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Black Berea Speaks Up

“You are here to learn and if you’re not here for that reason, you are in the wrong place. You have to read and you have to write and if you know you aren’t strong in those areas, get better. No one’s going to give you anything in life. You have the burden of the black race on your shoulders. You have the responsibility,” said Professor Andrew Baskin. At the State of Black Berea forum held on campus Feb. 24, many voices joined him in discussing the past, present and future of blacks both on campus and in the Berea community.

Amanda Lucas (left) and Debra Bulluck contribute

The forum was organized by Tashia Bradley, Black Cultural Center director, and students who work under her. It was inspired by radio and talk show host Tavis Smiley’s published “Covenant with Black America.” Bradley explained the purpose of the forum by quoting Smiley, “If you make black America better, you make America better.” Smiley encourages discussion and change to start on the local level. The recent event will be the first of three designed to eventually set an agenda and implement the agenda “so we can implement change," Bradley explained.

There were two panels that answered questions from moderator Dr. Felicia Mack, collegium member and wife of Dr. Dwayne Mack, assistant history professor and member of the first panel. Dr. Rodney Clark, assistant professor of English, theatre and speech communications, and Baskin, associate professor of African and African American Studies and general studies, completed the faculty panel.

The first question was how to make black Berea better as a college and as a community. Baskin’s answer was to explain the history of blacks in those two units. He came to Berea College as a student in the summer of 1969 when the percentage of black students was very small and there were no black faculty. He and the other black students connected with the local black families by attending black churches and in welcoming black high school students to college dances and activities. “Families in the community would invite students to dinner. ... (Now there is) a big separation between the town and the gown.”

Clark said part of the problem is the failure of his generation to educate their children “on who we are and our heritage.” He would like to see the college get closer to founder John G. Fee’s goal of a 50 percent black student population and have “a faculty that is a true representation of the student population.” Currently blacks make up approximately 20 percent of the student body.

Mack believes change must start with the individual. He spends time with elderly black Bereans, asking them what it was like when they were younger. “I feel as a 38-year-old black male, it’s up to me to reach out ... visit black churches, bond with community members. It’s helped me to become a better person.”

Baskin added. “Don’t forget the foundation on which you stand. ... When you’re part of a minority … like it or not, you’re going to be viewed as a minority. It exists. I’d like to see more black students say hello to each other. It looks like you’re afraid of each other. Being part of a group is important.”

The student panel of Kendrick Burris, Nellie Spencer, Alex Gibson, Rachel Saunders, Amanda “Revolution” Lucas, Debra Bulluck and Geri Guy fielded questions next. Bulluck affirmed that there is a “big disconnect” between the black Berea community and college students. Gibson agreed with Mack by saying, “I think generally it always falls on the individual - our individual responsibility of finding our own history. Don’t put your education in the hands of other people.”

Guy said she had reached out to a black church and found locals very welcoming. “They’ve invited me into their homes, brought me food, called me and asked me to babysit. You have to reach out as a student and the churches will surround you.”

To the question, “What’s life like for you’re here?” Lucas responded. “It can be very stressful if you’re an involved student - you get relied on a lot. We need to pull other people in and become a better unified group.”

Burris stated that it is unfortunate that rap and hip-hop music so frequently glorifies violence and the degradation of women. “Hip-hop was an exit wound for the ghetto. Now it’s just a money maker. It’s embarrassing.” Spencer spoke to the women in the audience, telling them to demand respect through words and deeds. “Remember your actions represent women as a whole.”

The panel encouraged more interaction with African students, but admitted it was difficult. “If I try to go sit with the African students (in the dining hall) I get looks because I’ve crossed ‘the divide.’” Lucas concurred. “I’m upset that there is a disconnect. We share so many things.” Spencer proposed holding joint meetings between the African Student Association and the Black Student Union.

Gibson pointed out that there were no African students on the panel and encouraged interaction. “You will never understand yourself until you understand why the rap beat makes you move and think about where you came from.”

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