Street: You’re the co–founder of the Black Ivy Coalition. What inspired you to create it?
Denzel Cummings: There were a lot of events this summer with the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, so a lot of students were figuring out what we were going to do around this issue. One of my friends keyed me into the conversation with a few students from different Ivies. We decided to release a statement of different black student leaders across all eight of the Ivy League schools. So this led to me and a few other students founding the Black Ivy Coalition, which is a coalition of black student leaders across the Ivies.
Street: We heard you worked for Senator Cory Booker. What was that like?
DC: I was on his campaign team the first time he ran for Senate.
Street: So do you want to go into politics?
DC: Mhm, yeah.
DC: I don’t think President, but much later down the line I want to be involved in politics. But first, I’m really interested in activism.
Street: Tell me what UMOJA means to you in one sentence.
DC: So UMOJA stands for “unity” in Swahili. And it means creating a black community that’s strong and unified across the University of Pennsylvania.
Street: We’ve heard you can “Shmoney Dance.” What’s that?
DC: The Shmoney Dance is a dance that was created in Brooklyn by a rapper named Bobby Shmurda.
Street: Your nickname is Coco Diesel, where’d that come from?
DC: So “Coco” just stands for co–chair. But “Diesel” has been my nickname since second semester freshman year. The reason why is that my friends found out that there’s two sides of me. Denzel: That’s very political, involved and active. Then Diesel: My more rebellious and fun side.
Street: What exactly is the “Death Hut” and where did that name come from?
DC: This week [my roomates and I] realized that [our] house wasn’t properly made. That’s why we call it the Death Hut, because it’s pretty much a death trap. There’s also potentially a ghost.
Street: So you think it’s haunted?
DC: Potentially. We never go down into the basement because it’s horrible. There’s a door to the basement and we lock it, but then it just opens on its own.
Street: Have you ever tried communicating with the ghost?
DC: No. I watched the Paranormal Activity movies, and I feel like in the first one they would have been fine, but they communicated with it and it got so much more powerful!
Street: What’s your spirit animal?
DC: A Saint Bernard. I love dogs. I could go on and on about dogs.
Street: Do you have a favorite Disney movie?
DC: The Lion King. You can watch it no matter what age you are.
Street: What’s one question that we forgot to ask you?
DC: You didn’t ask me about my bracelet. That’s a good story.
Street: Well, tell me about your bracelet.
DC: Everybody in my family is Guyanese and one of their biggest exports is gold. So I went there for the first time and my dad was like, 'oh we’ll get you jewelry.' My dad had a bracelet that his dad had given to him with his name on it and I wanted a bracelet like his. So he gave me his and he melted it down and put my name on it, so it’s a family heirloom now. I can pass it down to my kid.
This interview has been condensed and edited.