By Chris Levister
THE TIES THAT BIND
The brunch in honor of UCR Black faculty at the Back Stage Restaurant in Riverside, Sunday, was a throwback to the days when Black professorate relegated to historically Black colleges were virtually inseparable from their community's nurturing umbrella.
"We ate together, worshiped together, we struggled together," recalls UCR veteran Professor of Psychology Carolyn Bennett Murray. "Everyone had the same passion and pain."
Prior to the 1960s the nearly non-existent number of Black faculty in higher education at predominately white institutions (PWIs) said Murray could undeniably be attributed to deliberate exclusionary practices "so consequently the Black community played a pivotal role in Black professional's lives."
But as the walls of segregation fell and many Black professorate left HBCUs and their communities for PWIs the strong community network vital to their socialization and emotional well-being unraveled.
"We want to rekindle that vital connection between Black faculty and the African-American community," event co-sponsor Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds, co-publisher of the Black Voice News told the gathering of a dozen professors and members of the Black community.
Balancing a spread of macaroni and cheese, yams, ham and beans, fried chicken and sweet tea with sweeping admiration, satire and vivid storytelling the event invoked a culturally rich environment rarely seen outside of the Black community.
"The idea behind this gathering is to rekindle community connectedness by building authentic partnerships that encourage and support Black faculty contribution," said Yolanda Moses, Professor of Anthropology and Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Excellence and Diversity.
"These partnerships ensure a healthy vibrant underrepresented student population and an enriched collegiate experience for all UCR students, faculty and staff."
Recalling an Ethiopian proverb "When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion," Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies Paul E. Greene stressed the role of community during the tough years of Jim Crow.
"Everybody supported everybody else. It had to be that way, because you were all so dependent on each other for your development and professional survival. It was like a great big extended family of role models. We stood on the shoulders of trailblazers, it was very powerful."
"Those who lived through the civil rights and Black Power movements know the Black community encompasses the academic, social, cultural and collective totality of every Black experience," said Rickerby Hinds, Assistant Professor Playwriting, Department of Theater and event facilitator.
Assistant Professor of Women's Studies, Tracy Fisher illustrated the vital race-gender argument. "As women and African-Americans we've come a long way, still at UCR we represent 20 Blacks among a faculty of 900. At times, there's a sense of loneliness and isolation."
"They're social scientists, role models and mentors and despite their relatively small numbers Black faculty consistently challenge the conventional wisdom and confronts the American education system with profound and unsettling insights," said Kevin Baker, president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Mu Xi Lambda Chapter, who helped organize the event.
"They can influence an entire campus, its culture, its values, and eventually its ethos," said Woodie Rucker-Hughes, president of the NAACP Riverside Chapter.
Assistant Professor of English Keith M. Harris agreed. "The concept of "role model" presents a dilemma of welcome opportunities and inevitable challenges. On one hand awareness of a faculty member of color gives some students a sense of membership, proximity or ‘connectedness'. We become highly visible and recognizable to minority students and non-minority students as well," he said.
On the flipside said Professor of English Vorris L. Nunley the same visibility and recognition that can provide opportunities can also have detrimental effects. "There's a feeling among some Black students that a Black professor represents a free pass... They say, "he's Black I'm Black that means I don't have to study or work hard." As accessible role models and powerful predicators of enrollment and graduation of students of color we're empowered to redirect those myths."
The educators seemed exhilarated by the camaraderie they experienced proving once more that there's nothing like coming home to homemade sweet potato pie, coconut layer cake and a huge helping of the community ties that bind.
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