DU’s First African American Cheerleader Returns to Campus to Inspire Educators of Color

Alumna Bayonne Holmes, M.A (’68), returned to the Morgridge College of Education (MCE) to participate in a dine and dialogue event in celebration of Black History Month. MCE Dean, Karen Riley, moderated the event which was attended by faculty, alumni and students of education.

The event honored Holmes’ legacy and work in encouraging diversity in schools in Colorado and California as early as the 1950s to present day. As a professional educator and community volunteer, Holmes has inspired many youths to look beyond their circumstances and establish future goals. In all of her classrooms, as early as 4th grade, she required her students to make journey maps which would include their future in education.

Holmes is quick to credit her mother with instilling the value of education in her family tree – a seed that took root in Holmes’ siblings and beyond. Holmes’ older brother William Smith also earned two degrees in education from DU and went on become the first black principal in Denver. Thirty years later, his son, Robert Smith, gave the 2017 commencement address at DU.

During Holmes’ decades-long career, she provided curriculum and diversity leadership to the Denver Public School System, UC Berkley, the Colorado Coalition for Domestic Violence, and the Community College of Denver. Her work allowed her to play a pivotal role in civil rights issues, including desegregation and school bussing.

In addition to reflecting on her life’s journey in education, Holmes described her experience being one of only a handful of black students at DU in the 50s. A time in which she transcended expected roles to become the first black cheerleader and one of the founders of the Black Alumni Affinity Group on campus.

“I graduated from East High School (in Denver) so I knew what it was like to be among a lot of white students,” Holmes said. “Everyone has to find out for themselves what they have to do to feel comfortable. The way you carry yourself can project respect. I felt good about myself so I didn’t allow anything negative to have an impact on me. I just did it!”

Holmes continues to bring that diehard enthusiasm to the current projects with which she is involved; tutoring at an afterschool program and creating a mural of her family tree for the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver’s Five-Points neighborhood.  As Holmes is quick to point out, the family tree will be a visual representation of the power of education. Referring to her nephew Robert Smith, Holmes recalls, “When his dad came home with his PhD it didn’t just change the family. It changed the community.”

View more photos from the event on our Flickr album.

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