My View From Topeka
The cover story “A View From Topeka,” in the May 20th issue of Black Issues In Higher Education rekindled memories of a childhood growing up in Topeka, Kan., during the historical events that led to Brown v. Board of Education. There are dual memories of attending a segregated elementary school with Nancy Todd (Noches) and Cathy Carper (Sawyer) and hearing firsthand about the efforts on the part of Lucinda Todd and members of the local NAACP to achieve equal educational opportunities for African American children.
Then, there are memories of being the daughter of J.B. Holland, the principal of Monroe School, attended by Linda and Terry Brown; where the principal and the faculty lived in constant fear of losing their jobs if they supported desegregation or if integration became a reality.
Kendra Hamilton has captured the historical, current and future impact of Brown with her chronicle of events and opinions from Todd-Noches, Carper-Sawyer, Dr. Gary Orfield and Topeka School Superintendent W.L. “Tony” Sawyer to create a stellar account of an unforgettable time in the lives of people who shared a common yet different view.
I received my issue of Black Issues (May 6th), and was a bit troubled by what was written by Dr. Pamela Safisha Nzingha Hill in the “Last Word.” Dr. Hill expressed her concerns about HBCUs not being as Africanized as they should be. She states, “White campuses have become the intellectual breeding ground for Black studies and Black culture.” I strongly disagree with her position, and I am sure that most graduates of HBCUs would agree with me.
I am a 1996 graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana. To be honest, I really do not even know if there was a Black studies department when I was there or even if there is one today. I was a science major, and never really looked into the area of Black studies. What I do know is that it did not have any negative effect on me graduating with a strong knowledge of myself as a Black American man, my responsibility to my community, and my history in this country and the world. I think Dr. Hill misses the beauty and power of what is going on everyday on the campuses of Black colleges and universities.
I did not have to major or minor in Black studies to learn about my history. It was embedded in everything we did. We “analyzed the works of Dunbar, Hughes and Hurston” in our English classes. We “studied Black liberation theology” in philosophy class. We talked about “the wonders of Timbuktu and the strength of Queen Nzingha” out on the quad and in the cafeteria. From the chess club to the step shows, there was always a discussion, understanding and expression of our Blackness. The Africanization of the school was us! It was alive, living, breathing and growing within and among all of us there. Yes, we learned and admired “the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin and the Teuton,” but our Blackness was never “despised,” but rather celebrated on a daily basis!
Being conscious and understanding what it means to be Black is more than just taking classes on Black history, being conscious is living it. And that understanding is just what I left Xavier with. I was expected to be proud of my Blackness, to live with honor, respect, vigilance and make sure my community would benefit from the fruits of my labor. What is being done to preserve and honor Blackness at HBCUs across the nation surpasses anything being done in any class or department at any White college anywhere.
Mathematics/Science Upward Bound
Pasadena City College
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