Why did you choose to major in Black Studies?
Rather than focusing on “generalized culture” in the United States, I was eager to learn how other populations of people understood the world. I came from a large diverse urban high school to a small college that was different and felt that I did not fit in. The largest “other” population at my high school was African American. I became interested in Black Studies with guidance from Professor Agnes Moreland Jackson. The rigorous courses I took at the Colleges helped me learn about my adolescent years in Berkeley, study abroad in Kenya, and synthesize what I learned from my Black Studies, philosophy and Women’s Studies courses.
Describe your current occupation and how what you learned as a Black Studies major helped you achieve success.
I am now vice principal at Berkeley High School and I use what I learned from my Black Studies major every day. Through Black Studies, I learned what people in education are now calling “cultural competency,” which is a buzzword to describe the ability to communicate well with people of other races and socio-economic statuses. The literature, law, philosophy, economics, religion, music, history and primary documents that I read about white people, slavery and the Pan African Diaspora have enabled me to talk with families about their hopes, fears and challenges in a way that ties together all of these.
Understanding Black Studies has given me the fortitude to confront people on their racism. I have sat in countless meetings and challenged people’s motivations when they talk about “those” students who are “trouble makers,” or “don’t do their homework,” or “read at the fourth-grade level” and don’t want to have “those kids” with “their kids” the “smart, committed, good kids.” I won’t stand for it. As a vice principal, I’m in a position to support teachers in deciding which kids are actually causing trouble and finding additional support for them, instead of taking them out of a rigorous learning environment. Black Studies has informed my education philosophy so that I believe all kids, no matter their races or socio-economic levels and to some degree skill levels, can become better world citizens by being in classes together.
What was your most memorable course in Black Studies?
There were three. Through the Intercollegiate Department of Black Studies I took Sidney Lemelle’s seminar course covering economics, slavery, resistance, history and women, and it was an experience I won’t forget. I also took Sue Houchins’ Interstices course in which I learned I had to “get over myself”—I had to take myself out of the center of the discourse and take ownership of having helped perpetuate the “other” in my life. Then there was Professor Jackson. She helped me write my thesis word-by-word, page-by-page. She helped me get the thoughts that had been stewing in me for twenty-one years into a readable format. I owe all of them any success I have had, as well as any success any of my students have had. It was because of them, that I have been able to reach and shape lives.