Feb. 1 marks the beginning of Black History Month. In years past Albion College would have had multiple in-person events to celebrate the occasion. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, things are looking different this year.
MLK: Black and Belonging Series
One of the events Albion College has been hosting to honor Black History began as a way to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The college has scheduled live streams titled “MLK: Black and Belonging,” hosted by Intercultural Affairs department coordinator Vanesa Jackson on YouTube.
“I remember last year, students kept asking me, specifically our students of color, were asking me, ‘Hey it would be nice if we could see people that look like us, that are doing stuff in their fields, and we could connect with them and find out ways, you know, how to network,’” said Jackson.
Jackson’s interviews have featured black business owners and content creators who have been making major strides in their respective fields. Her hope for this series was to connect her students with individuals of color who are successful in their careers, and show them that it was possible for them to be just as successful. Her questions were tailored to answering the questions her students wanted answered.
“I called the series “Black and Belonging” because I wanted our Black students to feel a sense of belonging,” said Jackson. “This is a space created for you by people who look like you.”
Jackson said that her goal for this series was to connect students to a resource, highlight black stories and voices and show how these black business owners are finding their ways and sense of belonging after graduate school.
As the series progressed, Jackson found it was getting much more attention than she originally anticipated. Soon, alumni, other colleges and universities, even her hometown news stations, began reaching out to her and praising her for the work she was doing.
“It became a lot bigger than I anticipated,” said Jackson. “I am just grateful for the opportunity to give a platform to Black creators and use my space as a woman of color in higher education to provide that, and connect them with students who look like them.”
Jackson said that she attributed, in part, the success of her series to her ability to network.
“If you don’t see someone who looks like you succeeding in your respective field, you are not so sure that it’s an option,” said Jackson. “I want [students] to understand the importance of networking and mentorship.”
The final episode of the series of “MLK: Black and Belonging” premiered on Sunday, but Jackson stated that she has a similar project planned for March. Her hope is that students continue to be engaged in networking and making connections with individuals who look like them in their respective fields. She also plans to bring in another Black content creator for Valentine’s Day and will drop advertisement for it next week.
“Network, network, network,” said Jackson, “Connect with your mentors, understand that personal connections with people matter.”