A University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student organization is being recognized for its service in the greater Chattanooga community.
The UTC National Association for the Advancement of Colored People student chapter has been selected for the 2023 Viola Mapp Membership Ruby Hurley Image Award from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP.
The Ruby Hurley Image Awards highlight those who work to build a viable community and serve as ambassadors from the local community. This year’s awards presentation, headlined by keynote speaker Dr. Penny Brown Reynolds—the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s deputy assistant secretary for civil rights—will take place on Thursday, Nov. 2, at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
The award winners were announced by Rev. Ann Pierre, president of the local NAACP branch.
UTC NAACP student chapter president Samara Graves said she was excited to learn the group had earned the recognition, saying that students don’t join the organization for the attention but rather for the opportunity to give back to the community.
“We don’t really post about the things that we do outside of campus because we’re not doing it to be seen—but simply because we care,” said Graves, a junior from Nashville majoring in psychology with a minor in political science. “The fact that people saw it meant a lot to us.
“It feels good to know that people see what we do on campus. People see the community service we put in. People see the effort.”
Graves said UTC NAACP provides service with a different focus every month, such as a Pink Week for breast cancer awareness, and that a lot of the students’ work involves “physically going out there and passing out what’s needed.”
“One of the things we did over the last year for Women’s History Month was passing out feminine bags—so pads, tampons, wipes, soap, feminine supplies, razors, just anything that you use in your day-to-day life that homeless people might not have,” she said. “We bag them up and we pass them out. We try to give out as much as possible.”
Sophomore Kaiya Walls, a pre-professional biology major from Clarksville, Tennessee, is chapter secretary, overseeing outreach to the organization’s 50-plus members.
“The draw for me (to join UTC NAACP) was seeing how much everyone on the (executive board) before I joined really felt that they were growing as people,” Walls said. “I saw that a lot of people were doing things that would be out of their comfort zone, but they were doing it together—and then they would go off to do their own service projects as well.”
Walls said the service work she has participated in includes clothing drives, shoe drives and going to soup kitchens—and the importance of passing out items people need that often aren’t given to them.
“We also do canned drives for the community; we all go out and actually pass it out so that we know that it’s given to the actual people,” she said.
Brandalyn Shropshire, associate director of engagement in the UTC Office of Undergraduate Admissions, serves as the UTC NAACP staff adviser. As a student, she was one of the organization’s charter members when it was founded in the early 2000s.
“I think this recognition is wonderful for the students and it’s twofold,” Shropshire said. “I think it’s good because sometimes you do the work and you’re not sure if what you’re doing is being noticed or if it’s even effective. You never do service to be recognized, but to have someone say, “Hey, I see you,’ I think is major.
“For someone to take the time to acknowledge that and give them this award will motivate them to keep going. They keep expanding and they’ve really taken off.”
Viola Mapp and her husband, James, were longtime Chattanooga-based civil rights leaders and members of the Chattanooga branch of the NAACP—with James serving 16 years as president. In 1989, they were named the national NAACP organization’s 80th Anniversary Family of the Year.
The James R. Mapp Building on the UTC campus was dedicated in his honor in 2016.