They taught that the life of the mind was not a “Whites-only” section.
As a child, I looked up to African American actors and Hip-Hop artists. They were my heroes. Their celebrity status illustrated a level of success that could only be attained by a select few. And although I never had the desire to rap, act, or be in the public eye myself, I was led to believe that entertainment and professional sports were the only means of success in my community.
In high school, we read Shakespeare and Ernest Hemingway and learned about Christopher Columbus and John Kennedy. But we looked up to Michael Jordan and Jay-Z, because we resembled them. And they had “made it.” They were from our neighborhoods and backgrounds. Their mothers looked like ours. Their struggles were just the same. They were the ones we wanted to be.
It wasn’t until my first year in college that I realized that the path to success wasn’t singular at all. My whole perspective changed when I was introduced to the unnamed, underappreciated and sometimes forgotten heroes in our communities – professors of color. I found myself amazed by them. I had never met a Black professor in my life until then and I didn’t have many Black teachers in grade school. So to come across successful scholars of color, people who were thinkers and writers, researchers and lecturers, was transformative. Their intellectual prowess and classroom presence gave me a sense of worth and evoked a sense of possibility that I had never experienced before. It was then I realized that my success, as an African American, didn’t have to be determined by my athletic skills or artistic abilities. My potential was unlimited. I could follow my heart. I could be whatever I wanted to be, whether it was a doctor, lawyer, clergy, scientist or perhaps even a professor.
Time spent in the classroom wasn’t the only thing to have a profound effect on me. Their effort and investment into every aspect of my being helped make me into the man I am today. They were hard on me when it came to critical thinking. But they were loving and affirming when it came to my personal life. My experiences with Black professors let me know that I could be anything on this planet. They showed me that there were more than two ways to be successful. They taught that the life of the mind was not a “Whites-only” section. For each of them, I’m thankful.
I may not have said it back then, but thank you Dr. Linda Anderson for all of the encouragement. Your unmitigated confidence and constant words of support eradicated all of my doubts in college. I owe a certain amount of my self-assurance to you. Thank you, Dr. William Woods for your lectures on African American History. I know who I am because I know from whence I come thanks to you. And Dr. Candice Love-Jackson, you opened my eyes to literature in ways that have stuck with me to this very moment. Thanks to you, African American Literature has become sacred to me.
Our professors, especially professors of color, show up in the classrooms day in and day out without hearing a single thank you. They’re underpaid and unfortunately underappreciated. But at the same time there are no words or no amount of money that we can offer to repay them for their time and investment. How about we take a second and let them know that we notice them, we appreciate them, and we love them.
So who are some of the teachers/professors of color that have impacted your life? Have you reached out to them and told them “thank you”?