A Hoo Without a Name – Just the Way He Wants It

October 1, 2020 By Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu

As the University of Virginia’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers was being discussed, designed and constructed over the last couple years, Terrell Jana – like a lot of people on Grounds and within the Charlottesville community – waited with great anticipation.

In early July, the fourth-year student on the UVA football team finally got to check it out.

“The one thing that hit me was that many of the names on the memorial, almost all of them probably, were just a first name or an occupation – like a carpenter, welder or groundskeeper or something like that,” Jana said. “All of the last names weren’t recorded or they had forced last names of the slave owners.

“It was not only their last names that were taken away from them, but their roots, their culture, their tradition, their family … it was like they weren’t important enough. That was shocking.”

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Mel Jana Headshot
Jana helped create the football team’s community outreach group called “Groundskeepers.”

As a result of the visit and social justice issues happening around the country, Jana – with Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall and Director of Athletics Carla Williams’s support – decided he wanted to play this season without any name on the back of his No. 13 jersey.

The choice was made more feasible after an NCAA ruling in July allowing players to replace the last name on the back of their jerseys with “something intended to celebrate or memorialize people, events or other causes.”

Jana, a Vancouver, British Columbia, native who attended nearby Woodberry Forest for high school and is now in UVA's Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, debuted his look in the Hoos' season-opening victory over Duke University at Scott Stadium last Saturday.

“When I walked in the locker room and saw the jersey without my last name, I just felt connected to hundreds and hundreds of years of people,” Jana said. “It was a pretty remarkable experience.”

Mel Jana on the field preparing for play
“When I walked in the locker room and saw the jersey without my last name, I just felt connected to hundreds and hundreds of years of people,” Jana said.

Mendenhall said supporting Jana’s idea was a no-brainer.

“I thought it was tasteful, I thought it was substantive, I thought it was well-thought-out and I thought it was powerful – with him not drawing attention to himself, but possibly just asking folks to contemplate, ‘How could that be?’”

Jana’s desire to bring light to certain issues – and to try and make change – is nothing new.

The wide receiver, who had the second-fewest dropped passes in the country last season, helped create the football team’s community outreach group called “Groundskeepers,” which focuses on unity and a commitment to change through education.

In August, the group organized a “Take Back Our Grounds” march that started at Heather Heyer Way – honoring Heyer, who was killed during violent white supremacist demonstrations on Aug. 11-12, 2017 – and passed by the memorial at UVA.

Be safe, for all of us. -UVA

One of the group’s projects this fall has been trying to get out the vote.

“Groundskeepers came from having deep and good conversations with our team,” Jana said. “With all of the good in Charlottesville there is, we’re continuously trying to find ways that we can impact our teammates and ourselves, how can we change ourselves right now, and try to grow. It’s pretty cool because of the way it’s been embraced by the community and UVA athletics in general. It’s growing with other programs joining in and coaches getting their players to be a part of it which is nice.

“Ideally, the more people are part of it, the better. And the more ideas we have, the more we can do.”

When the team took the field against Duke, they did so with a flag that Jana said represented the people of Charlottesville.

“How they responded to hate with such love and vigor and empathy and fight and justice after Aug. 11 and 12 was remarkable, and so this is kind of our way to represent Charlottesville and the strength of this community and to try and highlight the good here that people are doing,” Jana said.

Jana is certainly one of those people.

On Thursday, two days before the team’s big game at Clemson University, Jana made a return trip to the memorial, where he seemed to pay specific attention to the timeline along the wall.

When the Hoos play the Tigers, Jana will once again be nameless, as he will be for the rest of the season.

“When I step on the field, I’m hoping to force people to remember my last name,” Jana said. “If I’m going to wear UVA on my chest, I want to represent people who looked like me.

“My goal is to pay homage to those workers, to honor them, but also to represent them.”

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Whitelaw Reid

Manager of Strategic Communications University of Virginia Licensing & Ventures Group