My Journey to Leadership as a Student of Color at a PWI

Cynthia FulfordI remember when I was a college bound student in one of the TRIO programs, I had an awesome mentor who encouraged me to read as much as I could on what it meant to be Black in America. He told me that I needed to understand my history, so that I would be prepared to confidently stand up for what was right when the time came.  He assured me that that time was coming and I needed to be ready. He gave me books to read by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, a prolific writer on educating African American males and children. He told me about African American Women leaders such as bell hooks, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Marian Edelman Wright and more. The more he shared on the Black man’s contribution to History, the more I learned that I would have to be responsible for my own learning and development on any topic.

Had he not encouraged me to read these particular types of books, I may not have been prepared for the journey that most, if not all, African-American (and other “minoritized”) students would take on college campuses. In fact, I remember someone jokingly saying, “If you want to hide something from a Black person, put it in a book.” I interpreted that to mean any ignorance and resulting consequences would be our own fault and undoing. I didn’t know it then, but that “joke” would spark a fire in me to read, share that information with those who won’t read and model this behavior for others to mimic or adopt.

Interestingly, I would devour books of all genres. I read autobiographies, biographies, self-help, African-American history, leadership books and the Bible. When I got to campus I even read the student and club handbooks (which saved me many times). I read it all. This thirst for knowledge, while contributing to my social awkwardness, also exposed me to “hidden” knowledge that helped me strategically survive four (4) years in an predominantly white institution that had two black professionals on campus, numerous black staff who were in food service and maintenance (thank God for their support), no black faculty, and one cultural awareness group, that didn’t fully serve our needs.

It was tough being in an environment where it was rumored to have a student chapter of the Ku Klux Klan on campus in one of the fraternity houses; where a professor could openly called me ignorant without repercussion; where students called me the N-word and told me that I was only admitted because of my skin color. This was a campus where campus programs and events were planned without the racial or cultural developmental interests of the students of color or students in general. Yet, not only did I survive that campus, I thrived on that campus. I have as many fond memories of my Alma Mater and believe the school is better because of my contribution as a student leader.

Due to the fact that I have a mother who was an educational and political activist, I was encouraged and pushed to get an education and make a difference. Equipped with this foundation and background, I knew that my peers and I were not being holistically educated. I decided that if change were going to happen, I would have to lead it.

Read more on my early leadership journey in the next installment…

For more information on how to secure me for speaking or leadership training opportunities, send an email to me at cnfulford2009@gmail.com

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