In operation since 2004 and with an 87% black student body, Brazil’s only black college begins to expand

By Carolina Giovanelli

A feeling of uneasiness used to come upon José Vicente, 56, of São Paulo, when visited theaters and restaurants in the city. “I’m used to people giving me the keys of their cars for me to park it and asking me who I’m looking for,” he says. He’s not a valet or a chauffeur, but the dean of an influential institution of higher learning whereby visitors such as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was there in 2010 for a discussion with students and professors, have already visited.

black Brazilian women
Benvinda Medalha Pereira, the oldest graduate of the college’s first cohort

In operation since 2004 with a mission of expanding opportunities for blacks, the Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares (Zumbi dos Palmares College), better known as Unipalmares, counts 1,600 enrolled students and 1,400 graduates.

The dean José Vicente

The entity’s proposal goes beyond the imposition of the quota system (from the law signed in August, that federal universities reserve 39% of vacancies to blacks, browns and Indians who come from public schools). Unipalmares, which is private and belongs to the Instituto Afro-Brasileiro de Ensino Superior(Afro-Brazilian Institute of Higher Education), aims 50% of its vacancies to these races (colors), but it’s not even necessary: 87% of students declare themselves part of this profile. At Universidade de São Paulo (University of São Paulo), for example, they are only 15%, compared to the 37% of the population of São Paulo that they represent. Currently, Unipalmares offers five courses, including Law and Education, with a tuition of R$300 (about US$150) per month on average. Now the school is preparing for a new phase of expansion. In the first half of next year, there will be Human Resource and Financial Management courses.

Starting in 2014, there will be two types of engineering: Transportation and Oil and Gas. The growth rate is strong, given that at the beginning of its activities in 2004 there were only 200 students in the district of Armênia. Due to high demand, Unipalmares moved from the neighborhood of Luz to Barra Funda, eventually ending up at Ponte Pequena in the north zone of São Paulo, where it occupies a property in the Clube de Regatas Tietê (1)
Law student, Karen Mattos
The curriculum includes topics related to the principal goal of the institution, the vindication of minorities and African history. All rooms are adorned with the names of famous blacks, like talk show Oprah Winfrey, activist Malcolm X and the Brazilian humorist Mussum, not to mention, of course, Barack Obama. The re-elected president of the United States was featured in a giant portrait in front of the college and has a photo exhibition in the leisure space – his slogan “Sim, nós podemos (“Yes we can)!” stamped on a wall in bold letters. The tenth edition of the event that brings the most visibility to Unipalmares took place this past November.
The Sala São Paulo hosts the Troféu Raça Negra (Black Race Trophy) award show, which honors inspirational achievements of personalities that have helped the black cause; names like Supreme Court Justice Joaquim Barbosa, actor Lázaro Ramos and singer Milton Nascimento have already been among them. Television host Glória Maria and singer Toni Garrido were among the attendees, as well as Bernice King, who spoke of the struggle of her father, Dr. Martin Luther King, who assassinated in 1968.
The personal history of the dean is also exemplary. A former farmhand from Marília (438 km from the city of São Paulo), José Vicente arrived in São Paulo to join the military police. With his salary he paid for courses in law and sociology and concluded, at Universidade Metodista de Piracicaba (Methodist University of Piracicaba),with a  master’s in business administration and a doctorate in education. “I always wanted to contribute to the inclusion in the qualification and valuation of young blacks,” he says. He joined other colleagues and, in 1997, created the NGO Afrobras, of which today he is the president, which served as the embryo of Unipalmares. Much of its success is due to partnerships with large companies such as HSBC and Itaú.
Hillary Clinton: visits for discussions with students and professors
Former student Ednilson Nascimento, now at Citibank: 
Here, I learned to declare my race”
Besides financing part of the scholarships, that benefit 20% ​​of the students, they open programs for interns and trainees. About 260 students are employed by these sponsors. The Rio Grande do Norte native Ednilson Nascimento, 37, earned about R$1,000 reais (about US$500) before entering college, in the first cohort of Administration. In 2006, when he was a junior, he joined Citibank and continued working there after graduating. Today, he occupies in the bank the post of full operational risk analyst. Out of the red and earning enough to maintain an apartment in Santo André and two cars, while preparing a solid structure for his daughter to come. In the future, he intends to be a professor of the college itself (40% of the faculty is comprised of blacks). “Before, I only liked to be called moreno”, he says. “At Zumbi (Unipalmares), I learned to declare my race.” (2)
Beyond Quotas
Courses: Administration, law, pedagogy, advertising and technology in transport. Will offer Financial Management and Human Resources in 2013 and two types of Engineering in 2014.
Students enrolled: 1,600
Graduates: 1,400
Tuition: R$ 295.00 (about US$147) to R$350.00 (about US$175) per month


1. In perhaps a twist of irony, it was the well-known Clube de Regatas Tietê that for many years barred black Brazilians from joining. In 1978, it was the barring of four black volleyball players from the club that was one of the sparking incidents that led to the formation of the Movimento Negro Unificado, the umbrella term for hundreds of black organizations that fight racial discrimination and for the inclusion of Afro-Brazilians in society. The Movimento Negro Unificado, or simply Movimento Negro, officially formed on July 7, 1978. Clube de Regatas Tietê closed its doors in 2009 but the Unipalmares college maintains its operations on the site.

2. This question of identity is frequently highlighted on this blog. While some see Brazil as having largest black population outside of Africa, others see the country as the world’s largest mixed-race nation. In some ways, it is difficult to come to a true consensus on Brazil’s population as the question of self-perception and identity is always personal. Many studies show the complexity of self-perception and how one is perceived. For example, a person may appear to be black (negro or preto) to someone else but define him/herself as a pardo/parda (brown), moreno/morena (dark or brunette), or mulato/mulata (African-European mixture).  There are also situations in which one sees a person that they would consider to be pardo or mestiço/mestiço (mixed race) while that person defines himself or herself as negro/negra (black). For some social scientists and activists, these terms have become increasingly signs of political consciousness or lack thereof. For more on this theme, see the following articles:

Source: Veja SP
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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