This story was written by Caroline Bledsoe and originally appeared on the UTC news blog.
February 6, 2024 | Caroline Bledsoe
Sophomore Mychael Allen-Fennessee is the recipient of a 2024 Linnemann Scholarship and part of the initial cohort of Africana Studies ambassadors. Photo by Angela Foster.
The Department of History at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga announced the recipients of 2024 Linnemann Scholarships and launched a new ambassador program to highlight the Africana Studies minor.
The Dr. Russell Linnemann Memorial Endowment in History to support Africana Studies in the Department of History was established in 2021. The scholarship was created to honor Linnemann, who taught African and British Empire History—and courses on the blues—at UTC for 36 years before his unexpected passing in 2006.
The 2024 recipients are senior Zennia Nesmith, a non-traditional student majoring in psychology, and Mychael Allen-Fennessee, a sophomore history major.
In their scholarship applications, Nesmith and Allen-Fennessee shared their thoughts on the significance of the Africana Studies program.
“In my two semesters as an Africana Studies minor, I have gained a more foundational understanding of the complex and beautiful history of Black Americans than I did in 12 years of grade school,” wrote Allen-Fennessee, a native of Nashville. “Africana Studies is so much more than a minor; it’s the cultivation of critical thinking skills, the expansion of your worldview, and a deepening connection to your fellow man.”
Nesmith said that the knowledge gained from her Africana Studies classes translates into discussions with her friends and family.
“Hailing from this region and having attended public school, the content I am currently exposed to is unlike anything I’ve encountered in my 48 years of learning. Each class I take contributes to a transformative process, and I find myself evolving with every session,” Nesmith wrote.
In 2021, the Dr. Russell Linnemann Memorial Endowment in History to support Africana Studies was established by Linnemann’s longtime friend, Bill Epstein. The endowment provided $500,000 to support the study of African and African-American history and the history of the blues to honor the career and academic contributions of Linnemann
When they learned of a new ambassador program being launched by UC Foundation Assistant Professor of History Julia Cummiskey, the interim director of the Africana Studies program, they both jumped at the opportunity. Nesmith and Allen-Fennessee are joined as Africana Studies ambassadors by senior Ahok Wol, a communication major from South Sudan, Africa.
The ambassadors program is primarily designed to introduce the Africana Studies minor to new students and promote the minor within the campus community. Cummiskey plans to have ambassadors serve on a semester-by-semester basis.
Allen-Fennessee’s goal as an ambassador is to collaborate with different groups and clubs at UTC to educate students on Black history and culture while promoting the Africana Studies minor.
He has already scheduled his first event, which will take place from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 28, in the University Center Raccoon Mountain Room.
“It’s an event around voter suppression in collaboration with the Political Science Club and the (Alpha Kappa Alpha) sorority,” he said.
Nesmith, a Chattanooga native, declared Africana Studies as her minor in fall 2023. She wants to open dialogue between UTC and Chattanooga State Community College, fostering a “spark” by creating a book club where students from both institutions can mingle.
“I want to take the African American Lit class from Chatt State and incorporate it with the Africana Studies program and have all of us read (James Baldwin’s) ‘The Fire Next Time’ together,” she said.
Wol was a 2023 recipient of a Linnemann scholarship.
“I think not enough people know about the minor or even the study of Africana Studies as a whole,” she said, “and the fact that it’s here at UTC is a really big opportunity—not only for the students but also for the school.”
Cummiskey liked that the first cohort of ambassadors come from different walks of life.
“They’re coming at it from very different perspectives in terms of their age and where they are in their career trajectories,” she said, “and I think it’s really interesting to see how people at different moments find this program to be meaningful.”
Dr. Russell Linnemann spent 36 years as a UTC professor before passing away unexpectedly in 2006.