our culture that make us who we are. Being black encompasses a number of things, however what I am most proud to represent as a black woman is the ability to overcome adversity no matter the circumstances. This has become increasingly significant, as I have grown older because I’ve realized that if I am not confident in my ability to accomplish anything, nobody else will be either.

  • Class: Junior
  • Major: Finance
  • Location: Memorial Chapel
  • OA Fact: “She’s like up there helping her up, no matter what stage their at, they always pull each other up.”
  • Instagram/Twitter: @briasimones

I am Bria Simone Sladden, half African American and half Trinidadian, from PG County Maryland. I love being black because as a poem once stated "God’s favorite color must be black & the many variations thereof." Black as the moon, brown as desert sand, blackness surrounds me and exudes beauty. To me this means that Black History Month is designed to love my blackness and yours. Black History Month exists so we can celebrate ourselves.

Chioma Agbaraji

  • Class: Sophomore
  • Major: Geographic Information Sciences
  • Location: Annapolis Hall Tunnel
  • OA Fact: "It's typical Chioma, 'I'm bad and I know it.'"
  • Instagram: @ayacron YouTube: Chioma Agbaraji

I descend from 20th century Nigerian immigrants of the Igbo tribe who named me Chioma Agbaraji, but defined me as Agunwa, "the lion child." I'd characterize myself as a self lover, invested in the arts and understanding life through the collected perspectives of others. As a student at the University of Maryland, I have grown to learn, appreciate and adore the essence of my blackness. It's more than my color; it's my speech, my thought, my awareness, my humor.

If it were not for my roots, I wouldn't be as flavorful as I am today, and that is why I am proud to be an African-American woman: because I am distinctive in taste, potent. As a whole, however, I appreciate Black History Month as a time to reflect on what makes melanin relevant and the essence of Blackness, such a powerful concept and force. It's a time to rejoice in our race, our creed for equality and the progression of the human race as one form. I am a Nigerian-American woman and I am proud to be a melanite.

Aysia Morton

  • Class: Sophomore
  • Major: Government & Politics
  • Location: Xfinity Center (Main Entrance Stairs)
  • OA Fact: "The athletic wear was all her idea."
  • Twitter: @kween___

I am Aysia Monae Morton and I am an extremely proud black woman. I come from black and Caribbean decent. To me being a black woman means being multi-faceted, breaking boundaries, & dismissing stereotypes. I am a black girl who graduated early and is in college. Both my mother and father are in my life. I listen to Future but I also listen to John Mayer. I have a passion for the arts but I also love computer science. Yes, I am very opinionated but I also love listening to what others have to say. I am not what society portrays me to be.

For this photoshoot, I decided on an athletic shoot because I've been an athlete all my life. My body is basically all muscle and when I was younger it was my biggest insecurity. I never realized how beautiful my body was until recently. I'm strong & I embrace it. As black women, we are strong. We had to take on this "strong black woman" facade because of our history and our circumstances. We were forced to be strong. We have had no choice but to be - mentally & physically. But thats not all we are. We do break down, have feelings and have mental health issues. We do love with all our hearts, and give until there is no more of us left. Black women, we aren't robots. We do need support and we do need love. We deserve to be loved & uplifted.

Black History Month is a time of celebration and education. A time to celebrate all the beautiful cultures and accomplishments of black people. Educating ourselves and others on our struggles, past and present. This month just places an emphasis on the indefinite power and love we possess as a people. We deserve to be uplifted & it starts with ourselves.

Jade Campbell

  • Class: Sophomore
  • Major: Nursing
  • Location: Francis Scott Key (Tunnel Under Stairs)
  • OA Fact: “She said it made her feel happier with who she was, more comfortable in her skin. I mean she’s gorgeous.”
  • Twitter: @ItsMy_Curiosity

I am Jade Campbell. I am a dark skinned African-American woman, born to parents who migrated from Trinidad & Tobago. Growing up being black was always something I struggled with, especially as a darkskin little girl. When I looked on TV and in movies, I saw that no one looked like me in a leading role, which made me feel like there was something wrong with being me.

Yet as I got older I wasn't ashamed anymore; I loved being me. When I think about Black History Month, I don't think about how society sees us as just black, I think about how I see us as beautiful, intelligent, strong, loving people. Which means more to me at the end of the day than anything else.

Alesia Robinson

  • Class: Junior
  • Major: Public Health Science
  • Location: The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
  • OA Fact:  “She showed ‘I’m a very strong, independent woman, I don’t need both legs to catch me.’ There’s not even a wrinkle in her face.”
  • Instagram: @alesiaa_

I am Alesia Gabriella Rosie Robinson. As a biracial woman, growing up I always struggled between identities and choosing which "group" I belonged to. Being proud of my black side was something I struggled with as it was always deemed inferior & uglier. Today, as a 20 year old woman of color, I'm beyond proud to say that I am black, that my skin is tan and that I have curly hair.

Black History Month is a time dedicated to the accomplishments of our black brothers and sisters that somehow we forget to recognize on a regular basis. It's important for us to know our own history, especially when others don't appreciate or acknowledge it. Ralph Ellison once said, "I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time being ashamed." During this month, and every month, I will honor my blackness because my black is strong, my black is smart, my black is fearless and my black is beautiful.

Marima Bah

  • Class: Junior
  • Major: Geographic Information Systems
  • Location: Art-Sociology Building
  • OA Fact: "I just kept saying, that it's your world, I'm just in it."
  • Instagram: @blaaand Twitter: @_bland

I am Mariama Hawa Bah and I am proud of be black because it allows me to be versatile. I am more than just the color of my skin or the texture of my hair. I represent the struggle of my African and African American brothers and sisters and how far they've come from their past. Black History Month is important to me because of the sacrifices those have made in the past, which have allowed me to have the freedom to be whoever I want to be. However, sometimes embracing my identity leaves me in a difficult place.

For a very long time, I had no idea who I was, because I am an African woman from Sierra Leone living in America. To my African peers, I wasn't African enough, and to my black friends, I wasn't black enough. Over the years, though, I've learned that I do not have to substitute equally important elements of myself for each other when showcasing who I am.

Being a lover of the arts has given me a keen eye for detail, and I've learned that every little bit of energy that goes into making art, whether it be the stroke of a paintbrush or the thread of a garment, is just as valuable as the next. All the little parts of who I am, flaws included, are what make me the person I am. A singer. A lover. An artist. A feminist. A friend. A sister. A daughter. An American. A Sierra Leonean. An unapologetically black woman.

Courtney Humphrey

  • Class: Senior
  • Major: Criminology & Criminal Justice
  • Location: Nyumburu Amphitheater
  • OA Fact: "The sun was actually against us that day, but it worked out really well."
  • Instagram/Twitter: @herroyalcourtt

My name is Courtney Rianne Humphrey. I am a woman of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. There is nothing in this world that I enjoy more than being a Black woman. There's so much tenacity, endurance, humility and wisdom that it takes to be a Black woman and I am blessed to have all of those character traits.

God's second best gift to this world was the Black woman. That's why I'm proud to be a Black woman. My favorite quote describes us completely: "She was a beast in her own way, but one idea described her best. She was unstoppable and she took anything she wanted with a smile." –R.M. Drake. That quote right there is us. We are life.

Alexis Brown

  • Class: Senior
  • Major: Journalism
  • Location: Van Munching Hall (Frank Auditorium)
  • OA Fact: "I wanted the feeling of school, the whole reason why we are here.”
  • Instagram: @luloveslex

I am Alexis Ashley Brown, a senior broadcast journalism major at the University of Maryland and I am from Prince George's County, Maryland. As a black woman I have a complex view of blackness. The experience that we have is one with difficulty, but out of which emerged strength and beauty. Black is beauty; it represents resilience, strength and culture.

Being from PG County, I have always been surrounded by so many people who look like me and who have always strived for more than what they were given. My blackness represents my everyday experiences and triumphs. As black women, no matter how much society tries to put us down, we will always persevere. Black History Month is a time to celebrate all of those who came before us and paved the way for the younger generations. It's a time where we can all rejoice in our blackness and commemorate the importance of our culture.

Gabriella Davis

  • Class: Junior
  • Major: Intended Individual Studies Program
  • Location: Maryland Stadium (Formally Byrd Stadium)
  • OA Fact: “This one was very interesting because the lacrosse team was there. They tried to kick us out but we kept going.”
  • Instagram: @gabbbysays

I am Gabriella Simone Davis and I am both African American and Latina. My maternal grandparents were both immigrants to this country while my paternal grandparents are descendants of slaves who were able to obtain land after being freed and create a legacy for themselves. I'm constantly learning something new about my family from both sides. There is so much history, sacrifice and knowledge that come with my skin color that I can't do anything but love and embrace it.

To me, Black History Month is a celebration of blackness. It is about love, excellence, achievement, as well as discussing the problems and obstacles that our communities continue to face. While we do discuss and celebrate such things on a regular basis, Black History Month is the chance for others, who may not know as much, to join our celebration and love our blackness with us.

---MS. PARKER---