How did you choose Knox?
I now live outside Atlanta, but I'm originally from Chicago. I found out about Knox at a college fair. Knox's reputation was a big factor, a very good reputation. The small class size was very important. Fairly close to home, and they gave a great financial aid package. I'm sure you've heard that before.
Experiencing Knox as a student hit in waves. There's the excitement of being a first-year student on campus, away from home, beginning the college career. After a while, the isolation starts to set in. Began to feel alienated. I was on campus in the '90s, and there were definitely challenges, being separate from the community and being part of the community.
How did you learn about A.B.L.E.?
I first learned about A.B.L.E. as a prospective student; coming on campus, it was one of the things that was highlighted. On my campus visit, I met Dierdra Drake '95; Danielle Hillier—we met as prospective students; we became friends, and we still maintain that friendship today.
What was your most significant experience with A.B.L.E.?
We were the class that got the furniture that's current in the A.B.L.E. house. Rick Nahm, the president—he made a commitment to A.B.L.E. House and A.B.L.E. Cultural Center, and part of that was getting us some decent furniture. That was a great experience, because we had to get a budget, go comparison shopping. Looking back on it now, as a person with a career, that type of research, it's something I do on a regular basis, and it's something I first did at A.B.L.E.
Being part of the ABCC, having the headquarters on the Knox campus. We worked with that a lot. We went to a conference in Boston.
I was vice president to Arlene Mitchell '94. I look at those experiences as first developing leadership skills.
What kind of issues—local, campus, national—were you interested in? How did those show up in A.B.L.E.'s activism?
As an alum, I now realize that a lot of issues that A.B.L.E. addressed, that I addressed when I was a student, like the isolation, are probably issues that occur to students at a lot of predominantly white campuses, in a rural area that doesn't have a lot of community support for those types of [minority student-related] issues. I imagine that's not unique to Knox and not unique to my experience.
I was on campus, a sophomore maybe a junior, at the time that the movie Boyz in the Hood came out. It's early '90s, set in South Central L.A., deals with gang violence. I had a white guy on campus come up to me and tell me, "I didn't know you had it like that." I was like, "What? I didn't grow up in that type of environment." But there was this perception that if you were a Black student on campus, that you were poor, that you from the ghetto, that you only got in [to Knox] because of affirmative action. That wasn't my experience.
Always having to be the Black voice in class. Any time there was a racial component, as the Black person in the classroom, I had to speak to it. Again, there was the perception that I grew up in an urban area, Boyz in the Hood environment. That "you had it like that." Actually, I didn't. My whole environment was probably similar to what he had experienced-making the assumption that he came from a middle-class, two-parent home.
Those type of issues aren't unique to Knox—probably something that any Black student who goes to a predominantly white school encounters.
Was there anything that you and the A.B.L.E. students took on, that you wanted the school to do something about? And something was either done or not done?
I think that would be the culture center. I think it's something that's still on a lot of people's wish lists. Once something happens on a college campus, every four years you're bringing in a new set of students. So there's a concern that once you have something, that can change in four years. We were interested in the culture center, but our interests may not have translated into the next group of students on campus.
Dr Hord has an immense library, and he's donated [books] to the culture center over the years. Even when I was on campus, A.B.L.E. was not the kind of facility that could maintain an extensive library. Compared to what other campus culture centers could do, A.B.L.E. was kind of aspiring. It gave us a vision of what we could do.
What do you see as A.B.L.E.'s role as a multicultural organization on campus?
I think that changes, as the interests of the student body change. It has the potential for advocacy. it also has the potential to lessen the alienation the isolation that Black students have on campus. It has the potential to be a voice on the forefront, a voice in [campus] conversations. It depends on the student body, where they are.
Any differences between your time as a student and what you see on campus, when you've been back?
Yes, it's very different. The student body is part of time. They're dealing with a different culture than when I was on campus. It should not be exactly what it was when I was on campus. I've come back for Homecoming in the past few years, and I've had a lot of interaction with the students. The alienation and isolation is something that current students also experience.
What do you think A.B.L.E. alumni can do for the organization?
I think it's important for alumni to remain engaged. We have to continue reminding the students and administration of the purpose of A.B.L.E., the vitality and importance of A.B.L.E. We have to keep A.B.L.E. relevant. You come to realize, as you get older, that when you're a student on campus, you may not see the large picture, the bigger landscape of A.B.L.E., how it's important to the campus. Once you leave campus and look back, you realize the role that A.B.L.E. played in your formation, how important it is to the campus. Its history has to be maintained; it has to be visible for current students and for those to come in the future. It's not something, as a student, that you realize how important it is. We have to preserve it, to the best of our ability.
What were A.B.L.E.'s interactions with other campus organizations?
I remember cooperating with other organizations. And A.B.L.E. served as a model of an affinity house, to inspire other groups to organize and develop a space for themselves on campus. Sometimes the conversation would be, to a degree, that A.B.L.E. isolates. And I think that's an incorrect assessment of what's happening. There's a feeling of isolation on the campus. A.B.L.E. isn't isolating students. It's providing a resource and a refuge for those students on campus. That's one thing I remember about the conversation about A.B.L.E., that students were self-segregating or isolating themselves from the campus community. Really, it's in some ways the opposite.
Are there assumptions, expectations, sometimes expressed, sometimes unstated by the white majority? Should I ask those students what they expect of A.B.L.E.?
I think that would be a great conversation on campus. I would be interested in hearing how that conversation develops. That is one thing I remember [hearing from other students]—A.B.L.E., you're isolating yourself from the campus, either by living in the A.B.L.E. house or even the organization itself, isolating. A contemporary example would be Black Lives Matter and the responding "All Lives Matter." It's not quite the same conversation.
What do you see as A.B.L.E.'s accomplishments?
When students took over the faculty meeting in '88. And Dr. Hord came on campus as a result of student activism. He also has a knowledge of student activism on other campuses, and how that fits into the larger culture. We saw that in the tragedy that happened last week [at Parkland High School] in Florida. Students have a power and a voice, and you can see that on the college campus and there at Knox, in A.B.L.E.