By Noah DuBois and Kennedy Royal
Amarillo College is recognizing Black History Month, while increasing efforts to combat racism.
Black History Month, celebrated annually throughout the month of February, recognizes and reflects on the role of African Americans in United States history.
“It is a celebration. A celebration of triumph. It is a time to recognize the beauty that African Americans have brought to the world,” Breanna Gordo, a business administration major, said.
As part of Black History month, Melodie Graves, the AC diversity chair, associate director of advising and community activist, gave two presentations focused on how people from underrepresented groups can overcome obstacles. Graves, the second vice president of the Amarillo NAACP chapter, delivered a TED Talk at Texas State University Feb. 13 and spoke at the West Texas A&M University Black Women’s Association Feb. 17.
While AC’s traditional Black History events were canceled due to the pandemic, the college’s students and staff are acknowledging the month’s importance.
“Black History Month means recognizing the past and making a stand to better the future,” Tong Duang, a general studies major, said.
AC professors are also incorporating Black history in their classes.
“Understanding Black history is so important for understanding social issues today,” Dr. Eric Fauss, a history professor, said.
As the college celebrates Black History Month, the college’s newly-formed anti-racism team is seeking to teach the staff how to engage in difficult conversations about race and to evaluate policies and procedures that reflect an actively inclusive environment.
“Everything from hiring practices, to promotions, to student life. We want to make sure that those things are equitable for everyone,” said William Ratliff, the AC training and internal communications manager.
One issue the team is addressing is the need to boost the diversity of AC faculty and staff.
“We’re doing a really good job at closing equity gaps for student achievement, but we’re really behind in our hiring process,” Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, the AC president, said. Lowery-Hart noted the importance of increasing the diversity of the college’s employees to better reflect the diversity of the student body and allow for active inclusion.
Many AC student say dealing with racism is a reality for them.
Joshua Kaentong, a business major, said that throughout his life, he has learned to adapt to different social groups in order to survive. “You really have to get used to racism because if you don’t you’re just going to feel that power they take from you,” he said.
Devin Lethridge, on the other hand, said he refuses to normalize racism. The dental hygiene major said he is trying to overcome the habit of code switching, which is when someone changes the way they talk to fit in with another culture or race.
Lethridge said code switching “is almost like a survival mask for Black people.” He explained code switching as if it’s another personality that a Black person can switch to depending on the social situation. “This is taught to us in order to survive,” he said.
Code switching is something Lethridge said he has done throughout his life in order to adapt. As a 30-year-old disabled vet and a college freshman, he feared that starting school at AC this year would force him to return to code switching. To his surprise Letheridge said his fears were unfounded.
“Personally my experience at AC has been amazing,” he said. “It’s been great. For the first time I have a voice. ” Lethridge paused, his voice cracking, and then he started crying.
“Sorry, It’s a bit emotional for me… I’m a 30-year-old man, and I finally have a voice.”