Taking Action as a Young Professional during Straining Times – #BLM Guest Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Artistic work also welcome. Due to overwhelming response new submissions will go up Aug-Sept. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

André Fuqua is a doctoral student in Infrastructure Materials Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests are centered on civil engineering materials, sustainability, race, and resource management. André is a Gates Millennium Scholar and Vice President of the Black Graduate Student Association at the University of Texas at Austin. Connect with André on LinkedIn

By: André Fuqua

I love being Black more than most people. I wouldn’t trade this melanin for anything. My people are innovative, cutting edge, soulful, intellectual, passionate, powerful, beautiful, resilient beings. We are constantly redefining ourselves, breaking barriers, and adapting to new norms, all while simultaneously navigating the battlefields of American life. Black bodies have been under attack since this country’s inception. No matter where we lie on the socioeconomic spectrum, life ain’t no crystal stair as a Black person living in America. 

Systemic racism is real. 

Police brutality is real. 

White supremacy is American terrorism.

James Baldwin said it best, “To be [Black] in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time”. I got the right to be mad. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired; of having to explain and put value to on my existence time and time again. The postmemory of the oppression of my ancestors bleeds through my veins and seeps out the seams of American society. I see racism in everything, because racism built this country. What a pill to swallow. 

The recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have shaken me at my core. Here we are… again. It’s been comforting, nonetheless, to see the global response against racism and police brutality, and the protests that have sparked in cities across the world. It gives me hope to see so many people of different nationalities, backgrounds, and creeds showing solidarity with Black America during this time. My colleagues and university officials have flooded my inbox with “Racism is wrong” and “If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know” and “I hope you are safe” messages in reaction to the times. Unfortunately, unlike many of my colleagues, peers, and counterparts, this time is no different from any time before. Nowhere has ever been safe for me. Whether I’m in jeans and a white tee or a suit and tie, I’m still a target. This is an uncomfortable truth. Combating racism is not a trend to be celebrated this week and pushed into the shadows the next. Racism is part of my everyday walk because unfortunately, it has to be. I can never forget that I am a Black man. This country wouldn’t let me if I tried. 

As a doctoral student and university professional, it has been challenging to move smoothly through my work and academic tasks while also sustaining my mental health and covering my family and community. A revolution is rising in the midst of a ravaging global pandemic. What a time to be alive? Remote working and shelter-in-place orders per the pandemic brought me back to my second home of Chicago, IL. The city erupted upon news of George Floyd’s killing. Protestors took to the streets with strong force. Curfews were put into place, grocery stores and gas stations closed their doors and boarded their windows, and things began to feel like a warzone overnight. However, my work from the university remained consistent.

I am the only black person in my office. I was at my computer responding to emails when I thought I should be in the streets marching for justice. I was still expected to show up to our regularly scheduled Zoom meetings, lead a few calls, and then was asked to contribute to crafting a staff solidarity response. I felt guilty for not participating in protests, but realized that maybe my action would look different.

By the end of the week, my cabin fever got the best of me and I decided to get out of my apartment and serve. I turned off my notifications and shutdown my laptop in an act of rebellion. I made my way to a local art gallery that was passing out meals and supplies to Black folks on the Southside of Chicago. I distributed masks and PPE, passed out 200+ grocery bags of food, water, baby care, and feminine care products to residents in the streets, and even spearheaded an impromptu block clean up. I was not on the front lines of the protests, but I was on the front lines of community outreach.  

These times are a call for action. We each have a role to play in the fight against racism and police brutality in America. It is important to understand that action looks different for each of us. To any young Black professionals grappling with guilt for focusing on self care, mental health, or Black joy during these times of heightened tension, shake your self-condemnations. Liberation takes many forms. For others who are participating in the movement by supporting efforts off the streets, thank you. The people need your internal encouragement. To those out on the streets using your bodies as weapons, your efforts are admirable. I stand with you and am wishing for your strong health and safety. To everyone, never forget your power. 

You matter. 

We matter. 

Black Lives Matter. 

Special thanks to Dr. Raissa Ferron for her continued support and encouragement. I feel lucky to be working with her as my research advisor and mentor. 

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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