In the spirit of Black History Month, February serves as a reminder of the enduring legacy and invaluable contributions of African Americans throughout U.S. history. At UCF, this month takes on special significance as we celebrate our shared culture of inclusive excellence. Within our dynamic community, Knights aren’t merely spectators of history but active architects, shaping the future with each stride they take. We honor the resilience, creativity and determination that define the journey of African Americans while recognizing the pivotal role our students, staff, faculty and alumni play in propelling this legacy forward.

Here are some Knights who’re not only embracing their Black heritage but also actively pioneering positive change in their pursuits.

Toshami Calvin ’19

As the 2022 Miss Universe Jamaica title winner, Toshami Calvin ’19 represented the island on the world stage at the 71st Miss Universe pageant in 2023. Honoring her Caribbean heritage and representing Jamaica, her birthplace, was a transformative experience, she says. It provided her with a platform to showcase her passion for autism awareness and she used it to start conversations about children with disabilities and children on the autism spectrum.

Once Toshami Calvin ’19 became a student at UCF, she joined the UCF Chapter of FACES Modeling Troupe Inc. — the largest modeling organization on the East Coast.

Before competing in the Miss Universe Jamaica pageant, Calvin had a desire to help others through her health sciences studies. She became interested in a physical therapy career after seeing the positive effects of physical therapy for her cousin who has cerebral palsy. However, while enrolled at UCF, she grew interested in psychology, especially after her youngest cousin was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Calvin plans to complete her master’s degree in applied behavioral analytics to learn more about autism and work with children on the spectrum. So far, she actively works with the Jamaican Autism Support Association and the Jamaican Counsel for Individuals with Disabilities to help positively change as many lives as she can.

Peter Delfyett

When Peter Delfyett first fell in love with science during elementary school, he imagined he would grow up to be a paleontologist. Instead, the Pegasus Professor of optics and photonics has spent more than three decades developing futuristic technology.

Peter Delfyett has published more than 200 scientific publications in refereed journals. (Photo by Lauren Schoepfer ’17)

He is just one of the many UCF researchers that’s changing the paradigm of what’s possible in optics and photonics engineering. As UCF’s first current faculty member to be inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, Delfyett has spent his career developing everything from lasers that are used to cut Gorilla Glass for Samsung phones to fiber-optic cable technology that allows the internet to operate more efficiently.

Delfyett’s personal contributions to the base of scientific knowledge include 45 patents that apply directly to the advancement of everyday life. Many of these discoveries use lasers, however, his other patents are related to the generation and amplification of very short pulses of light using semi-conductor lasers that help build smartphones, medical stents for surgical procedures and micro-precision holes to make car engines more fuel efficient.

Shaquem Griffin ’16

An amputated hand didn’t stop Shaquem Griffin ’16 from realizing his potential — it strengthened it.

At age 4, his left hand was removed due to amniotic band syndrome, which he had suffered in the womb. The day after surgery, he was already playing two-on-two street football and had discovered what would become a lifelong passion for the sport.

His discipline coupled with flourishing talent on the gridiron earned him a football scholarship at UCF in 2013. Griffin was a star linebacker at UCF and was named the 2016 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He helped lead the Knights to their unforgettable 13-0 championship season in 2017, and the following year was named the 2018 Peach Bowl Defensive MVP.

His achievements weren’t just on the football field.

Former UCF Football linebacker Shaquem Griffin ’16 hypes up the crowd during Spirit Splash 2017 at the Reflecting Pond. (Photo by Nick Leyva ’15)

With the help of his coaches, Griffin’s weight room training techniques evolved during his junior and senior year. He completed his first pullup via a prosthetic. And by the end of his junior year, he was squatting 700 pounds — more than three times his body weight.

That tenacity and innovation set him apart. Despite the obvious hurdles, he refused to be defined by his disability, which helped him transform from someone with little playing time to one of the nation’s top defensive players. After graduating from UCF with a degree in communication, Griffin was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, becoming the only known one-handed player in NFL history. He went on to play in the NFL for four seasons. Throughout his NFL career, he achieved significant milestones including the 2019 NCAA Inspiration Award and serving as a commencement speaker at UCF’s Spring 2020 virtual commencement ceremonies.

After retiring from the NFL in 2022, Griffin went into retirement with the goal of helping others. He found greater purpose and joy as a motivational speaker, which he says has allowed him to tap into his passion for helping youth. He has worked with the NFL Legends Community, which helps former players find fulfillment in life after they retire. For Griffin, life after football is a way to not only help others, but also a way to help himself.

Xavier Henderson ’17 ’21MS

Throughout his life, Xavier Henderson ’17 ’21MS always had an interest in taking things apart and putting them back together. One of his earliest memories is helping his uncle fix up old cars. However, his dream of becoming an engineer didn’t come to him until he laid eyes on an F-22 Raptor fighter jet while visiting the Lockheed Martin site located in Marietta, Georgia. From this moment on, Henderson dreamed of working at Lockheed. And with the company’s close proximity to UCF, it was a no-brainer for him to become a Knight and study aerospace engineering.

Aerospace engineering alum Xavier Henderson ’17 ’21MS. (Photo courtesy of UCF Alumni)

During his time at UCF, he pledged Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. — the first-ever Black Greek-letter organization. As a legacy member coming from a line of three Alphas, Henderson says joining the fraternity was something he needed to do. He gained valuable connections along the way, that he says helped him become more comfortable with others.

Today, Henderson is a senior systems engineer at Lockheed Martin and chief technical officer of Hydronomy Inc., an Orlando-based water sustainability company that aims to address the global water crisis. He mentors UCF students and young alumni and has organized annual scholarship awards for high school seniors. Henderson’s dedication to making change and improving the lives of others has earned him several accolades — including the 2022 Shining Knights Young Alumni Award and being named to UCF’s 30 Under 30 class in 2022.

Natacha ’16 and Sabrina Jérôme ’17

Sabrina ’17 (left) and Natacha Jérôme ’16 (right) share an embrace after Sabrina was named to the 2023 30 Under 30 class; Natacha was named in the 2021 class. (Photo courtesy of UCF Alumni)

Born just 18 months apart, Natacha 16 and Sabrina Jérôme 17 are making their mark together. The sisters have both been named to UCF’s 30 Under 30 class, starting with Natacha who was named to the 2021 class followed by Sabrina in 2023.

Natacha is a trailblazer within a Fortune 500 company, PepsiCo. She credits her success in business to the education and opportunities she received at UCF. The finance graduate continues to impact her community by mentoring and developing youth in areas of college readiness and overall self-development.

Double majoring in religion and cultural studies and political science at UCF helped fuel Sabrina’s passion for multicultural affairs and social advocacy, preparing her for roles with the Florida House of Representatives, African American Chamber of Commerce and NGO Hope for Haiti.

Derreasha Jones ’21

Derreasha Jones ’21 has left a legacy at UCF by honoring the impact of John T. Washington — one of the university’s first Black faculty members. The former associate professor of sociology has made a lasting impression on her life. When Jones started at UCF in 2016, she became a member of the Black Student Union (BSU), for which Washington served as one of the first advisors when it was founded in 1969. There, she learned about Washington and his commitment to servant leadership.

Derreasha Jones ’21 in front of the mural of former Associate Professor John T. Washington.

Jones made it her mission to make sure Washington’s legacy wouldn’t be forgotten. This effort began her first year while she gave campus tours as an Admissions Ambassador and realized that not much was said about him other than, “This is the John T. Washington Center, but you’ll never hear that name again.” She worked to change the talking points for tour guides but also wanted to update the plaque on the building. That push began in 2018 and was finally realized in 2021 after she brought it up again as a member of the President’s Student Advisory Council.

Local artists created a mural throughout the John T. Washington Center that features Washington’s image, a quote from him, his signature, the original BSU logo, the John T. Washington Honor Society logo and highlights of his contributions to UCF along the interior corridor.

“It really turned into something even bigger than what I was asking for,” Jones says. “We want to continue to make sure that our whole community feels included and not just when there’s unrest or when it’s Black History Month.”

Konya Plummer ’20

At 14, Konya Plummer 20 had just received her first soccer ball as a gift from her mother, and she took it to a field hoping to join a competitive evening game. The neighborhood boys didn’t think she was good enough to play, and from that moment on, she vowed to prove herself.

Years later, Plummer made history after becoming the youngest captain at the 2019 FIFA World Cup and leading Jamaica to become the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the women’s tournament.

“I was born to be a leader, and I was born to be in this moment,” Plummer says.

Konya Plummer ’20 (Photo by Nick Leyva ’15)

Prior to 2019, just three Knights had ever been named to a FIFA Women’s World Cup roster in the 28-year history of the championship. However, Plummer was one of four Knights who represented their countries at the 2019 tournament in France, and the first UCF student-athlete to compete on the global stage while still enrolled in school. Last year, she made her second FIFA Women’s World Cup appearance.

Plummer, an interdisciplinary studies graduate, transferred to UCF in 2018. During her time as a Knight, she not only appeared in UCF matches, but also led Jamaica to qualify for the Women’s World Cup at the 2018 Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football Championship.

Timanni Walker ’16

Timanni Walker ’16 poses wearing one of the suits from her company, Always in Pursuit. (Photo by Kadeem Stewart ’17)

Timanni Walker ’16 remembers immediately feeling at home while touring UCF’s main campus — even telling her mom, “I have to go here. This is the place for me.” Fast forward — the South Florida native is a UCF advertising and public relations graduate and works as a strategy director at an award-winning New York City advertising agency. She’s tapping into her expertise to help global companies elevate their brand presence, reach new audiences and launch products. Walker has spent a large portion of her career creating visibility for a range of talents — even working with Google on a Black Friday campaign that highlights more than 50 Black-owned businesses.

She has even extended her advertising prowess to elevating her own business Always in Pursuit, a women’s suiting company. Frustrated with the lack in variety of suits for women, Walker set out in 2019 to design thoughtfully made suits that are colorful, comfortable, affordable and accommodate a variety of body types. She channeled her Jamaican roots for her first suit collection — designing green- and gold-colored suits inspired by the vibrant colors of the Jamaican flag. Walker says that her Caribbean heritage plays a big part in everything she does and she’s happy to be contributing to her family’s legacy.