by Edna Chukwuemeka
Q: How do you think Millsaps College helps Jackson, and what role does Millsaps have in the community?
A: It’s interesting because Millsaps is quite like the school I went to as a college student. I went to Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It was a liberal arts school. It had about 1,000 students. The way that it helped is that, at its best, it engages the student to use their head and not just swallow formulas, to examine all forms of studies and challenge anything they think is incorrect.
I think Millsaps has also reached beyond its academic mission and begun to do things to help the community in mid-city Jackson, and that is really part of education because it gives the students’ experience. Part of your education should come from school and the other part should come from actually doing things and working actively for change.
Q: What do you want to develop within Jackson education?
A: I want to develop a roadmap for students so they can have life success in every area— economically successful, socially successful and politically successful.
[The way] we need to do that is to make changes to our education system, in specific Jackson Public School’s contribution to the system.
We sometimes measure whether our technique or methodology of teaching is successful based on the top of the class. However, the top of the class is highly motivated for one thing or another, and those students are a minority in that society. We should be measuring according to the typical or bottom of the class, and try to get them to the top. We can help achieve this through simulations—simulate life, models of teaching, borrowing from law practice, medical world, business or the, restaurant world. We need to put world models in the classroom so students will get involved with discussion models and work models. That will encourage them to learn because it will be world-like.
The curriculum needs to be contested. Places in Africa— historically places like Timbuktu, Songhai and Mali—the lessons of those places are lost, though those were some of the most successful civilizations in the history of the world, and the people looked like us [African-American]. That is something that children who look like us should know. We don’t want them to feel like they’re better, but that they’re just as good as anyone else.
Q: What specific initiatives in the education sector are you implementing?
A: There are many, but the central part is what I call active teaching.The history that we learn in school is very much a white-washed teaching and not the actual or active history. The history isn’t taught multicolored. A lot of it is a story made up to justify bad behavior. There is so much in history, not even just American, but world history that exemplifies this.
How could Christopher Columbus be a hero? He should be in the books because what he did led to a lot of things. But he came over here identified a group of people and said they would make great slaves. This made a bunch of hungry, thirsty slave-traders cross the seas and build an empire off of slavery. That’s not good behavior, that’s bad behavior. He is credited with discovering the Americas. The Americas weren’t
lost [Columbus] was. The North African Moors had been to the Americas several times before he had. There is the insinuation that he brought culture here, but culture already existed. That’s just an example of one-sided history. We just need to tell the truth.
Q: I know you recently co-sponsored the “Jobs for Jacksonians Job Fair.” How important is it to keep graduates in Jackson after they receive their degrees?
A: It is extremely important! We don’t want to produce all these smart people and send them off. We need our brainpower to stay in Jackson. It’s interesting, sometimes the world gets out of whack and directs people in the wrong direction. We’ve been on a path where students have been taken from their community, and you see it in movies and pictures, with athletes and celebrities: the theme is “How do I get out of here?” So if I’m a great basketball player or great scientist and I get a chance to get rich, I’m leaving my community behind and moving
That’s a bad formula because, at the end of the day, the communities you leave behind get poorer and poorer. That’s what I call the “Brain-Drain.” That’s why you have an appearance of suburbs that are percolating and, the city doesn’t have the same growth pattern, because the poorer areas are staying the same. We have to change that. First of all, [graduates] need to know they’re needed here. Young people have to be pioneers. Nothing was great overnight. If your neighborhood is downtrodden, let’s go in and fix it.
Let’s create a better environment, green efficiency, gardens, green houses and green spaces. Creating a cycle of life and not death. The cycle is built to serve the few rich and the many get poor. Even the fundamental idea of gardening, that’s one of the things we need to look at. The city garden helps to generate healthy food without preservatives—eat it and be healthy. Our forefathers were constantly adjusting to new lifestyles and we have the same challenge. Communities that you’re living in, go back and change it, don’t abandon it. Just because you leave doesn’t mean it goes away. It’s going to stay there and be crumbling. Students, stay in Jackson and let’s develop Jackson.
Q: What avenues for youth involvement or students in college in your goal plan for Jackson?
A: We have several things: the mayor’s youth initiative, getting high school students involved. But we need college leaders, mentors and organizers to come down here and see how the government works. The students also learn about themselves, culture and history. In the summer youth program, young students can come out and earn a little money. This is mostly for high school, but also some AmeriCorps college students. They do work, some kind of physical labor, maybe its cleaning out a ditch or helping the elderly. Those involved also dedicate a significant portion of their work hours to learning a skill they want to use later in life—business, lawyer, doctor or carpenter.
We are in the process of starting the Urban Youth Corps, which will be student-led with students supervising students. I can also tell you that media is very important.We want the young folks who work with us to look at our city, our departments, find issues and report stories to us. Come back and write about it. Tell us a story about different things happening.
Q: In reporting back to my peers, how would they be able to get involved?
A: Tell them to give me a call! Call Bridget Townsend, tell her you want to get involved and she’ll look for programs or departments to put you in.