This past week I witnessed something phenomenal. It was the culmination of weeks of planning. What I speak of is the Inaugural Students of Color Leadership Symposium and I served as a committee member.
My charge on the committee was to put out the call for programs and to put out the student registration Survey Monkey links. Sounds simple enough, right? I soon found myself totally vested in this, what would soon appear to be, a much needed program. I would send out emails weekly asking for program proposals and registrations. Each day (even while home) I'd check to see if our numbers were up. If they were, I'd set a new mini-goal. I'd find myself saying, "We have to hit "X Number" before the end of the week."
Through my efforts I met new people across campus that I would have never met. Colleagues of color that I never knew existed. How exciting is that? By the time the symposium took place, we found that we had 22 program proposals submitted and 92 students registered! That was even MORE exciting - considering it was an all day event on a FRIDAY!
There were sessions covering topics for different ethnicities as well as general programs that focused on becoming a better student or understanding that dynamics of their organization. One particular session that I attended was on Mestizo culture. First I thought, wow, this program might not be anything I'm truly interested in but it could be interesting. I mean, I do love learning about different things, cultures, ways of doing things.
As I sat through the session I listened to the presenter talk about his topic - Mestizos. I thought it was pretty interesting that he would quote Cater G. Woodson, not once but twice! I thought it odd that he would quote a black man and not someone who's Mestizo, Chicano, Hispanic... Instead, he chose to quote Woodson as he began his presentation.
“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.” - Carter G. Woodson
The first thing I thought was, "Do these people in the room even know who Carter G. Woodson is?" Now I'm thinking, "Does the reader of this blog know who Carter G. Woodson is?" He is so instrumental in black history - So much so that he is FOUNDER of Black History Month. It also happens to be that I lived in the city where he once lived - Huntington, West Virginia...
The presenter asked the room what they thought Woodson meant by his quote. He asked everyone to consider the basics of the quote and reiterated, "If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status... " It instantly made me think of where I grew up. You never had to tell any of the black kids that they didn't belong in Dearborn Heights after dark - that was just clearly understood. Other things that were understood was that blacks and whites could live in Inkster but blacks should never try to live in Dearborn Heights. My GOD - this was the 80s and I'm sure there are PLENTY of places like this in America to this day! Jena, Louisiana anyone?
The conversations went on in the session and we talked about ethnic pride and sense of self and how that helps individuals succeed in life. I spoke about how I always was given a self of self and pride because the schools I attended had a higher than average number of black teachers and principals and I must note, a black superintendent. I'm sure this dictated what type of programs we had in our school. We were celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday WELL before it was a national holiday. When it become a holiday I distinctly remember an entire half-day assembly in junior high were we celebrated and played the Stevie Wonder song, "Happy Birthday" over and over. If you didn't know, that song was written especially for Dr. King and not to give us black folks a soulful way to sing "Happy Birthday" on those auspicious occasions.
As I spoke about my childhood experience, I actually felt "black privilege". I experienced something that a group of people never felt in their school. A sense of comfort knowing that there were teachers that looked like me, talked like me, went to churches similar to me, and were successful (in my eyes) like I wanted to be. I never felt "on edge" walking around the school or that I couldn't do or say anything in particular.
For whatever reason, the yearly email that I receive each year of Black Inventions made me curious. I asked the students in the room if they ever recalled getting an email or seeing a list or read a book that even talked about inventions by people of Mexican descent. Everyone in the room either identified as black or Mexican. They said, "Well I know that the color TV was invented by a Mexican." and then she just stopped the list there. WOW! Number one, I didn't know that. Number two, You can't name anything else? Now I'm thinking, how sad is it that we HAVE to name off the race/ethnicity of a person to say, "Hey, a Mexican invented this." or "Did you know a black man made that?" Whoa is me... I told her that I could name at least a half dozen things off the top of my head that a black person invented and how it amazes me that she can't. Again, I felt a sense of privilege because I had been provided such information to make me aware of the contributions of blacks to America and the world.
The session concluded and I was still befuddled. What do I make of this? What should I make of this if anything? Where is the self-efficacy?
At the conclusion of the symposium I got up and spoke in front of the 20 or so students who actually stayed until the very end. I wanted to share with them how moving the session on Mestizo culture was and how I was shocked to learn what I learned. I told them that there HAS to be more inventions that Mexicans have made and given to society and that I was determined to find and share them with our students. I was so worked up that I began to shake and have a look of determination and lifted my voice to say, "I will be your ally!" I went on to say that as soon as I got back to a computer, my advocacy would begin. Thus far, I did a search on Google and found a few. TOP 10 MEXICAN INVENTORS - one such invention was the creation/finding of the active ingredient in birth control pills! This task wasn't as easy as finding black inventions. There is clearly a large inventory that someone started and continues to along to our "extended black families".
Self-efficacy can only happen when someone wants there to be a change. Don't demand a back door - demand a front door. Hell, demand your own house and kick out (or graciously invite) others out of your home! Demand more knowledge. Demand more education. Demand that you are NOT the stereotype. Demand that you are NOT the voice of your ethnic group or race. Demand that your self-worth is more valuable than what clothes you wear. Demand that there be change. Be the change you wish to see in the world (Ghandi) and start with now! Believe in yourself.
A sense of pride can't just happen overnight. It occurs over time. Through life lessons and book lessons. Through discussion and knowing heritage and history. Through sharing thoughts, ideas, and those lessons. I know that's where my pride comes from and I want to pay it forward by being a role model for anyone I come in contact with.
I want to add to this list of Latin/Hispanic Inventions. So please send me any new ones to add to the list. Post your findings in my comments, please!
More Mexican Inventions
Some Black Inventions