Vital Signs

About Vital Signs

In an effort to support student voice and action related to the Black Lives Matter movement, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, the UMD Office of Diversity and Inclusion and UMD Office of Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy in partnership with Black Terps Matter announced Vital Signs: Creative Arts for Black Lives Mini-Grants in Summer 2020.

Both Black-identifying and non-Black-identifying creators may apply. For those applicants that are Black-identifying, we invite you to use this opportunity to creatively process any joy, pain or vitality that you want to express. For those applicants that do not identify as Black, we ask that you approach your project and examine your topic from your own perspective with introspection and a critical eye.

We encourage students of all forms and levels of artistic experience to apply. Applicants do not need to be affiliated with a student organization.

These mini-grants are awarded each semester to artists in the UMD community who are creating projects that affirm Black life and vitality and interrogate white supremacy and anti-Blackness. Mini-grant funds are intended to support costs associated with the development of these projects.

Submit a project proposal for the 2023-2024 mini-grant cycle by Sunday, November 5, 2023 at 11:59PM ET.

For questions about Vital Signs: Creative Arts for Black Lives mini-grants, please contact Tyler Clifford, Senior Artistic Planning Coordinator, at



Past Recipients & Projects



Rasha Alkhateeb (Doctoral Student, Literacy Education ‘25) is developing a project titled, “Anti-Racist Creative Writing Workshop: Interrogating and Identifying Writing Identities.” This workshop will incorporate counter-storytelling using Critical Race Theory and leverages writing as a meaning-making process, form of empowerment, and tool for resistance and cultural survival.

Ijeoma Asonye (Undergraduate Student, Mechanical Engineering and Creative Writing 24) is creating a short film project based on her published novel “The Beautiful Math of Coral”. The film incorporates live-action and surrealistic animation to explore the intersection of science and art around the themes of home, belonging, love, and healing while being Nigerian-American.

Atiya Dorsey (Graduate Student, Performance Studies ‘26) is exhibiting a series of photography focused on themes of Black heirlooms with connections to identity, preservation, and creating intergenerational meaning.  

Rolonda L. Payne (PhD Student, Urban Education ’24) Affirming the beauty of researching Black students, Rolonda created a space and time for six Black doctoral students to freedom dream and develop liberating ideas on researching and reducing epistemological violence against Black students in education. The doctoral students created and displayed artistic images and tangible products of their positionality and axiomatic stances of Black brilliance. This reflexive methodology required a synthesis of expression that allowed doctoral students to situate their experiences within Black joy, Black love, resistance, and racial trauma to express Black liberatory and radical imaginaries that humanize and value Black students in research.

Kaisha Snowden (Undergraduate Student, Dance & Community Health ‘26) is creating a dance masterclass open to dancers of all backgrounds interested in learning the style of majorette. This project seeks to amplify Black joy and create affordable and accessible spaces for creative expression in Baltimore City communities. 

Teresa Williams (Undergraduate Student, Golden ID) is creating an interactive website showcasing the life of Frederick Douglass and the creation of Frederick Douglass Square on the UMD campus. 

Alexis Morgan Young (Graduate Student, Urban Education ‘23) is creating spaces for Black girls to explore and dream liberated educational futures through artistic mediums including drawing, collaging, and writing. 


Spring 2022

Shari Eve Feldman (Graduate Student, Vocal Performance ‘23) created a classical song cycle commission for soprano voice and piano. The project is inspired by and made in collaboration with Sydney Jones, UMD undergraduate poet, who expresses her ongoing journey of self-love, cultural pride, and beauty through her relationship with her hair, in all its forms, through the medium of poetry. Sydney's texts are transformed through the commissioning process, into five musical song settings.

Hayden Kramer (Graduate Student, Musicology ‘22) "Six Works by Francis Johnson: A Snapshot of Early American Social Life." explores the life of Francis Johnson (1792-1844) who was a freeborn Black Philadelphian composer, bandleader, fiddler, and bugle virtuoso. Johson composed works for military and dance bands; he is also likely the first Black American to both have music published as well as to publish his own works. By researching and performing Johnson's music, Kramer seeks to bring awareness to a critically important and under-researched historical musician. 

Shannon Martin (Doctoral Student, School of Psychology ‘24) is a school psychologist and doctoral student whose practice and research interests seek to reclaim schools and community spaces as sites for the liberation of Black and non-Black students of color. Shannon is the co-founder of the “In Full Bloom Summit for Women and Girls." Her project supported the creation of the first summit: a public celebration of Black women and girls focused on creativity, wellness, and community.

Josh Mlodzianowski (Doctoral Student, School of Music ‘24) works to blend the genres of classical music and hip-hop. Classical music is a genre that often is viewed as an out-of-touch artform incapable of adapting to the culture and time period. As a saxophonist, Josh has had first-hand experience performing in various musical settings. With the Vital Signs Mini-Grant, he was able to commission hip-hop producer Eric Jensen to co-write and produce a classical piece titled "Hip-hop Vignettes." The multi-movement work uses hip-hop beats as the backdrop to accompany classical saxophone. The work is being written to show how hip-hop music can be performed alongside concert music.

Cyrah Ward (Graduate Student, Dance MFA ‘23) The House of Griots: Card Deck, involves the creation of digital collages supported by archival photos that speak to the formation of the Black American identity. Once complete the digital collages will serve as card faces in a 52 card deck accompanied by creative prompts that will work to facilitate performance making for Black dancers and performers.


Fall 2021

Ceylon Mitchell (Music Performance ‘22) is creating a musical performance and recording an album featuring works by Brazilian, Cuban, and Black American composers.

Vivian Ebisike (Criminology and Criminal Justice ‘22) is creating a digital magazine titled “Into the Wilderness” that discusses the struggles of a first-generation Nigerian-American. It will dissect the intersectionality of a triple minority through experiences, struggles, and cultural differences, which provides a resource to other minorities with similar lifestyles.

Deja Collins (Projection and Media Design ‘23) is creating an experimental projection design featuring a live abstract deconstruction of the artist's experience with sleep paralysis. Using a melange of archival video/audio, visual effects, and texture to explore the nightmarish parallelism to the artist's relationship to their enigmatic mom.


Spring 2021

The following students were awarded funding in Spring 2021. To hear more about the projects from the artists themselves, watch archived video of the Spring 2021 virtual showcase.

Anthony Aguilar (Art History & Archaeology ‘21) created a digital reconstruction of the Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence in downtown Washington, D.C.

David Alade (Information Science ‘21) created a mini-magazine of film photography that focuses on displaying the intimacy and beauty of Black hair.

Lauren Floyd (Percussion Performance ‘24) and her percussion trio, Lineage Percussion, composed and commissioned Shadows of Lakeland, a vignette-style piece that musically delves into the rich history of Lakeland, the historic African American community of College Park, Maryland.

Aliyah Jackson (Theatre and Psychology ‘21) created a short film about a Black woman who refutes the concept of being “a slave.” This film is being made to celebrate the prideful history of the Black American by capturing the strength, beauty, and regality of individuals of African descent.

Chisom Ojukwu (Public Health Science ‘21) created “Identity and the Arts Summer Program”, a summer-long virtual art tutoring session for BIPOC youth. Her goal is to connect one-on-one with young students and inspire them to explore the concept of identity through the endless possibilities of the visual arts. Registration for the program will open on May 17, 2021; more information is available on Chisom’s website.


Fall 2020

Sadia Alao (‘20): American Idol, a visual poem that explores the magnitude of what it means to be Black in America. It is a catharsis of pain as well as a celebration of culture.

Ines Donfack (‘23) and Maya Lee (‘23): Redefine UMD, a digital collage that explores the internalized shame that Black students have been taught to feel for having common Black features. Redefine UMD seeks to empower Black students to reject Eurocentric standards and embrace who they are.

Hunter Jones (‘20): A mural project looks to analyze the influence and impact of street art in College Park as well as to elevate queer and Black voices. The murals will depict University of Maryland leaders including Elaine J. Coates, David Driskell, Miss Toto (Rock Evans), Dr. Mary Berry and Ben Holman.

Stephen Lyons II (‘23): IGOR: A Virtual Love Affair, a dance film inspired by music from Tyler, The Creator’s 2019 album. After a decade of repressed feelings, a gay man finally declares his love for his longtime best friend at the risk of ruining their relationship.Will this declaration be worth it?

Chidinma Opaigbeogu (‘21): Jisike (Find Your Way Back), a chapbook of poetry and short stories focused on the cultural dissonance that Opaigbeogu has experienced as a Nigerian-American.

Vital Signs Partners

Black Terps Matters

Black Terps Matter is a grassroots anti-racist communal coalition that aims to dismantle all forms and constructs of systemic racism and oppression at the University of Maryland. We employ transparency and intersectionality to support any and all forms of anti-racist idealism. We promote diverse experiences and perspectives substantiated by facts and data to educate expeditious activists whom we align ourselves with. We intend to hold all entities pertaining to the University accountable for every one of their actions, assertions, propensities, and implications.

UMD Office of Diversity & Inclusion

The UMD Office of Diversity & Inclusion serves the University of Maryland by providing leadership and expertise that enriches the experiences of individuals and builds stronger communities. ODI supports the efforts of campus units to achieve their diversity and inclusion goals.

UMD Office of Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy (MICA)

The UMD Office of Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy, a unit within the Adele H. Stamp Student Union and the Division of Student Affairs, stands firmly in our role to empower students through education on issues of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, religion and their intersections. In support of our campus' commitment to diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice, we advance a purposeful campus climate that capitalizes on the educational benefits of diversity, through student-centered advising, advocacy, programs, research, and practices. Our collective work results in positive student outcomes observable in their learning, identity development, involvement, and leadership.


Vital Signs: Creative Arts for Black Lives Mini-Grants are supported in part by The Venable Foundation.