Pamela Bingham had never been called the N-word in her life — until her freshman year at UF.
When Bingham, a Mississippi native, then ran to be UF's first black female Student Body president in Spring 1986, she checked her answering machine every day for hate mail.
Nearly a dozen times during the campaign there was a message.
“Go back to Africa.”
Now, 32 years after her term, Bingham sees an election she never imagined. Three black student candidates are running for Student Body president in a three-party race — a historic moment at a university that only began admitting black students in 1958 and where black students still only make up about 6 percent of the Student Body. The last black Student Government President was Jamal Sowell in 2004.
Candidates Janae Moodie, Revel Lubin and Ian Green said they hope by leading the Student Body, they can inspire young black boys and girls who may see themselves in their shoes.
The three have all previously served in Student Government leadership positions. They have affiliations with organizations including Florida Cicerones, Black Student Union and Florida Blue Key.
To them, UF has been a place where they found success regardless of race, but all are keenly aware of what it means to be a black person in America.
Janae Moodie still remembers the door. The slurs. The dead bird shoved in the mailbox.
She was 12 years old, living in the predominantly white West Palm Beach area, when her mom took her to see their friend’s defaced house.
The white garage door was spray painted in red with phrases like “go back to Africa,” and “white power,” and a swastika.
“My mom wanted me to learn about racism and that it really is still alive and well,” she said. “It’s important that my parents made it a priority to bolster my own awareness of colorism.”
Later, when she was 15 years old, Moodie boarded a plane from New York and sat next to an elderly white woman.
“You don’t belong here,” the woman said to Moodie.
Nobody heard what happened except for a flight attendant, who chose to ignore the woman’s comments. In that moment, Moodie needed an ally.
“The biggest problem is when people are complicit with things they don’t agree with,” Moodie said. “It’s only when you step out of that fear boldly that change starts to happen.”
Moodie, who is running with Challenge Party, said her experiences with discrimination have been disheartening, but they’ve made her stronger. Moodie resigned from her position with Impact Party as Senate President Pro Tempore in January, saying the party and SG didn’t value the voice of minorities.
“The time is always right to do what’s right,” Moodie said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “I want to be able to start to crack that glass ceiling.”
Student Body Treasurer Revel Lubin said running for student body president is a calling — and would have been whether he was black or not.
“I haven’t considered too much of the history aspect of it,” he said. “I think what’s really important to me, whether it’s a black person or not, is a candidate that’s here for the students.”
To Lubin, the presidential candidate with Inspire Party, being a black candidate is about being an example for all people.
“It doesn’t matter the obstacles you’ve been through in your life. As long as you stand for truth and you stand for something bigger than yourself, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish,” Lubin said.
Lubin’s positive attitude carried him through situations where he was discriminated against — like one night in 2015, his freshman year, when he found himself surrounded by five Gainesville Police Department cars outside a TGI Fridays.
“Keep your mouth shut,” one of the officers said. Lubin asked what he did, and the officers wouldn’t answer.
The owner of the restaurant had called the police and said Lubin, a black, 6-foot-3-inch male in a white T-shirt and baseball cap, fit the description of a suspect.
“Is the description that I’m a black male?” Lubin said.
After the owner of the restaurant came out and told the police Lubin wasn’t the suspect, the officer told Lubin and his friends to leave and not come back.
“I was just always reminded of my race,” Lubin said. “I was always reminded that things like that can happen.”
Officer Ben Tobias, a GPD spokesperson, said there’s no kind of documentation of any kind of contact with Lubin.
Senate President Ian Green, Impact’s presidential candidate, said black parents everywhere are used to having the conversation about race with their children.
His talk came at 11 years old.
That year, Green sold cups of lemonade to buy his mom a candle from Bath and Body Works for Mother’s Day.
When Green went to purchase the gift at an outdoor mall close to his home in Atlanta, an older couple passed by him and the woman grabbed onto her partner. Green remembered being confused — it was May, the woman couldn’t have been cold and grabbing the man for warmth. He said it bothered him the entire day.
“I went back and told my parents what I experienced and that’s when we had a talk,” Green said. “That’s when I really realized what it meant to be black in America.”
He sees the opportunities for minority students in SG only continuing to grow, he said.
Despite the progressive appearance of Spring’s SG election, Patricia Hilliard-Nunn hopes students will focus more on the candidates’ ideas and policies than gender and skin color.
Hilliard-Nunn, a UF professor of African American Studies, said SG has a history of rebranding itself while the same groups of people make decisions and serve the same clubs and Greek organizations behind the scenes.
She said students should be questioning the candidates’ track record, and priorities far outweigh skin color.
“What party are you in, and who’s pulling the strings,” she said. “That will often let you know what that president will do regardless of what you look like.”
Samuel Taylor, UF’s first black Student Body President in 1972, still remembers the hand-me-down textbooks.
Lincoln High School, still an all-black school when Taylor attended in the early ‘60s, got all of its books from then all-white Gainesville High School.
The racial disparity followed him from all the way through his doctorate in 1973, he said. Only 12 students at UF during his first year as an undergraduate in 1964 were black, including himself.
To now see three black candidates vying for the position he once held feels like a milestone, Taylor said.
“That wouldn’t even have been practical to aspire to when I came along; it was beyond the experience that we lived in the South at that time,” Taylor, 69, said. “This is a marker of the progress — significant progress — we’ve made.”
All three candidates hope to help recruit and retain more black students. They want UF to be a strong example for other schools and to show the benefits of diversity.
They want to be seen as more than their race. They want to be seen as students, leaders and friends.
“The way that that happens is when we open the doors and make history the norm,” Moodie said.
Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that Bingham said she was called the N-word once her freshman year.