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Last week, Cassandra Illidge, Vice President of Global Partnerships and Executive Director of the HBCU Grants Program at Getty Images, spoke at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival. As a panelist on “Preserving the History of HBCUs Together,” she finds herself uniquely qualified to not only talk the talk, but lead by example.
The Black Wall Street Times spoke to Illidge about what she’s doing to bring HBCU culture further into the light.
Growing up in New York to a Caribbean family, Illidge has experienced the gaps in formal education and sees her role at Getty Images as a conduit for change. “Public schools do not teach enough about Black history, or History in general, said Illidge. “This was an opportunity to shift things. Also as a leader in the photography industry, it has not been one of inclusivity as we know. This was our way of stepping in and listening to not only our employees but also our customers.”
When we spoke, I referenced Questlove’s Oscar-winning documentary, Summer of Soul, and how many Black viewers saw the footage and recognized friends and family members. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but when so much history has been locked away for generations at a time, a picture can mean more than words describe. It can bring change in real and meaningful way.
So much so in fact, like Summer of Soul, out of the four HBCUs (Jackson State University, North Carolina Central University, Claflin University, Prairie View A&M University) currently enrolled in the program, all archivists have located family members while examining and processing the photos, according to Illidge.
Over 30,000 rarely seen photos depicting historical events, Black Culture and educational advancement at HBCUs will be available for licensing in the HBCU Collection on Getty Images.com, providing a new revenue stream for each institution. One hundred percent of the revenue generated from this program is invested in supporting current and future HBCU Grant recipients, as well as stipends and scholarships for students.
“Just talking to the historians and archivists, the way we’re approaching this program is sensitive and respectful of their work,” Illidge confirms.
When asked what her hopes are for the students and schools aiding in the research, beyond providing scholarships and career path opportunities, Illidge states, “getting to see an expansive view of history is key. Helping the schools get their name out globally is a huge opportunity as well.”
After seeing so many photos of years past now collected with Getty Images, Illidge knows Black folks have been fly forever. “Seeing how dope we are and how far back it goes, that’s what’s interesting. Seeing the 18th century dapper attire of the [college] gentlemen and the hats, the furs, the gloves that the ladies were wearing. It disrupts all the stereotypes and it increases our level of respect for each other.”
Illidge is thinking global impact.
“There’s a huge interest in our culture across the globe,” says Illidge. “Because there’s not enough representation in other countries, visually representation to show our history.” Illidge added she hopes for Getty’s unveiling of HBCU photos to aid professors teach “more expansive views of history, students can write papers on its content, and I think there’s a long term effect this will have that I’m not even aware of.”
While at the Film Fest, Illidge stated her two-plus years work into this project was satiated and soul-fed by artists and students whom she met with, eager to talk about how its personal impact on them.
“It’s not a job – it’s my passion – it’s my calling,” says Illidge.
Citing Denny’s and Epson, Illidge states American companies have been supportive partners,”I’m getting corporate brands to come abroad because they see the vision.”
In addition to Photo Archive Grants for HBCUs, another program, the Black History and Culture Collection is “Getty Images taking our content and putting it on a platform so that educators can use it for teaching and learning about history.” She affirms, “And I didn’t say Black history. I said history.”
Curated with the helpful hands of NYU’s Deborah Willis and University of Penn’s Tukufu Zuberi, Ph.D., at 30,000 images and counting, they are creating a uniquely permanent digital library of Black excellence, style, and class largely unseen by most.
You can view over 4,600 photos now.