Black Undergraduate Kinesiology Association Celebrates First Anniversary

Written By: Heather Lovett | February 19, 2024

Mehki Simmons and Ryala Straghn in gym.
Seniors Mehki Simmons and Ryala Straghn established the Black Undergraduate Kinesiology Association at UCF in 2023 to provide support and assistance to students preparing for careers in kinesiology.

A new student organization at UCF is building a community of aspiring kinesiology professionals and offering support and mentoring to its members. Established as a registered student organization in Spring 2023, the Black Undergraduate Kinesiology Association has already grown to 60 members in its first year.

The organization was created by two kinesiology seniors, Mekhi Simmons and Ryala Straghn, who wanted to provide students with resources for academic success, provide peer mentoring, and help prepare students for their careers after graduation.

Over the last 12 months, Simmons and Straghn have established the organization’s business protocols, held member interest events and fundraisers, and rolled out a series of career development sessions and social events.

Lecturer Alison Redd in the Division of Kinesiology and Fitness Coordinator Rashun Garner with the UCF Recreation and Wellness Center serve as the group’s advisers. Membership in BUKA is open to current UCF undergraduate students and Valencia students enrolled at UCF Downtown.

Mehki Simmons

Hometown: Broward County, Fla.

Position: President, BUKA


What inspired you to help lead the creation of BUKA?

Seeing kinesiology students of color often looking for a sense of belonging and community inspired us to create a space where we could connect with each other and share our experiences every day. Being a minority student in such a massive program where it may be challenging to find community can be intimidating, and our organization guarantees students an opportunity to walk together with others on their journey to tackle everything that UCF has to offer with confidence, support and guidance.


What types of programs and activities do you offer for your members?

With our BUKA family, you can expect to be involved in field days, community service, guest speaker events, professional development, workshops and lots of friendly competition events. We also work closely with the best kinesiology staff ever to maintain a strong relationship with those who dedicate their time to support us as students.


What are your future goals and what excites you about them?

I am excited to see the increase of professionals of color in the world of kinesiology and those students being happy with the career they worked hard for. Coming back and witnessing our vision expand and come into fruition down the road would be better than any award, accolade or degree of achievement I could ever imagine.


Ryala Straghn

Hometown: Delray Beach, Fla.

Position: Vice President, BUKA


What drew your interest to pursuing a degree in kinesiology? 

In high school I ran track all four years, so during that time, I knew I wanted to do something in the sports realm that dealt with helping people and making them better. I found physical therapy and started doing research on different degrees that were aimed toward that profession and learned about kinesiology and decided to make that my major.


What has been your favorite BUKA event or experience?

My favorite BUKA event was our first Battle of the Sexes-themed General Body Meeting (GBM). It was our first GBM as an official new org, and it was so much fun! It was the guys vs. the girls in athleticism and classroom knowledge, and of course the girls took the win in both. It was a great turn out and a fun time.


What are your future goals and what excites you about them?

My future goal is to work as a sports physical therapist. It’s a profession I have a huge passion for that started in high school when I shadowed at my first outpatient clinic. What excites me the most about it is being a part of a person’s journey to recovery; it’s very rewarding. Also, that “Dr.” title I’m going to have before my last name when I receive my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Dr. Straghn just has such a nice ring to it!

BUKA executive board group photo.
BUKA’s executive board includes (from left to right): Lazericka Louis, Jaelyn Jenkins, Brianni McCall, Ryala Straghn, Mehki Simmons, Iahn Humphrey, Imara Person, and Benjamin Blocker. Photo credit: Moe Views, LLC.

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