Magazine Feature / People

Volunteer welcomes minority students to DU

When Bayonne (Smith) Holmes began her college search in the mid 1950s, she hoped to leave Denver to attend a historically black college. Her mother had encouraged Holmes and her seven siblings to get an education, but Holmes couldn’t afford to leave Denver.

So, Holmes attended DU like her mother, Elizabeth (North) Smith (attd. 1937 and 1955–58) and brother William Smith (BA ’54, MA ’59, PhD ’72). By the time Holmes completed her education, another brother, Wayne Smith (BME ’64), also had graduated from DU.

After graduation, Holmes — BA sociology ’58, MA education ’68 — taught elementary students in Denver public schools. She went on to develop and implement a high school level black studies curriculum in Berkeley, Calif. Holmes also mentored students, giving those who otherwise wouldn’t go to college a “head start” toward college preparation.

Having several family members attend DU partly explains why the University is still so important to Holmes. For the past eight years, she chaired the African-American Alumni Association.

Holmes remembers when she was the only black student in all of her classes.

“There wasn’t any diversity,” she recalls. “You could count maybe 10 [black] undergraduates in a period of four years.”

Holmes says white students weren’t openly hostile, but generally ignored her. She didn’t let it bother her. Instead, Holmes says she became DU’s first black cheerleader, which helped her make friends.

Still, Holmes wants better for today’s students and is willing to volunteer her time and energy to that end.

“By working with students, I think we can make a difference,” Holmes says, noting that black faculty and alumni get to know incoming students and help them throughout their time at DU.

This article originally appeared in The University of Denver Magazine, Winter 2006.

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