Among a sea of African-Americans who have contributed positively to American History, names like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are iconic. But there are living legends right here on campus who continually build that history through inspirational triumphs.
A panel of African-American staff and students, along with special guest speakers hosted the “Our Stories” event in honor of Black History month where they shared stories about their ancestors, life growing up and their hopes for the future.
While recalling life as a child in the South, Vara Allen-Jones, assistant professor of counseling said she still feels the presence of her family around her today.
“I grew up with a circle of Black women. You remember those strong Black grandmas? That was them.” Allen-Jones said as she laughed.
Curtis Hamilton, information advisor for Student Affairs remembered growing up with his grandfather who had to work tirelessly to support 17 children.
“Generational wealth – this is something that growing up we didn’t have. So I told myself that if I start that now, my grandchildren will have a life of wealth,” he said.
Hamilton touched on his role here at UAA and spoke about a young African-American student who was incredibly book-smart with nearly a 4.0 GPA yet lacked the know-how on applying for college and continuing secondary education. It struck a chord with him. He keeps in mind his responsibility to help students reach their potential with patience and care.
The discussion facilitator, Donna Bozeman brought up retention rates and asked the panelists about their plans when it comes to Black students and students of color.
“For students of color, we can take things from people who love us. But we need to acknowledge the isms that exist today like sexism, racism,” Allen-Jones said. “If a student says, “I don’t like going to class because this professor doesn’t like me”, that’s when I pull them aside and give them a reality check that their work is raggedy and they need to stop making excuses and get it together.”
Physical Education and Psychology major, Sarah Jones said that a goal she has in mind is to start resource programs for students so that the retention rate will increase.
Ronnie Woodward, retired Air Force chief master sergeant, touched on the lessons his parents taught him growing up in Mississippi.
“The first time I was introduced to integration was in 1970. Before that time the school was all Black,” Woodward said. “At first it was a little rough. But after a while people warmed up and we started playing with each other and did anything we wanted to do just like everybody else.”
“I applaud Dr King who had the courage to stand up and fight against discrimination along with others,” Woodward continued. “He had his dream but what is your dream? He did what he had to do. What are you going to do?”
“I’m a believer that you will make the same mistakes if you don’t know what happened prior to you,” Bozeman said. “Black history isn’t just a date. Someone lived and breathed, bled and died to make it real.”
She encouraged students to continually learn the history.
“The contributions of these individuals, and countless other unsung African – Americans, have paved the way for America to experience the class of an Oprah Winfrey, the talent of a Denzel Washington, the strength of a General Colin Powell, the wisdom of a Justice Clarence Thomas, and the leadership of a President Barack Obama,” Kim Patterson, director of Student Services said.
Dewain Lee, dean of students and associate vice chancellor for Student Development addressed the audience, a diverse mix of race and age.
“We wanted to bring this to campus so that everyone is aware of not just Black history but know this is our history regardless of our race and nationalities,” Lee said.