St. Leo University is creating more than beautiful buildings and new residence halls on campus. The school recently unveiled a significant piece of campus art: A statute reflecting a rich and diverse heritage that defines the school's history.
"One of the things we wanted to depict with that outdoor art was the representation of when the Benedictine monks at St. Leo Prep School admitted the first African-American student in 1898," said Dave Ostrander, vice president for university advancement.
On Martin Luther King Day, the school dedicated "A Spirit of Belonging." It symbolizes St. Leo's decision to tear down the walls of segregation.
"We wanted to represent St. Leo's inclusion of all people and the sense of community. The story of Rudolf Antorcha being the first African-American student here when it was illegal to do it was a compelling one," Ostrander explained.
During segregation, the monks opened their arms to African-Americans despite the dangers and outrage from the community.
"The surrounding community was not accepting of that, and there were things that happened. There were fires, there were incidences surrounding the fact that monks were inclusive in this way. But again, it didn't deter the monks from doing what they knew was the right thing to do," said Reggie Hill, director of undergraduate admissions
St. Leo is the first Catholic college in Florida. The school also became the first in the state to take this huge step to end segregation. "A Spirit of Belonging" is already making an impact on the school's student body.
Janae Durham is a third-year student at St. Leo.
"It shows a lot. It really does. It's meaningful to me to know that you can put many statues of anything, but you want to symbolize the very first person, African-American person that came to our school. I love it," she said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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