Who We Are

The Institute on Black Life (IBL) at the University of South Florida was established in the fall of 1986 with a core mission to serve as a resource center on the history and culture of the Black experience in Africa and the African Diaspora. IBL’s founding director was Dr. Juel Shannon Smith whose vision of resilient university-community partnerships remains an important value of the Institute and the University of South Florida. In 1996, the institute added a global dimension with a Center for Africa and the Diaspora (CAD) which was dissolved as a separate entity in June 2020.  The work of the center continues within the Institute on Black Life which continues to build on the solid historic foundation, maintaining the integrity of the founding mission while moving in new directions that align with the University of South Florida's Strategic Plan. The USF is a Research I, and Carnegie Classified Community Engaged university with a global perspective. The institute was under the USF Provost’s Office until 2007 and is currently in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). There have been 4 directors since the Institute was established:

Dr. Juel Smith, Founding Director, 1986 - 2000 
Dr. O. Geoffrey Okogbaa, 2000 - 2007
Dr. Cheryl Rodriquez, 2007 - 2018
Dr. Fenda Akiwumi, 2018 - Present

Although located in CAS, IBL is a university wide institute that colleges and departments throughout the university support and engage with. The institute’s advisory committee is interdisciplinary with representatives from Anthropology, Africana Studies, Geosciences, Engineering, English, Education, Graphic Studio, Gender and Women’s Studies, Mass Communications, Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC) and the Cultural Heritage Lab. This interdisciplinary group brings diverse perspectives on moving the institute forward in its endeavors. In response to the tragic death of George Floyd and in solidarity with the local and global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement the IBL will expand its mission and goals to promote and facilitate Blackness and Anti-Black racism education, research and training at local, national and global scales. IBL will help unify this shared vision across USF and will be the centerpiece of all activities dealing with Blackness, anti-Black racism and broader thematic issues. Over the next three years, the Institute will continue to concentrate on three strategic areas in collaboration with university and community partners. These key areas are Blackness and Anti-Black racism education and research; cultural heritage preservation and sustainability of African and African Diaspora communities; and student success through education, mentoring and cultural enrichment programs.


The mission of the Institute on Black Life is to serve as a resource center on the history and culture of the Black experience in Africa and the African Diaspora with a focus on Blackness and Anti-Black racism education and research.


The IBL has the following goals :

  • Goal 1: To facilitate and support knowledge production through research and scholarly exchange on a broad range of topics relevant to the lives of Black people in the U.S., Africa, and across the African Diaspora.

  • Goal 2: To facilitate local and global community engagement, interdisciplinary research and service projects, sustainable solutions to systemically induced economic, environmental and sociocultural problems affecting Black communities.

  • Goal 3: To support USF student retention, academic success and creativity through cultural heritage enrichment, informal training, outreach and mentoring programs, study abroad, and community-engaged research and service opportunities that support the IBL mission.