Originally published February 2013 here.
"Activist Professor inspire me to speak out" By Mashallah Salaam
The room was huge and flooded with college students. It was pretty dark, and as it got closer for me to speak, I could feel myself getting more nervous by the minute.
I clutched my paper tighter as I felt my heart beating faster and faster. Suddenly it was my turn. “This is it,” I whispered to myself as I made my way to center stage.
It had all started when I was introduced to a group called S3!, which stands for “Striving Sisters Speak!” I had met my group leader, Professor Patricia Parker, founder and director of the Ella Baker Women’s Center, at an annual festival called “Neighborhood Night Out” held at the Hargraves Center in Chapel Hill.
She told us how she created the group to build leaders out of young African-American females like me to create positive change within and outside our communities. The group is based on the life’s work of human rights activist, Ella Baker who spent her childhood in Littleton North Carolina and graduated valedictorian at Shaw University in 1927.
My mom and I decided to attend a meeting. When we got there, Professor Parker explained how every year we would learn about an issue, then plan and attend events to spread awareness. This is a part of her “learn, teach, lead” model – what she calls “critical pedagogy” – which empowers learners to teach others.
I knew that this was something I really wanted to do. My mother and I soon became very active in this group. It was not long before we started attending events about the “Raise the Age campaign” for 16- and 17-year-old youth offenders charged as adults, even when they are arrested for less serious or non-violent crimes. We even had the opportunity to talk with actual lawyers and judges about the injustice of the “school to prison pipeline.”
We learned so much and worked so hard to promote awareness about this issue that I began to feel like a real activist!
Weeks later we knew that we were ready to present this information at a UNC showcase event. I was chosen to be a speaker for the presentation that we all prepared, which made me very nervous, considering that I tend to be very shy. But luckily I had the support of the S3 members, Professor Parker and her students. They rehearsed with me several times, which really helped, especially since Professor Parker is an associate professor of communication studies at UNC Chapel Hill.
When my turn finally came, I thought about everything Professor Parker had taught me. I looked all around the auditorium and could count about 100 people or more. I could see my mom and some of my S3! members sitting in the front middle row. Professor Parker was standing right beside me. The bright light was shining directly at me. Then I began to speak.
Afterward, I got some very supportive feedback and compliments, which really surprised me! I began to feel more confident and brave. All thanks to the group that started it all; S3!
But the best part of this is knowing that my group S3!, learned all of this together. We are like true sisters inside an intellectual and social journey that gives us the knowledge and confidence to let ourselves shine.
Mashallah Salaam is a home-schooled student in Chapel Hill. To learn more about S3!, visit the Ella Baker Women’s Center website at http://ellabakerwomenscenter.org/