The Office of Intercultural Engagement at Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) has named its new office the Captain Paul Cuffe Center for Inclusion, in honor of the master mariner, philanthropist, abolitionist and education advocate.
Approved by unanimous vote of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy Board of Trustees, the Cuffe Center is housed inside of the newly constructed Fantail Student Center and is set to officially open in September of this year.
The Captain Paul Cuffe Center for Inclusion has a mission to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion through programs, events, and student support initiatives – and to continue the legacy of its namesake, a man whose life’s work revolved around social justice.
Born on Cuttyhunk Island in 1759, the son of a freed slave and member of the Wampanoag tribe, Capt. Cuffe joined his first whaling voyage at the age of 14. He went on to become a successful mariner, whaling captain, merchant, entrepreneur, and abolitionist, who used his influence to enact change for people of color in the maritime industry.
He also established the first integrated school, located in Westport, Mass., where students of all races were welcomed to learn together. In 1812, Cuffe was one of the first Black men to formally meet with a sitting U.S. president (James Madison) and was likely the wealthiest Black man in America during the course of his life, making his fortunes sailing the Atlantic and New England coastline. The captain fought for change in the voting rights of Black men, and risked imprisonment and enslavement in his efforts toward social justice.
“We are excited not only to honor this individual’s extraordinary life, but also to bring awareness to the importance of representation in the industry,” said Patrick Nobrega, Director of the Captain Paul Cuffe Center for Inclusion. “There is no expiration date on excellence, and through the new Center we look to ground ourselves in the accomplishments of those who came before – while looking to the future.”
“Captain Paul Cuffe overcame massive adversity to achieve the success he did, all the while advocating for equality and enacting change for the betterment of his community,” said Michael Ortiz, Dean of Enrollment, Equity & Inclusion. “We’re honored to name the Center after him and have him as a beacon of principled leadership for our campus community.”
In striving for Inclusive Excellence, the Captain Paul Cuffe Center for Inclusion seeks to foster a sense of belonging and supportive environment for students of all backgrounds. Efforts include diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and events, international student services, education abroad experiences, bias incident response, The Women’s Coalition, advice for first-generation students, and support for LGBTQ+ students.
Over the summer, the space will come to life with designs dedicated to telling the story of Captain Cuffe and will be unveiled during a grand opening event in September. The space will also feature an original piece by award-winning Native artist and Cuffe family descendent Elizabeth James Perry.
To learn more about Captain Paul Cuffe’s life and accomplishments, visit www.paulcuffe.org or the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s exhibit.