Robert Bland, First African American to Receive B.S. from U.Va., to Give Talk on Jan. 21

Jan. 18, 2007 -- Robert A. Bland, the first African-American to receive an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia, will be the keynote speaker for an Office of African-American Affairs event, being held at 2 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom on Jan. 21.

Organized by the office’s Peer Advisor Program, the event, called Harambee II, is the brainchild of associate dean Sylvia V. Terry and celebrates the entering class’ completion of their first semester at the University, including first-year and transfer students. Harambee I is held in the fall to mark the students’ arrival on Grounds.

Bland will talk about his U.Va. experiences, as well as offering “words of wisdom.” His talk also is part of activities celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Office of African-American Affairs. The event is free and open to the public.

Bland attended U.Va. from 1955 to ’59, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Born and raised in Petersburg, Va., he worked at the Naval Weapons Center in Corona, Calif. and retired in January 2004. In addition, he taught at Oxnard College and Ventura College for 14 years. He also owned and operated a portrait photography business. Bland has been involved in community activism throughout his adult life. The NAACP selected Bland as 1990 Outstanding Black Citizen Of The Year.

Harambee is a Swahili word meaning “working together” and in Kenya and other countries, describes community-building events.

“Call me sentimental,” Terry said, “but as I see the completion of the first semester as a milestone. I grew up in a segregated society where we were encouraged by our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others to work hard, to work hard to get a college degree. Such degrees opened doors and provided more opportunities. Thus, completing each semester is a milestone — a step closer to fulfilling dreams. This is the reason for the Harambee II tradition. It continues to offer the love, the encouragement, and faith families had (and have) in us.”