Shirley Graves Kennedy arrived in Santa Barbara in 1970 where she found a small, marginalized African American community and other people of color who faced job and housing discrimination, exclusion from the arts, and unfair treatment in the school system. Shirley Kennedy became involved in all these issues, as an organizer and spokeswoman and activist. After the age of 40, she completed her degree at UCSB and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Political Science in Government from Claremont University. 

As a faculty member in the UCSB Department of Black Studies, Dr. Kennedy was the community liaison for the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research, where she worked to transform the Santa Barbara community with her commitment to social justice, activism, and democracy. During those years, she worked to create bridges and collaborations between the University and the community.

The Kennedy/Graves endowment was established by Dr. Shirley Kennedy and named in honor of her mother, Ione H. Graves. After her death in 2003, the Center Black Studies research established an annual lecture in her name.
The Center has produced a brief documentary of Dr. Kennedy’s life, "It Was All of Us."

The Kennedy/Graves Award was given for the first time in Spring 2013 to two UCSB Barbara students:

  • Yoel Y. Haile was selected for the undergraduate award.

  • Shardé M. Davis was selected for the graduate award.  

Both students were selected for their extraordinary academic engagement and activism reflecting the spirit of Dr. Shirley Kennedy.

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Past Recipients

Dr. Shirley Kennedy

In solidarity with almost 48,000 academic student employees, we are postponing the research informational scheduled for Thursday November 17, 2022.


The late Dr. Shirley Kennedy (Black Studies, UCSB) was committed to ending educational inequalities and ensuring that research and scholarship lead to social transformation. In honor of her activist and scholarly legacy, the Kennedy/Graves Award provides economic and intellectual support for undergraduate and graduate student researchers in the field of Black Studies. On November 14, 2022, academic workers across all ten UC campuses represented by UAW 2865 (the Union of Academic Student Employees at UC), UAW 5810 (Postdoctoral Fellows and Academic Researchers), and SRU-UAW (Student Researchers) began a strike to secure better pay, benefits, and working conditions (for more information see This historic labor action, led by student employees, is an opportunity for us all to renew our commitments to justice, activism, and democracy within educational spaces and beyond.