This article emerged from a conversation with the leadership team of the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) who wanted to spotlight the brilliance, compassion, and wisdom of Black educators who have supported and influenced BFSA members throughout their lives.
Members of BFSA completed a brief survey to share the impact that Black educators have had on the trajectory of their journeys through educational institutions and beyond. What follows is a synthesis of key themes and quotes gleaned from their input, including responses from Black faculty, staff, and students at LMU.
Myriad Forms of Love
One of the most salient themes that emerged was love – the myriad of ways that Black educators consistently show love for the young people they encounter. From tangible forms of nurturing such as providing food, to providing spiritual nourishment, to creating spaces where people could be vulnerable and share about their genuine fears and struggles, our community members have been profoundly impacted by the love shown to them by Black educators.
According to several survey participants, Black educators became like family, present for major life events and as beloved as other family members. Elaine Walker, the assistant dean in the LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts wrote of her fifth grade teacher, Mr. Ewing, that he “was so strong, kind, brilliant and generous. I met him in 1964, I was a student in his class in 1969, and he remained in my life, seeing all of my graduations through the doctorate!”
Similarly, Erica Privott, a Career and Professional Development specialist, reflected on the lasting connection with her home economics teacher, Ms. Hope Lee. Privott said:
“Even after I graduated from high school, [Hope] continued to check on me, and vice versa. She drove up with my family when I graduated from college, and she was a member of my family. When I moved to Los Angeles, she made sure to always come visit me when I visited Maryland. Until her recent passing, we were connected. I visited her in the hospital a couple of months before she died, and the nurses said they hadn’t seen her so bright-eyed in a long time. She was my heart, and I hers. It has been such a joy to read the children’s book she authored, “The Colors I Eat,” to my son. I love and will always share her with him. He will know her.”
While countless Black educators have inspired, nurtured, and supported members of the LMU community in the past, Jamal Epperson, a resident director in Student Housing, reflected on the love demonstrated on a regular basis by a current colleague:
“Lidell Graham consistently gives her all to her students, student staff, and her peers while asking for very little if nothing in return … Through her empathy, care, and support, I’ve felt myself wanting to do the same … The confidence and compassion she just resonates has empowered me to believe in myself and help others believe in themselves as well. Through all she does, she’s helped me be comfortable being my true authentic self in all I do.”
Kristen Sampson, the operations coordinator in Student Housing, cited the compassion and understanding of Marne Campbell, chair of the LMU African American Studies Department as being pivotal to her ability to reach her academic goals. Sampson said:
“Dr. Marne Campbell has allowed me the freedom and flexibility to finally, after finishing my associate’s degree in 2001, stay on track to complete my bachelor’s degree in African American Studies this fall! As a nontraditional transfer student, her support and confidence in me has been vital to my success.”
Challenge with Support
Another prevalent theme adjacent to the myriad forms of love demonstrated by Black educators is their commitment to challenge students in supportive ways to inspire them to excel in their chosen areas of study and in their lives, more broadly. From elementary school through graduate school, Black educators have challenged their students to engage in their disciplines with rigor and criticality while consistently making themselves available for emotional support and guidance.
Reggie Melonson from the W. H. Hannon Library reflected on the impact Mrs. Shirley Fullwood, his only Black grade-school teacher, had on his life. He said, “She taught my seventh grade class and brought the full force of her personality and energies in teaching a group of approximately 90 percent African American and 10 percent Latino students about Black history. She certainly whetted an appetite in me for history and justice.”
Similarly, Darlene Aguilar from the Hannon Library recalled her fifth grade teacher, Mr. Williams: “He provided a rigorous curriculum but taught it with fun and love.”
In sharing about a current professor at LMU who has supported and encouraged her, civil engineering major Ti’Lar Jackson said:
“I didn’t think that I would ever have a Black engineering professor at LMU. I was under the impression that majority were older white men, so imagine my surprise when I walked into my “Electric Circuit Analysis” class to find Professor Robyn Anderson. Professor Anderson represented what Black women in STEM aspire to be: passionate about their work, and respected in their field, and inspiring to other young Black women trying to find their way in the STEM fields. While her class was indeed difficult (as are all engineering courses), her enthusiasm for the subject encouraged me to keep going. We need more people like her in engineering, and across all STEM fields, because people like her open the door for future black educators and Black engineers.”
These Black educators inspired their students by challenging them in ways that inspired and catalyzed their growth. These educators – often the only Black educators in their context, or one of a few – have served as essential role models for Black students at formative times in their educational journeys.
Access and Exposure
A final theme that resonated through many of the responses to our survey was that of Black educators who provided incredible access to opportunities and exposure to the world that no other educators had previously provided.
For instance, Daveon Swan of the Center for Service and Action reflected with reverence about the high school teacher who changed his world. He said:
“Professor Stevenson-McCullough is responsible for teaching me diversity, culture, and nourishing my spiritual life. She is a ‘whole person’ educator. Through music and the arts, she showed me the world affording me to travel throughout France, Switzerland, Monaco, Spain, Africa, South Korea, Japan, and China before even the age of 18. She introduced me to a world that was outside of my reach and taught the value cultural diversity, exposed me to languages, taught me to teach, taught me the fundamentals of composing music, developed me as a leader, fostered my faith formation, and placed me before kings, princes, stars, holy men and women, and the first Black president of the United States. She made me a citizen of the world and a leader amongst peers. What she has done for me, she has done exponentially more for thousands upon thousands. She is a humble superstar who’s larger than life personality is only outmatched by her honor and acclaim.”
John Terrence Reilly, a professor in the English department, similarly expressed appreciation for “Professor Eileen Southern [Harvard University] and her daughter April Southern, for their tireless dedication to the arts and letters, their research and writing on African American music, their support of African American artists and artistry, and for creating and performing original music, particularly in the African American cultural traditions.”
Similarly, Glen Johnson-Grau of the William H. Hannon Library reflected: “When I was an undergraduate at UCLA, I took a “Third World Film” class with Dr. Teshome Gabriel. In addition to being a noted scholar of Third Cinema [a Latin American film movement], he was a great lecturer, passionate about film and approachable even for undergraduates in a big auditorium. I’d always loved movies and he (and the films we watched in that class) opened my eyes to literally a world of artistic expression through film, an interest which I’ve carried with me to this day.”
These renowned educators – experts in their field – not only instilled in their students a love of learning and of the disciplines they were so passionate about; they were also accessible to students, available to them as mentors and guides, supporting them in finding their way through academic challenges at every level, helping them attain their personal and professional goals.
We hope these stories encourage an ongoing commitment to celebrating the impact of countless Black educators, past and present, at LMU and at schools across the country, who have inspired and continue to motivate their students to strive for excellence, to lead with love, and to support the younger generations who are coming along behind them. We thank the BFSA members for taking the time to share their stories about the Black educators who made an impact in their lives.
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