How did you learn about Knox, why did you choose to come to Knox?
I learned about Knox from my high school counselor, Mrs. Edwina Beavers. She let me know that Knox would be a good fit for me and that she had a close friend working in the Office of Admissions at Knox who would assist me if I needed her to do so: Karen Gibbs. After Mrs. Beavers mentioned Knox College, I didn't refute the possibility. "Knox is a great school," she said quite proudly. Toward the middle of the "application season," well after I had submitted all applications to six undergraduate institutions, my telephone took a liking to calls from area code 3-0-9. I had weekly casual conversations with Paul Steenis, who at the time was an admissions recruiter. His approach in recruiting me without recruiting me was genius: He never asked me if I made my college decision. Instead, he wanted to know about my senior year. He wanted to know about challenges I might have endured, whether social or academic or both. He wanted to know about my interests and goals. I figured that if an admissions counselor put so much effort into generating calming discussions with me that Knox had to be Illinois's best kept secret. So I committed after I contrasted the efforts of other institutions to those of Steenis's efforts-the other schools didn't come close!
How did you learn about A.B.L.E.?
Trustee Nyerere Billups '99, who was a senior when I entered as a freshman, sparked my interests to join student organizations in general, for I recognized how he maintained a professional persona during [orientation] week. I heard him talk about African-American students needing to join the Student Government Association and other student organizations so that our concerns did not go unheard. He painted an image of an African-American college (male) student that I had not encountered prior to college. The more I socialized with him, the more African-American students I met—most of whom were actively involved with Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality (A.B.L.E.). They had become my introduction to an organization that held a dynamic rapport and reputation with the faculty on the campus. Of course, meeting the students was the foundation, for my having the opportunity to meet Dr. Fred Hord was the icing.
What were your most significant experiences with A.B.L.E.?
My most significant experiences with A.B.L.E. involved the two years of serving as an officer: vice president (junior year) and president (senior year). By this time, we—the organization—transitioned into "inclusivity," but not in a way that would have placed us as finding ourselves reaching out to others who were marginalized. Rather, it was different so to speak. We pushed for more collaborative projects and activities with other organizations, like Delta Delta Delta Sorority, Inc. and Lo Nuestro (to name a couple). Also, we thought about a collective narrative that involved topics that not only student organizations for minority students at Knox would find interesting but also student organizations for minority students at other small colleges might find interesting. We co-piloted what was called the "Tri-College Coalition"—an idea that then-president of Lo Nuestro Pamela Hernandez '02 and then-president of A.B.L.E. Deana McDaniel Metzke '01 had developed. The three colleges who made up the coalition were Monmouth College, Augustana College, and Knox College.
What issues were you interested in—both on-campus issues and off-campus issues?
On campus, we were interested in what most students of minority descent tackled in that region of the United States—we didn't want to be viewed as "invisible." We developed ways to ensure we would have a say in student activities put on by the Office/Director of Student Activities, ensure that an aspect of our culture (by way of the presence of the A.B.L.E. Cultural Center) would not be undercut in receiving resources other organizational houses on campus also received, and ensure that our voices as students would receive as much attention as the voices of other students who were not of minority descent.
Off campus, we wanted to assist in "nurturing" (academically) the African-American youth around Galesburg. We had heard (at the time: 1998-2002) that the teen pregnancy rate in Galesburg continued to increase. We didn't believe in the "let's talk" approach; we believed in the "lead by example" approach. So we found ourselves inviting the young high school guys to campus for basketball scrimmages in the field house, inviting the youth to Knox football games where we would face-paint, and populating other student organizations that maintained a strong after-school tutoring/mentoring program for the youth in the Galesburg school system.
What were the results of your activism through A.B.L.E.?
I believe the administration heard us, and I believe the Student Government Association wanted to make sure that we played a part in the college experience that would involve all students. At the same time, I remember thinking that EVERYBODY could do better/more. Also, it helped that we had many administrative personnel of minority descent, for they understood culturally our concerns; I remember Dean Xavier Romano, Dean Tony Franklin, Dean Daniel Johnson III, and Sheldon Davis (assistant to the dean of intercultural life). Of course, there were others who came toward the later years of my undergraduate experience: Cathy Walters and Marjorie Fuller. I also recall the influence A.B.L.E. played on Lo Nuestro, for Lo Nuestro later transformed and had the college name/recognize Casa Latina as a cultural center—this was historical because then the student organization didn't have to worry about losing their "house." Establishing Casa Latina as a cultural center ensured that the house will remain for years to come.
What were your experiences with A.B.L.E. House?
My experiences in the A.B.L.E. Cultural Center were phenomenal. We always had a place to hold organizational meetings. We always had a place to retreat if the other side of campus just seemed too busy. We had a place we called "ours" or "home." We enjoyed the presence of the cultural center because of the love Founder/Executive Director of the Association for Black Culture Centers Dr. Fred Hord had provided to us students. Moreover, the center featured an in-house library/computer room, full kitchen, living room, dining room/meeting room, upstairs media room, and upstairs residential rooms. It is possible that I am missing a few details.
We held a number of workshops in the cultural center, and we invited a number of motivational speakers who continued to inspire our drive to enrich our cultural presence on campus. We even held social gatherings from parties to game nights. My all-time favorite experience at the A.B.L.E. Cultural Center involved the years when the male students cooked three-course meals for the female students (and vice versa). We expressed our gratitude and appreciation for one another, for the work and the accomplishments both sexes contributed to the livelihood of the college were collective efforts.
As an A.B.L.E. alum, how has Knox changed since you were a student, especially relating to the issues that you and A.B.L.E. were interested in while you were at Knox?
It is possible that a larger number of current undergraduate students thrive on having others entertain them rather than the students taking the initiative to create their own entertainment. The issues I recall hearing from Knox students centered around, "There isn't much for us to do." At the same time, what other college isn't hearing the same language? We believed in maintaining our cultural history/heritage. We believed in "We get out (of the college experience) what we put in (the college experience)." Also, we were invested in the Knox College community because it was to serve as our home away from home for four years, including summer months (for those of us who were Ronald E. McNair scholars). So, the issues of "maintaining" are still present; however, they just have a different generation of students who have a different ideology about "maintaining" than we had.
What do you see as the role of Knox alumni, either through Black Alumni Network (BAN) and Black Alumni Association of Knox College (BAAKC), or individually, in bringing about changes they'd like to see?
I see the role of BAN and BAAKC as it currently stands-bridging conversations between alumni and current students of minority descent. The conversations generated between alumni and current students will continue to resurface resolutions to challenges faced by this generation of college students.
What do you think the members of A.B.L.E. should be working on, today and for the future?
Members of A.B.L.E. should continue to be the voice others need to see and hear, for the world is ever in motion, but the issues remain the same.
No matter your role and purpose at Knox College, please remember that Knox fits within the realm of this interdependent world, and that "if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand" (King James Bible Mark 3.5).