In episode 19 — the fourth of season two of Knights Do That — we speak with Brandon Nightingale ’16 ’19MA, a UCF 30 Under 30 alumni and the archivist at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. In this episode, Nightingale discusses how his journey starting at UCF as an electrical engineering major has led him to now working to preserve Black history, and how slowing down to study the past is the best way to look forward.
Brandon Nightingale: In order to move forward and understand where we are now, you have to go — you can’t do anything without going back and looking at what was done before you, who sat in those same seats before you. And then you use that, right? You use that to move forward.
Alex Cumming: Welcome back to another episode of Knights Do That. Today, you’ll be hearing from UCF alumnus, Brandon Nightingale. Brandon is the archivist at Bethune-Cookman University. And member of UCF alumni’s 2021 30 Under 30 class. In today’s episode, Brandon discusses his journey from his start as an engineering major to now working to preserve Black history. And how slowing down to study the past is the best way to look forward. Brandon is full of wisdom and I know you’ll enjoy hearing it.
Bethune-Cookman University is where you’re working at now. Coming from UCF, Did you watch the game earlier this year?
Brandon Nightingale: I was actually in attendance. I’m on the board for the College of Arts and Humanities Alumni Chapter. We were able to get cabana seats for that game, but it was awesome. And to see the bands do their thing together that was amazing. And then it got to meet some of the directors afterwards. They came by and said, “Hey that was the only UCF game I went to the season, but it was the right one to go to.”
Alex Cumming: That halftime, that band performance. Both bands are out of this world and to see them come together, I was in a stunned silence in the student section. I was like, “This is outstanding.” Because there was so much energy the way that they played off of one another. And when they dropped down into the splits I was like, “Holy cow, this is outstanding.”
Brandon Nightingale: Bethune-Cookman , they’re known for having a dynamic band. I was expecting our band to show out, but I didn’t expect UCF to do that. And for me, the personal connection UCF and Bethune-Cookman . So it was awesome.
Alex Cumming: You came from UCF, you went to UCF as a student starting in electrical engineering, then moving into the history side of things. And what was that like for you?
Brandon Nightingale: That’s a good question. Yeah, I came in electrical engineering of following my brother’s footsteps. He’s also an alum here. He was electrical engineering and my father and family, everybody was a little pushing me towards that. It was big classes. I remember 300 students in the classes and like lecture classes and stuff like that. And I kind of came in not as advanced as some of my peers and stuff. Engineering wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to sit behind that desk and I ended up going undecided. And so at that point I was kind of lost and I was like, “Let me just take my gen-eds.” And that was the big thing was having a free mind to just take classes, not specific classes for a course. So, I took a writing class and that’s when I started saying, “Hey, I could do this.” And ended up taking the history course with Professor Clark, Jim Clark. And that class there just did it for me. And that was a big class too, but I was more engaged than I ever was in any other class. I was staying after class asking a couple of questions going to his office hours. I was like, “Man, this is something that I could really do.” And just the way he taught with this sort of sense of humor other classmates didn’t really get it. But it’s like when you get past the jokes and you understand this was really going on, especially when it talked about the history that was in Orlando that’s when it was like, “wow, this is something that’s nice here.” Ended up doing that and I made the switch shortly after taking his course. And that was really it.
Alex Cumming: Was it a specific class?
Brandon Nightingale: What is 1877 till present? I believe it was in that course that it was like, this is me. Because I had taken, I think, one before that kind of intrigued me, but I was still on the math side at that point. Taking it just with a fresh set of eyes and I was like, you know what after taking the writing course with Professor Hollick and then going right into that, it was like, “OK, I don’t have to be a numbers guy and I can pick up a pen and start writing and stuff.”
Alex Cumming: Orlando has done such a good job of preserving the history that we have in this area, you can see, you can travel, you can visit the places where events happened. It’s done a great job, I believe at keeping record and keeping track of everything that’s occurred here in the Central Florida area. There’s so much that’s even, in this past decade, that’s happening here in Florida. And it’s a wild place to be. There’s a lot of wild history to keep track of. So with that slight change in plans, going from electrical engineering to history, getting involved with it, how does that change in plans contribute to where you are now being the archivist at Bethune-Cookman University?
Brandon Nightingale: Let’s see, I came in 2012 and I finished 2016. So it was about 2015-ish. GPA was a little lower than I wanted it. So I was really trying to focus on getting my GPA back up and I wasn’t even doing the best in history at that point. But I knew I needed to pick up a minor. I had taken all the history courses. I took a writing and rhetoric minor, strengthened pen game took that minor. I was actually going for the major, but ended up taking the minor, joined a fraternity Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. Then I graduated that summer of 2016. Again, my GPA was super low. So I remember trying to apply to internship programs stuff. I couldn’t get into anything because of that low GPA. And you need the internships to be recognized. I had a rejuvenation of academia. It was like I can do this, but I ran out of time. I graduated, so luckily I sort of used this as a backup plan. I went ahead and applied for graduate school to get into the fall (semester and) I got accepted. I knew going into that summer my plans because everybody else that was about to graduate, that was in my field, they were like, “Oh, we’re going to go teach.” I knew at some point I ended up in the classroom, I just didn’t want to do it right then and there. And I felt like I wasn’t done.
And so I got like a fresh start with graduate school. That was the good thing about doing it at UCF was my advisor was Dr. Scott French from my undergrad. And he ended up being over the public history program that I got into, and that’s what sort of kicked it off for me. I had that low GPA, it was like a stamp on my forehead. Not to say that it ate at me, but you couldn’t hide the fact that’s what it was. And so getting that fresh start, it was like, I can breathe now I can apply it to certain things. I was able to intern at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in (Washington) D.C. for three months. and that was the sort of groundbreaking moment for me. Because I had never worked in a museum before. I was taking public history courses with an interest in museums, but I had never actually worked in one. So to go from Florida to D.C. for three months, and I knew I only had three months out there to make the best of my time.
Alex Cumming: I’ve had the pleasure to visit all the museums in DC. And I mean, wow, it’s overwhelming almost. It’s so awe-inspiring. There’s so much history of America.
Brandon Nightingale: I just fell in love with the museum, the folks that were there, networking every chance I could get. And then I was able to bring that back to Florida that sort of propelled me to end up finishing my thesis. Finished school. And I actually got the job, Bethune-Cookman before I finished the degree at UCF. I knew the archivist at the time that was there, Dr. Anthony Dickson. I met him because of my time in D.C. There was an organization out there, the Association of African American Museums he told me that was at Bethune-Cookman. So right before I’m about to finish school, I contact him and say, “Hey, I’m looking for a job.” He was like, “We have a grant here and everything.” And I ended up coming over there and I’m still there today.
Alex Cumming: Did you have a focus when you were in grad school?
Brandon Nightingale: Not at first. So that was kind of the issue for me I came with an open mind. A lot of folks came in with a specific topic that they wanted, but I came in just wanting to take the classes because, again, I wanted that kind of second chance. And that’s when I came across Carter Tabernacle Christian Methodis, Episcopal church. And so I knew I wanted to do something tied into African American history. So that ended up being my focus was the Black church. I mean I grew up in the Black church. I never really thought I would be studying it. Very, very interesting denomination. It allowed me to expand upon a couple of ideas and things I was researching at the time. And so I sort of put that on paper basically and turned that into my thesis definitely one of the proudest moments of my short career. Now it’s just finishing that paper, it’s definitely a benchmark to look at and say, “I did that.”
Alex Cumming: Your time in D.C., you said that you did a lot of networking and you’re hanging around the museums. How did you develop going from a student, to being in this city, the hub of the free world?
Brandon Nightingale: It was awesome. It’s funny that you mentioned that networking piece. Lot of the things that I still applied now I got from my time at UCF, believe it or not. Because I came in to UCF through the SOAR Program. It was a bridge program to get you a head start during that time I remember we had Dr. Jackson and now Dr. Turner, they were sort of over it at the time. And I remember they would make us go to these workshops, that was a requirement of the program. And I hated it at the time, you had to wake up super early but they were trying to tell us, “Hey, this is how you do it. You got to go to stuff.” And I was just going to class at first (and) I wasn’t doing anything but going to class and not taking advantage of the resources that were on campus. And so I really got that networking piece from the SOAR program.
And so when I find that I got the internship in D.C., I immediately start hitting up UCF folks and seeing like who’s out there. That’s advice I give to anybody. If you’re traveling wherever or you’re going to be somewhere, find out where UCF alumni are because it can help you. So when I did that folks were telling me about all kinds of questions that I had because I didn’t know. I hadn’t really left Florida before then. And so just having some sense of direction before I even got out there was a big help.
And then after that, it was just knowing the opportunity that I had been awarded because — and the way I sort of got it another UCF alum Korey Salter ’15, his father was a curator at the museum. And so I shot him an email telling him what I was doing and he was like, “Hey, I can’t pay you, but if you can come out here for three months, I’ll make it worth your while.” And so that’s what I did. And again, knowing that it was only three months, I was there every day volunteering, whatever, trying to just make the best of my time, partly because I loved the museum. If you haven’t been to an African American Museum in D.C. I would encourage everybody to get out there at least once. So part of it was falling in love with the museum. But then the folks that were in the museum, I didn’t really know them, but then I would meet somebody, get their card and then I would go research them right away. And I was like, oh man, this person is director of this museum, this person is director of that museum.
So the conference of the Association of African American Museums, it was in D.C. that year. And so the last part of my internship Dr. Salter, Krewasky Salter, he told me I’m going to pay for your conference registration. I’m forever grateful for that because (him) doing that, I was able to volunteer and work behind the scenes of the conference and see how a conference is run from that angle. I didn’t even know about presenting yet at a conference. This was my first sort of professional conference that I attended. And my professors, they would always tell us go to these conferences, but they were always telling you to present at these conferences. And so I was going to sort of work behind the scenes and I still sort of do that today. Knowing that I only had three months, that’s a short time, and taking advantage of every day. Because I was a Smithsonian employee, I was able to get guests in, it was really hard to get into it this time. So when I dropped that on people, I got a lot of favors just for getting people into the museum. And a lot of times I wouldn’t even be able to walk with them in the museum. I had to go back and get my work done. But just getting the folks in, getting them through security and stuff, that was definitely one of the highlights of my time there.
Alex Cumming: I was in D.C. back in October and that museum, specifically the line around the building. I love what you’re saying about how you use your connections to network and taking advantage of every day. And then you never know how that’ll come back to help you, like getting into the conference. I mean, you got to really hustle for three months to fit all that in.
Brandon Nightingale: It was definitely, you said it right. It was a hustle.
Alex Cumming: To go behind the scenes too.
Brandon Nightingale: I, again, I had to help with the conference and so Dr. Saltzer he kind of threw me in there. I didn’t know it was as big as it was. For one, I’ll say my field is predominantly female so any kind of male that comes around they’re going to put us to work kind of thing. Because conference set up, you have to move boxes, stuff like that. So it was a lot of that, but they were very appreciative of that. And I didn’t know the people that I’m stuffing packets with and stuff, these are like legends in the museum field at this point. And so here I am just helping. It was that drive. I think they noticed it. That was a crazy time for me. Didn’t have much money either. I will say that because, again, it was unpaid. Definitely appreciative of the UCF family that was out there though. Originally, I was going to room with another UCF, alumni. And it didn’t end up working out, but we stayed close. So just to have somebody out there to check up on me and stuff, but definitely the UCF family they were there and they have a strong presence.
Alex Cumming: I hear that, too. In my field, being part of the acting program, in every major city in America, there’s UCF alumni. I mean, gosh, I how many graduates are coming out of UCF yearly, and geez, they’re all over the place. there’s a whole Facebook page for alumni and (you can) be like, you know, who’s here? Who can I reach out to? And so far, every single individual that I’ve reached out to has been super willing to be like, “Yeah, you know, this is a great city live here, visit these places.” These are great people to talk to. And they don’t know me. I don’t know them, but to build those relationships with because we have the mutual university is just so cool. And I want to mention that I think it’s so cool. How, in your story, you said that you were being told that a lot of times to go just to present, which sounds like,you kind of get your face in front of these people, but when you said that you were going behind the scenes and getting down into the nitty gritty, in’t that where real relationships are formed? Getting behind the scenes and you needed to talk with them personally, interact.
Brandon Nightingale: You’re exactly right. And, I did. I have to do that. I was working with the volunteer group and that’s when I met Kyle Hutchison. This is when I found out that basically what goes into planning the conferences, right? They have a team for that to plan things out, make sure everything runs smoothly. Working with Kyle and his team I was like, wow, I had no idea this is what they do. Everything. From something as simple, right, as loading PowerPoints. I was contracted to do conferences with Hutchison Design Group, a top event design group in D.C., working those conferences and loading those PowerPoints. I got to rub shoulders with the directors of the museums. I have their work. So they have to come to me at some point, and say, “Hey, Brandon is my stuff ready?” And they have no I’m in their field. I don’t take it for granted because a lot of times people don’t know who I am. keeping those relationships especially cause a lot of times they have to email their presentation and stuff. So now they have my email, this is a top director sending me their stuff from a personal email account or sometimes they would give me their cell phone numbers and say, “Hey if you have any trouble, just call me.” It was using those connections too. Going back to where I started with SOAR. UCF and the SOAR Program, they were the ones to first say, “Hey, get out there and just go be there. You just got to show up kind of thing and the rest of it play out.”
Alex Cumming: Do you think of how hard people have worked just to get an email of a high curator in a museum and you kind of have a whole stockpile list, just chilling on your phone. That’s awesome. When you’re at the conferences, did they recognize through you the importance of UCF?
Brandon Nightingale: Yes. Yes. So, Before I got there Porsha Dossie ’14 ’18MA she graduated before me. She was in the history MA program, and she is awesome. Because Porsha was ahead of me, I was able to use her knowledge and her skill set to apply it to what I was working on, which I’m forever grateful for, but she actually was at that museum before me. And so when I got out there, some of them knew Porsha and what she was doing in that she was affiliated with UCF. People had definitely heard about UCF and what was going on.
Alex Cumming: I also want to mention to everybody listening that in 2021, you were recognized as a UCF 30 Under 30. How does that feel to be recognized by your alma mater like that?
Brandon Nightingale: It’s still, hasn’t really sunk in. To really sit back and think about a bit mainly again, this is sort of personal for me because me going out and doing that internship at the African American museum and I already had my bachelor’s. One of my fraternity brothers he had won it and I remember sitting down with him after he had won it because UCF was doing some kind of write-up with him. That’s when I first found out about it. And so here I am thinking, I’m out here representing the college at, you know, Smithsonian. And I didn’t really know the process of even applying at that point, but I was thinking, hey, I could do this. And then around 2017-2018 is when I joined the College of Arts and Humanities Alumni Chapter Board, which is led by Azela Santana. I went to her before I got on the board and I said, H”ey, I want to get more involved with the college. “And so she was like, “Oh, you’ll be perfect. Come on the board.” And I was awarded the title student liaison because I was still going to classes at UCF. And so from there I went up to Azela and asked her, “Could you nominate me for the award, thinking what I had done already was good enough. And then I remember, me and Dr. Amelia Lyons and two other students we were able to go out to the U.K., Leeds, and present at World War I Conference as a part of the Veteran’s Legacy Project that we were working on. And at that point I was like, “OK, I’m out here in a whole other country representing UCF.” At this point, I got to be good enough for this award. I think I may have asked Azela, maybe a couple of other folks to nominate me and still didn’t get it. And so at that point I wasn’t upset, but I was kind of like forget the awards, that’ll come. If you focus on the work that stuff will come. If you just focus on your craft, the rest of the stuff, I promise, it’ll come.
I continue to do what I do. I ended up finishing grad school, go to Bethune,-Cookman, doing all my stuff there. And I started out as an assistant archivist. The archivist ended up leaving at Bethune-Cookman. I ended up taking this place. I’m teaching at night. I’m doing all this stuff at Bethune-Cookman and even I’m doing stuff with UCF, the history department. Tiffany Rivera, so she’s always trying to look out for the alumni, and I was able to speak at some things with them and just do outreach work with the history department. Fast forward to 2020, at this point I was teaching classes and I was finishing up my master’s online. I was at a low point, teaching classes at night and taking classes pretty much all at the same time. And I got a call from, Dr. Lyons and she was telling me, you know what, Brandon we’re going to nominate you. I didn’t go to them to ask to be nominated. This was something that they volunteered, they were like, “We see the work you’re doing.” Of course the award is nice, but to be recognized by my professors, who I already was pretty much looking up to at that point, for them to tell me, “Brandon, we’re going to nominate you.” And then I had other friends tell me that same year, too. Somebody sent me the link said, hey, would you mind if I, nominated you? And again, I didn’t ask anybody, people were noticing what I was doing basically. It was in God’s hands at that point, so they nominated me. And then I remember I got the call everybody ended up calling me and they got on a zoom call it was all my professors. Pretty much everybody from the history department was on the call to congratulate me. And that was an awesome feeling. I wear it proudly, just to be acknowledged. I’m in the same class of 2021. Just an awesome feeling. And definitely don’t take it for granted.
Alex Cumming: Congratulations, shows how, like you said, the hard work you keep focusing on your craft, it’ll show for itself. So I want to transition in another interview, you had mentioned how you read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and that opened the door for you studying history. Can you elaborate how reading that book opened the door for you?
Brandon Nightingale: Where I was in my life at that time, this had to have been around the time that I went undecided. So I was lost. It was just a drastic change. And so I remember it like it was yesterday. It was Black History Month, I went to the bookstore, they had a bunch of books, African American history books that was when I saw The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And I remember I grabbed it. This one just opened my eyes because I could relate to so much that he was going through. From him, talking about he would be the only Black student in some classes to struggles with his religion. His mindset at the time, just for me, where I was in my life at that point, I needed something to get a hold of. I was undecided in terms of majors. So I was kind of like a free agent. And then here comes this book, this is around the time that I’m taking the English class. So I’m starting to write now too. So I’m reading his book, I’m starting to write now. It was like all coming together all at once. People get caught up in Malcolm X, whether it’s a negative or positive. But when you take the time to really study them and see where they come from, how they talk, what brought them to the point where they are now. You can look at Martin Luther King (Jr.), like these were humans before they got on the big stage. And the “I Have a Dream” speech and all this stuff. And Malcolm was nation of Islam. These were humans, noticing that human side of these figures is what I love.
To point out to a lot of people, I’m the archivist my technical term is archival coordinator. But if you ask anybody they would say university archivist at Bethune-Cookman University, and that was founded by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and she’s actually going into Statuary Hall, they say it’s going to be sometime this year, but her statue was just in Daytona. I got to take pictures, got to take my family out there. Just amazing for an amazing woman. And I have the pleasure of being over her papers in the archives, like her letters, everything like that. And so seeing that human side of Mary McLeod Bethune, because everybody knows her. She was advisor to presidents. She was national figure that traveled the world. And just to see the human moments, what she ate, how she put on a coat, we have her clothes and her home is on the campus. (A) Daytona Beach Black woman (in) 1904 started this school and it’s still here. It’s now university. Just an amazing story to be able to pick apart these figures that we all often look up to and see their human side. That’s what I try to pinpoint the most and tell people like, although they may have did this good or bad, (but) look at some of the things they did as a child or where they came from. A lot of people focus on Mary McLeod with them when she got to Daytona Beach, Florida, (but) she was from Maysville, South Carolina. There’s a whole story there. That Malcolm X (auto)biography, it opened the door. And that was one of the first things I can remember reading Black history related that I was able to just dive. I was in college, it was like a serious moment for me.
Alex Cumming: I liked that the humanizing of the history. There are certain museums that I’ve been to and the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most, like you said, are the ones where you just kind of see little things. Briefly up in Boston at the JFK museum. And they had his shoes and his favorite watch and what his bedroom looked like —just humanizing. You can place an article of clothing up in a glass box and have a piece of text next to it. But how can you make the human element connect? What I think is such a cool thing to work into and to focus on.
Brandon Nightingale: And you’re exactly right. Part of the reason why I love working where I work at Bethune-Cookman. On the campus sits Mary McLeod Bethune’s house where she lived, and it’s still there. It’s basically turned into a museum. We call it “The Foundation.” Inside there, you have her clothes, her cane. She has a cane, it was gifted to her by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Mary McLeod Bethune had a really good relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. And the cane itself used to belong to Franklin Delano Roosevelt a U.S President. And so on that cane, you can see his initials, FDR, on there. Now she had that cane in her later years, but they say, and I’ve seen videos of Mary, she always strutted that cane. That’s a human element. I could break apart just the cane itself and her using that as a symbol, just like what you were saying with JFK. You had those objects to make it pop out even more to make us really realize that these were human beings at the end of the day.
Alex Cumming: Is that your favorite piece that you have?
Brandon Nightingale: Oh man, favorite piece?
Alex Cumming: Four favorite pieces? You don’t have to just say one. There’s so much history
Brandon Nightingale: Man, that’s, I’ve never been asked that one. For me personally, I love Mary’s letters. We have a collection of Mary McLeod Bethune letters in the archives. In that collection are her letters the early years up until her death in 1955. What we do now, because there’s so many letters and during the pandemic people couldn’t come to the campus and visit the house, we did a virtual tour. And then the second piece was we started releasing a letter every Monday, we would go back in time. So let’s say that Monday falls on January 7th, we would go back and through her letters. Go back in time, let’s say 50 years ago or whenever Mary was still around, and we’ll highlight a letter. There are so many letters. You can just pick the first letter that comes on that date and you will fall in love. And these are the original copies for one or the original letters. You’ll see who she was, writing, the locations, the addresses that you can Google and see is still there now. What does it look like now? She treated, every letter was so much love and care. Just her words and descriptions. So that’s why we highlight them every week and we put them on our social media. We put them on Facebook, Instagram and then we send it out to the school. And just about every week, somebody responds back to the library and saying, “Oh, we love this letter.” Like it brings joy to people. And that was the purpose of doing it during the pandemic. But I would say the first would be the letters, I love the letters.
So Mary has a library in her office in the house. If you ever get a chance to go there and just look at the books, I mean those are probably like original first versions we came across the other day. It was one of her Bibles and it said, “Mary Jane McCloud,” she wasn’t a Bethune yet. She married a Bethune, but then it became a Bethune, but then also this was had to be one of her early bibles. I could go on and on, but those are probably some of my most favorite objects. But everybody always loves, and what’s most requested is, the cane. And actually I’ll throw this out there real quick to UCF; They digitized a lot of Bethune-Cookman’s work. It’s on UCF’s STARS repository. So there’s a little connection there. Cause a lot of times people will find our stuff on UCF’s site. UCF will sort of pull them into us. And we’ll take it from there, but definitely want to throw that out there then in terms of the connection between the two schools.
Alex Cumming: It seems that you can’t escape UCF.
Brandon Nightingale: Can’t escape it, you’re right about that.
Alex Cumming: So with the studying of history, I want to talk about (how) America is such a diverse place. Can you describe the importance of slowing down to study the histories of various cultures?
Brandon Nightingale: What you said is so perfect. Slowing down. Take the time and be patient in order to really understand that certain cultures and certain backgrounds of people, the context, right? We’re focusing on the past that you forget to connect it to the present, right? I often joke with a lot of people say I’m still living in certain times because I’m so focused on that time. But part of the good side of that is understanding what was going on then because to me, ultimately, in order to move forward and understand where we are now you have to go — you can’t do anything without going back and looking at what was done before you, who sat in those same seats before you. And then you use that, right? You use that to move forward.
A perfect example. I did the Black Student Union history. At that point was when I really realized, OK, I can do this thing with the archives. I was able to compile things from UCF’s archives, put it all together and talk about a specific time in UCF’s history that I don’t think had really been talked about. In terms of the forming of the Black Student Union, right? They were pretty much here when the school basically started. I had to sit there three months, I had to come every day. UCF has documented a lot of stuff in the Central Florida Future, the newspaper that was going on at the time. And that stuff is available for the public. It’s out there and that’s how we were able to put it together. Studying just that one group at UCF you understand how things are now. The people, the guests that the students were bringing in, politics that the students were involved in, the change that the students were involved in. I think if people went back and actually studied that stuff and actually sat down and looked at what they did, Martin Luther King (Jr.), another example, people love to throw his name out there, but you have to go back and look at the strategies that they use, right? This was not something that they just showed up to and started marching. This was well thought out they knew that camera crews are going to be there. They knew that these certain groups were going to be there. These were months in advance and planning, right? I think (in) today’s time we just kind of want to just show up and it just all come together. Now, that’s not saying you can’t get anything done. But taking the time out to go back and understanding where we come from, I think will help us move forward.
Because you said it, we’re such a diverse place, everybody has a certain background. Everybody comes from a certain place. Everybody has a certain problem or certain thing. What are you doing to of bridge that gap? Are you listening to that person, are you actually taking the time and effort to understand the culture that these people come from? I enjoyed my time at UCF, mainly because it was a perfect representation, to me, of America. All these different folks at this school, you got to find some kind of way to stand out or you’re going to be brushed away a little bit. That’s how I always saw my time at UCF. It was like, how can I leave my name on this school that has all these students, all these folks that have come before you, where can you sort of leave your mark? I was always constantly thinking about it and that’s sort of how I saw UCF it’s so diverse, I’ve had group projects with just about every ethnicity you can imagine, it really was a great representation of what America is. And that’s what I’m more grateful for my time at UCF was making sure that I didn’t just go to class.
Alex Cumming: One of my favorite lines is from a recent interview, we spoke with Gerald Hector and he said that the reason that he came to UCF, having worked at places like Ithica, Cornell and Morehouse was because he saw that UCF looked like America’s future. He said, this is what America is going to look like going forward and that’s what drew him to be here. That’s the one line that stuck with me and you reiterating that point it makes UCF a very special place. So with your work as an archivist, how can we work to better preserve and honor Black history? Not just in Black History Month, but throughout the entire year.
Brandon Nightingale: That’s a question that’s answered differently depending on who you’re asking it too. For me personally, I took up my profession because I didn’t want to just get a sprinkle of it here and there. In terms of Black history, I wanted this to be an everyday thing. So people can look at me and say, “Hey, that’s an example (of) somebody that’s constantly doing what they can to sort of push the narrative forward in terms of just Black history and learning and academia.”
But for anybody else, that’s a personal commitment that you have to make. It can be looking up a Black history fact every day, everybody can Google anything. Take a couple seconds, right? Reading a book, it could be anything. Helping in a certain community. You have to get in where you fit in. I’m not expecting everybody to be on my level or take a degree in history to prove that they care or that they’re trying to make the world a better place, especially when it comes to Black history. But I think that has to be a challenge for yourself because I wasn’t always doing this. And I had to sort of challenge myself and say, “Hey, this is what I’m going to do.” And I’m always challenging myself. Yes, I have the job that I work at a historically Black college, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything for me. It’s going that extra mile.
I’ll be able to share this, I actually just finished sending off my applications for Ph.D. programs. So I’m looking to take on another challenge in history. Just going back to what you were saying that self-motivation, that self-challenge, what is it that you are doing in your own life? Because you can find Black history in just about anything, if you take the time out to learn it, because it’s everywhere.
Alex Cumming: It sounds like that touches into the slowing down as well, to slow down and mindfully take the time to study the history and seek it out because you’re right it is everywhere, especially here in Florida.
Brandon Nightingale: Right. And I mean, the resources now it’s just made it so easily available to us. Even just here at UCF.
Alex Cumming: And the work that you’re doing to preserve it for future generations to look back.
Brandon Nightingale: If you ever get a chance to go to the archives, just such a rich place it has a lot of Black history in terms of the fraternities and sororities that have been on campus. I know my fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma we had been on campus since 1978. UCF doesn’t have the long history of the Florida State, we haven’t been around that long. But use that to your advantage because you can still talk to some people who were still around. And then when we do get those hundred years people are going to be looking back to the people that are still around now. So I had the opportunity to talk to the gentleman that helped charter our fraternity. He’s still alive. These people are still alive. That wasn’t that long ago. When I did that Black Student Union history, I didn’t notice at the time, but there were folks still living that I could probably talk to that could have added even more context to it. Take advantage of it being a young school. We still have folks from that first graduating class. Even so it’s right underneath us, don’t wait. Everybody wants to wait until such and such passes away to get that stuff, go ahead and get it from them now, before they do pass away.
Alex Cumming: The BSU, I believe is one of the earliest student organizations on campus. I’m not mistaken.
Brandon Nightingale: It’s crazy. The connection between Bethune-Cookman and UCF. But the first African American professor, from what I researched, he was a professor at Bethune-Cookman. At the time the Black Student Union, they were demanding a Black studies program and the classes and things like that. So what the higher ups did at UCF, they went and got somebody from an HBCU, at Bethune-Cookman and he ends up teaching. But again, that’s all documented. I can go back and show you where you know, where that stuff was, a lot of rich history there and then there were other organizations too. I don’t want to just focus on the Black Student Union. Black Student Union history is still up on UCF’s library website. Hopefully, just like what you just said that could inspire, who knows where that could go, somebody could see that and make that into their thesis or dissertation and just springboard from there. So going back to what I said earlier, you just have to focus on doing the work and then the rest of the stuff it’ll come.
Alex Cumming: You’ve been dropping these great nuggets throughout the entire episode. Now I want to ask you, what advice would you give to somebody who wants to do what it is you do?
Brandon Nightingale: I would say start at home. Now that’s something that I have been able to do sort of later down in my career. What I mean by that is researching your own family history. I’ve been blown away by the things that I’ve been able to find with my own family history. I could go into a whole other, podcast about that, but it means a lot more to me because it’s home because it’s my family. Like I have a personal connection to this and that can be the fuel for you to go on and do other things. You have to start somewhere, so at least get an ancestry account, go do something to start. OK. Whether it’s pick up a book, contact the local librarian, whatever it may be, you have to start at a certain point, right? My first time looking at my family history was when I was in D.C. at the African American Museum on the second floor, they have the family history kind of center, and it was there that I just started looking at my family history. I would find that stuff every day. Telling more and more about my family. With the technology and resources today, it is unbelievable. The stuff that you can find, just finding folks on Facebook, don’t take that stuff for granted. I promise you, I found so many cousins and relatives cause my last name is a very particular, last name Nightingale.
Alex Cumming: Finding your own heritage. Personal or professional, what’s one thing that you’re still hoping to do?
Brandon Nightingale: Definitely the Ph.D. I love the research. So many people come to me for research, so I understand, how to help those folks and what to find and how to lay things out. So in terms of academic goal would be that Ph.D. and then I think the ultimate goal would be to run a museum at some point, not really sure where it would be, how that would look. I don’t think I want to start one. I think starting one is a little too much work and there’s just some great museums already out there, but definitely I would like to run a museum.
And then also I’ve gotten pretty far on my ancestry. And so the next step is to help others, especially African Americans because we don’t know where to look. Because of slavery and because things are taken out of textbooks and things like that, most folks just give up. They just say, “Ah, that stuff was wiped away.” Well, no, this stuff was documented. You’d be surprised. And so I have the knowledge, my job is to get that knowledge out to the common everyday person. It should be as easy as, getting on Facebook getting on Instagram in terms of searching for your family history white or Black. And I think it’s a lot easier for certain groups to find their own heritage, as opposed to African Americans, but that’s still not an excuse. Because if I use that excuse and say, “Hey, my stuff just isn’t documented,” I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I’ve gotten.
Alex Cumming: Looking back to look forward, is that what I’m hearing?
Brandon Nightingale: Yes, right, perfectly said, yeah, that’s pretty much what I live by. Yeah.
Alex Cumming: Brandon, let people know where they can find you, where can they, if they want to reach out and get in contact, let the people know.
Brandon Nightingale: For the archives, I run that social media page of BCU. That’s for Bethune-Cookman University, @BCU_archives. That’s where we post our letters from Mary McLeod Bethune, anything that’s going on, some great stuff there. I am on Facebook. Just Brandon Nightingale, if you ever need me contact Bethune-Cookman University archives for now. And again, I did apply to Ph.D. programs, so we’ll see where that goes. But nothing is set in stone yet. I’ll kind of let God work his course.
Alex Cumming: Well, congratulations on the applications to all those programs. I so looking forward to hearing about where the adventure takes you and I so look forward to getting to visit the museum that you’re going to be in charge of. So thank you so much for joining us. It’s been such a pleasure to get to talk.
Brandon Nightingale: And I appreciate you guys having me. Thank you.
Alex Cumming: Brandon story from being undecided in his major to being honored and recognized as a UCF 30 under 30 alum is awesome and serves as a great reminder that the road to our passion, isn’t always as obvious as it seems. We look forward to having you join us on the next episode to hear from UCF Athletics Director Terry Mohajer, as we look back at the past year since he joined UCF, discuss the future of UCF athletics and more, it’s a great conversation that I know you’ll enjoy.