Black History Month often highlights civil rights trailblazers like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. Contemporary political powerhouses like Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris and Michelle Obama have elevated our faces to the limelight and our skin to a treasure. But what about the Black heroes in our small communities whose mighty feats are far too often ignored?
Leïla Metellus, a junior at the University of Miami, is proud of who she is. Although she’s not (yet) stamped in history books, she’s a hands-on leader committed to uplifting her community.
As a first-generation college student raised in a Haitian household, Metellus and her family always held the highest expectations. So when she first set foot on UM’s campus in August 2018, she knew she had to make her mark.
Metellus majors in sociology and human development on the pre-medical track and minors in chemistry, film studies and communications with a concentration in public advocacy. Are you overwhelmed yet?! One adjective to describe this young lady is well-rounded, and that’s not one to be used loosely. She’s heavily involved in on-campus organizations and leadership as a Dean’s Ambassador for the College of Arts & Sciences, Cane Buddy, Orientation Fellow, ‘Cane for a Day, Hammond-Butler Gospel Choir, Horizons Pre-Orientation Program and Harambee Weekend.
How can one possibly balance all these activities? “I once felt overwhelmed by everything, but I don’t want to sell myself short,” Metellus said. Her pursuit of excellence on campus doesn’t stop there. She’s a mentor in several programs that uplift women and the Black community. For starters, Metellus is president of the Sigma Delta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. — a historically-Black Greek sorority upholding the principles of scholarship and service, two of her greatest passions. The National Pan-Hellenic Council is the collaborative umbrella caucus of the nine historically-Black sororities and fraternities, also known as the “Divine Nine.” Metellus acts as the NPHC’s historian and promotes its mission throughout campus. She’s also a member of the planning committee for the Patricia A. Whitely Women’s Leadership Symposium, which she said is “a great way to learn more about the professional world and uplift women.” Last but not least, she’s a part of UM’s Committee on Student Organizations, a council that oversees other university organizations. According to Metellus, she first got involved with COSO when her friend Olbrine Thelusma aspired to launch a new club, Black Creatives Collective. Metellus realized that a Black voice was needed on COSO’s board so that organizations fostering Black advancement like Thelusma’s would be heard.
One quality that all of Metellus’s engagements share in common is a focus on “mentorship, child development and investing for the future.” That’s a large part of who she is — or so her mentees say. Sophomore Sydnae Becton remembers meeting Metellus when she came to visit UM for Harambee Weekend and Metellus served as her mentor. “She was so welcoming and showed me all the great aspects of UM,” Becton said. “I fell in love with the school because of her.”
Another one of Metellus’s mentees, sophomore Grace Altidor, said of Metellus: “Whether she’s constantly keeping me up to date on clubs and events I had no idea about, sending me a quick motivational text during finals week or simply showing me around Miami, I can see her heart and personality in everything she does. When I grow up, I want to be like her!”
Aside from mentoring and on-campus involvement, Metellus’s primary aspiration in life is to become a neonatologist — or, in simple words, a “baby doctor.” On top of her busy schedule, she’s a licensed practical nurse who conducts research at a diabetic clinic for teens, and she’s well on her way to earning those scrubs.
When asked about her experiences as a Black woman at UM, Metellus said that being Black at UM means community. “We’re a small Black community,” she said, “but we’re always there for each other.” When her mentees and even strangers see all that she’s succeeding in, she motivates others to push themselves.
So while it’s always important to acknowledge the global figures of Black representation, there are Black heroes like Metellus in the little community of UM, doing the hard work so that we will rise and be acknowledged as a culture.
words_leslie dominique. photo_leïla metellus. design_olivia ginsberg.
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