Yakima Valley College recently made headlines when the student government canceled a scheduled speaking appearance by the notorious Rachel Dolezal. (Click here for the controversy.)

One of the ways the college has moved on from that fiasco was to invite revered community leaders with open arms to host a 2018 Black History Month guest speaker panel in the Hopf Building. The two-hour event was powerful and moving for those in attendance, and it was followed by a delicious complimentary lunch provided by Miz Deez BBQ. Yum!

At the panel event, presented by YVC's Business Club in collaboration with the ASYVC student government, students and faculty were enlightened with personal anecdotes, a vocal performance and multiple suggestions on how to improve the lives of the African American population living in Yakima.

Leslie Blackaby, dean of student services, said the goal of the panel presentation was "to provide an overview of the significance of Black History." Tomas Ybarra, vice president of instruction and student services, agreed that he hopes the event showcased the college's support of its student government as well as participating in nurturing relationships with students of color." Ybarra says faculty members are also dedicated and committed to "strengthening the college for the future." He adds that he is actively seeking to hire professors and instructors of color in 2018. (Click here for information on YVC's open positions.)

The guest speakers included:

  • Lodi Bryant, who is Yakima's first African-American school teacher and has a tenure of nearly 40 years of teaching under her belt.
  • Steve Mitchell, the current CEO of the OIC of Washington.
  • Ester Huey, activist and former Executive Director of the Southeast Community Center (now renamed the Henry Beauchamp Community Center).
  • The Rev. Robert Trimble, an activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and preaches at Greater Faith Baptist.
  • Emily Anderson, a member of the Restoration Now organization and who holds a master's degree in social work.
  • Tyler Beauchamp, who is the grandson of Yakima's first African-American mayor and who was a contestant on America's Got Talent.

After standing up and singing the Black American National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," each of the speakers was given time to make a short presentation about their commitment to educating students at the college about structural racism in America and how acknowledging black history is an integral part of celebrating American history. The panel then opened the room for a Q&A session with students and faculty.

During the Q&A session, one of the students in the audience asked how the community could get black history added to the YVC curriculum, to which panelist Ester Huey remarked, "You just did it. You just told them what you need to happen at your school."

I took a bunch of notes to share with you and unfortunately, I was writing so fast that I cannot read all of my own handwriting, but here are a few of the highlights from the presentation:

  • Lee Padgett was the first African American teacher at Yakima Valley College. He opened up the Sherar Gymnasium at 6 every morning so that anyone in the community who could not afford a private gym membership could come work out in the college gym.
  • Leon Sullivan Jr. founded the OIC of America with the sole mission of helping lift people out of poverty.
  • African Americans who were brought to this country are considered "involuntary immigrants" because they were trafficked in for the sole purpose of slave labor.
  • Benjamin Banneker designed the layout of the nation's Capitol in Washington, D.C.
  • The media helps shapes the minds of children, so all parents need to teach their children at home how to deal with the outside world that includes structural and institutional racism.
  • Children need to see themselves reflected in the world around them to help reinforce a healthy self-esteem. This includes institutions such as the government, educators, various occupations, etc.
  • Recognition of Eric Silvers, who in 2018 became the first African-American president of the Downtown Rotary Club in the organization's 99-year history.
  • The food that we put in our bodies contributes to our state of mind, so if you are suffering from depression, try switching to a plant-based diet to improve your mental health.

I asked each of the guest speakers for a quote they would like to leave with the Yakima Valley, and here's what they shared:

"If you don't know your history, then you can't chart your future." -- Ester Huey

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." -- Steve Mitchell, quoting Frederick Douglass

"Focus on [your] future narrative, especially the health narrative." -- Emily Anderson

"The significance of black history (is that) it empowers you with knowledge of the past that (had) shaped your image. Also, up with hope and down with dope!" -- The Rev. Robert Trimble

"Black history is American history!" -- Tyler Beauchamp

"If you don't study everybody's history, you devalue other Americans." -- Ester Huey

"The current African-American diet (contributing to high rates of) heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure, (is) inherited from years of (the) slavery narrative...or one of Africa's tribes prior to the Atlantic Slave Trade." -- Emily Anderson

"It's awful that teachers are going to have to lay down their lives (due to the current administration's recent suggestion that teachers should carry guns in schools)." -- Lodi Bryant

When I attended Yakima Valley College back in 2010 in my attempt to get a dual degree in early childhood education and an associates degree, I was a member of the student government. I was a pretty active person, too. In addition to being single and pregnant, I was the ASYVC student ambassador, a member of the Kiwanis Club and a member of the Black Student Union (BSU). There is no longer a BSU there at the college, and that breaks my heart because there is no one actively taking a role in looking out for the well-being of the small number of African-American students on campus. Since I don't have any family living in Yakima, it was a healing salve for me to meet fellow black students attending the college. I am still friends with some of them to this day! (I see you Darrylynn!n <3) It is important that these students have a space on campus where they can link up and meet others who relate to the experiences and unique culture of African Americans.