Alumnus Matthew Cherry returns to UA


Alumnus Matthew Cherry

UA alumnus Matthew Cherry at the Rethinking Race event on Feb. 21, 2022

After two long years during which the pandemic put a halt to most live events, it was a welcome surprise when Academy Award winning alumnus Matthew Cherry delivered the Rethinking Race: Black, White and Beyond keynote address on the UA campus in person. Originally slated as a virtual gathering, Cherry delighted the University community when he announced he would be attending the Feb. 21, 2022, event instead.

Sponsored by the Office of Inclusion and Equity and the Rethinking Race Committee, the keynote speech brought an estimated 300 guests to the Gardner Theatre in the Jean Hower Taber Student Union. It kicked off two weeks of programming designed to facilitate productive conversations on race and race-related issues.

When Cherry was a student at UA, he studied radio and television broadcasting, as well as media production. Additionally, the Chicago native was involved with WZIP, one of the country’s top college radio stations. Outside of the classroom, Cherry played on the Zips football team as a wide receiver and still holds two punt return records.

Following his time at UA, Cherry played with several NFL teams: the Jacksonville Jaguars (2004), the Cincinnati Bengals (2005) and the Carolina Panthers (2006). He retired from the Baltimore Ravens in 2007.

It was at this point that Cherry really put his UA education to good use by embarking on a career behind the camera—writing, directing and producing. His early credits include music videos, and he has since gone on to work on a variety of projects, including the film “BlacKkKlansman,” as well as the television shows “Black-ish,” “The Last O.G.” and “Whiskey Cavalier.” 

Cherry won an Oscar in February 2020 for his animated short film “Hair Love,” the heartfelt story of a Black father learning to style his daughter’s hair for the first time. “Hair Love” was later adapted into a picture book for Penguin Random House where it became a New York Times Bestseller.

Speaking to the group assembled for Rethinking Race, Cherry said of the film, “’Hair Love’ allowed us to tackle the negative societal stereotypes around natural hair and Black fathers, and to normalize the depiction of a loving Black family that we have seen so little of in media.”

In answering a question about advice for current students, Cherry responded, “Sometimes all you have to do is see people that look like you, that went to the same school as you doing really well, and it can help motivate and inspire you to do great as well.”

Cherry said he was proud to be a Zip. “The University of Akron is amazing. It was just a really great experience.”

Sandie L. Crawford, interim director for the Office of Inclusion & Equity, said the Rethinking Race event was a success in “showcasing someone who has had national recognition for the work that he’s done.”