SUBOG and the University of Connecticut’s NAACP chapter brought social media influencer and activist Demetrius Harmon as their honorable keynote speaker at UConn NAACP third annual Image Awards.
Hosted by Nicole Hamilton, president of UConn’s NAACP chapter, and Justis Lopez, the night was filled with food, performances and a moving speech from the social media star. The show recognized UConn students who have made an impact during their undergraduate years along with faculty that guide these students to success.
UConn dance team Encore started the night off with a jaw-dropping routine that excited the audience. UConn’s Praise Dance Ministry closed the night with a routine that was in sync and beautiful to watch. UConn’s Voice of Freedom also sang their souls out on the stage, bringing goosebumps and you could feel the emotion in every word sung.
The NAACP Annual Image Awards show recognized the African American student population for their outstanding work in the community. The first award of the night, “Black Girl Magic,” was awarded to Abby Katz, followed by the “Black Boy Joy” award, given to Mehki Amos. Winner of “Graduate Student of the Year” was Pauline Batista and “Faculty Staff Member of the Year” was given to both Dr. Willena Price and Steve Cartagena for their support to students. UConn Brothers Reaching Our Society and National Council of Negro Women, INC, tied for “Organization of the Year.” Paris Pruitt was awarded with “activist of the year” and Odia Kane was awarded with the “Student Lifetime Achievement” award. Lastly, the final award went out to Dr. Joseph Cooper for “Faculty Lifetime Achievement.” These awards were given to those who set an example for UConn and the community. Though in there are winners and losers in award shows, Natalie Hamilton emphasize how all the nominees made a great contribution to UConn.
The highlight of the night was keynote speaker Demetrius Harmon speaking about his journey as a social media influencer. Harmon is most known on Instagram and as a mental health and suicide prevention activist. He has created a hoodie campaign titled “You Matter” to spread self-love and raise mental health awareness. He has also donated $20,000 to Nanny Angel Network, a breast cancer organization, and has won multiple social media awards.
Harmon started his speech with slides, showing his family and his first job. He spoke about how he was unhappy with his job, so he made Vine videos as an outlet. Harmon emphasized following one’s dream. He said he, too, is still “figuring this out.”
What struck the most was Harmon’s words on dreams.
“Following your dreams means believing yourself…trial and error with following dreams but life doesn’t allow a lot of error” he said. He spoke about how he and his peers, UConn students included, were never taught how to handle life after high school.
While most know Harmon by his social media presence, many do not know the challenges he has faced. He spoke about his greatest inspiration, musical artist and actor Childish Gambino. When Gambino losted his father, Harmon wondered how he moved on from that loss. Then Harmon went on to speak about losing his grandmother, which impacted his life emotionally. He felt like “dying inside,” but the one thing that kept him going was entertainment. He kept making content because he knew that was what his grandmother wanted. Harmon explained though it’s easy to get wrapped up in challenges, “everyone has a different purpose.”
Emotional as the story was, Harmon remained collected. He presented pictures of his achievements, including winning three social media awards and giving back to his community. The trendy “You Matter” hoodies that are seen everywhere on Instagram were made by Harmon to raise awareness.
One of the most memorable things he said throughout his speech was, “You get blessings to share them, not to keep them to yourself.” Demetrius Harmon uses his platform to influence youth to love themselves. There was a time when he thought he hit rock bottom, but the people around him and what made him happy was what kept him going. Janaya Laude, an undergraduate student, said, “Demetrius’ speech really encouraged me and my college career. What I want to figure out to do in life and my purpose.”
The awards ended with a meet-and-greet with Harmon, where students were able to interact and take a picture with the social media star.
“I think it is so important that we continue to acknowledge our students, organization and faculty that are doing incredible work because they are not always recognized and acknowledged,” Hamilton said. “We did not create to celebrate NAACP but to celebrate individuals who make this campus better than when they started.”
Cindy Lam is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.