Spring 2021

New doors of opportunity

Rayna Taylor
Liz Banfield

When Rayna Taylor heard about George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, she was shocked and frustrated—but not surprised. “How many times do we have to see this? How many times do we have to go through this as a community?” says Taylor, the first recipient of the University of Minnesota Scholarship in honor of George Floyd. “But it hit harder this time because it was in the place I call home.”

When she heard about a petition drive to recall Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, she felt called to use her writing and storytelling skills—she’s a senior majoring in technical writing and communications—to advance the grassroots effort. Like others who signed the petition, she felt Freeman should have been more aggressive in charges against former police officer Derek Chauvin. “We want someone who’s more progressive and more visionary,” Taylor says of the Recall Mike Freeman campaign.

She connected with a member of the group’s board, who was creating a project to explore a range of inequities within the Hennepin County judicial system. Taylor suggested including incarcerated men and women, who are disproportionately Black, because “their voices are usually ignored and unacknowledged,” she says.

To turn her idea into action, she submitted a proposal (which is currently waiting for approval from the Minnesota Department of Corrections) to interview incarcerated Black men and women. The idea was sparked by her visits to prisons as part of a yearlong marketing internship with the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

“I went in there and I saw people that look like my dad, people that look like my uncles, brothers, cousins,” she says. “The way I felt visiting those prisons led me to want to start this project, to give them a voice.”

In the meantime, she’s planning for life after graduation. Taylor hopes to start a freelance IT and design business that will give more people of color an opportunity to be successful in the technology field.

She says the scholarship honoring George Floyd gives her hope as she begins the next chapter of her life. “It means a lot to me that people are willing to invest in the future of this up-and-coming generation—especially in the Black community, where sometimes we feel unheard or left out,” she says of donors who have contributed to the scholarship. “They’re opening up a new door of opportunity for me, and for others in the Black community who will come after me.”

As of April 23, 464 donors had contributed more than $121,000 to the scholarship, which was created in June 2020 by U of M President Joan Gabel.

Hear more of Rayna's story:

University of Minnesota Foundation