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Expanding Our History- It Can Be a Transformational Experience

February 01, 2010

As Dr. Julianne Malveaux, President of historic Bennett College for Women looks on, President Howard-Vital addresses students, faculty, and guests in Greensboro, NC.

As Dr. Julianne Malveaux, President of historic Bennett College for Women looks on, President Howard-Vital addresses students, faculty, and guests in Greensboro, NC.

Last week I had the opportunity to address a group of faculty, staff, and students at Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina for their Lift Every Voice Speaker Series. The intent of my address was to focus on one or two extraordinary, African-American women of the 20th century to help students put into perspective their roles and responsibilities as women in the 21st century. My overall message was that these 20th century women had “paid for us,” and that it was now our responsibility to pay for the 21st century’s citizens by choosing to lead productive and intentional lives.

I have to admit, I did not much like history when I was in high school or when I was an undergraduate. It seemed to me, at the time, that history, or whatever social science nomenclature it was given, satisfied another course requirement, and that it could be mastered with memorization of key facts and a regurgitation of factors that led to some event. Moreover, when I was studying in the mid 20th century, “history” just was not my story, so it did not hold much interest for me beyond earning the grade to maintain my grade point average. There was a definite disconnect.

After my master’s degree program, however, I rediscovered history through reading biographies. It was probably one of my earliest epiphanies as a young adult when I realized that learning about the lives of others was valuable, inspiring, and essential in helping me define my own future. Now, I admit I read biographies of a range of people who were not really covered in my high school or college classes. Nonetheless, the struggles, life choices, failures, and victories of these people helped me to understand myself, my current reality, and to imagine some future actions for myself within a broader context. I believe it was through reading about their lives that I began to more deeply explore the concept of courage.

Once again, we are headed into what has been termed, “Black History Month.” While there are plenty of stories to go around about persons of African-American descent who have achieved marvelous accomplishments, I believe that the real value of expanding our knowledge about our American history is that an expanded base of stories of courage, resilience, and love will resonate with more Americans and will furnish more examples of problem-solving, compassion, and coming of age in an array of circumstances. The broader the range of American experiences to which we expose our youth, the more likely our youth will be able to identify with the prolific American values of hard work, compassion, honesty, self-sacrifice, and courage that we wish to promote for generations to come.

In my own life, I know that the biographies of Fannie Jackson Coppin, Jane Adams, and Maya Angelou have been extremely inspirational and transformational. I often think about how many youth we might reach by exposing them to a richer array of American experience. Otherwise, we allow our youth to fall victims to an overwhelmingly consumer-driven culture. However, if we help them learn more about, and relate to the lives of amazing Americans, think how transformational it would be!

Michelle Howard-Vital, Ph.D.
President, Cheyney University
 

Tags: Bennett College for Women , black history

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COMMENTS

That is so good to know. Thank you so much for sharing this very informative article. I had a great read, It is awesome to know at certain point things like this are real.
 
Ellen Smith 10:26AM 06/21/10
Great post, sounds like a successful visit to me!
 
North Carolina Dentistry 12:01PM 03/01/10
Enjoyed reading these comments about history and Black History Month. You are so right about reading biographies. I recommend them to our students at every opportunity. I especially like recommending Frederick Douglass' biography. Thanks, for sharing.
 
F. K. Bingham 1:02PM 02/02/10
I know the Bennett College Family were inspiried with the reality of listening to an African-American Women President discussing the challenges of the 21st century. It has been my experience in reading the stories of the past, to try and understand our place in making history today. Just like these Great Women lived full lives letting their experiences tell the story of their struggles, achievements, and their willingness to serve us in any way they could against odds that was beyond comprehension. Now we are witnessing history being made right in front of our eyes. We can understand history by watching, listening to our leaders' visions and experiencing real history right in front of our eyes....And we are wise enough now to know what we are experiencing. And appreciate our history now. Thank You for sharing this wonderful moment.
 
charles campbell 11:56PM 02/01/10

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