By Barney Blakeney
As part of its ongoing Race and Social Justice Initiative at the College of Charleston, at a January 28 program the initiative granted the Student Leadership Award to seven deserving applicants. The Student Leadership Award was created in 2018 as a means to foster systemic change across The College of Charleston campus and greater Lowcountry community. The Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) Student Leadership Award is a $600.00 travel and research stipend awarded to student leaders who recognize the importance of social justice activism and who are driven to become organizers of change.
The RSJI was founded in late June 2015 following a major grant from Google in response to tragic events in Charleston including the shooting death of Walter Scott by a police officer in April 2015 and the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.
The mission of the RSJI is to promote public awareness and dialogue about race and social justice issues in the Charleston area, the state of South Carolina and beyond through a collaborative effort led by the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, Addlestone Library, the African American Studies Program, the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative (LDHI), and multiple community partners.
Two students received the award in its first year – David Rothmund (MA History) and Cora Webb (Public Health, Women’s and Gender Studies). Rothmund’s proposal, The Southern Negro Youth Congress: Legacies of SNYC and the Southern Radical Tradition, was to provide a historical foundation for community leaders to understand and implement lasting change. He hopes his work will encourage readers to use and understand the history of southern radical activists and will urge the audience to continue fighting for racial and class-based equality.
Webb’s proposal was Alternative Break: LGBTQ+ Rights and Public Health in New York City. Over the course of a spring break she worked with the world’s first and leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center (GMHC). She was educated about ways the GMHC is working to develop comprehensive solutions to promote education, increase awareness, improve care, reduce stigma, elevate policy, and build strong, supportive communities to end the HIV/AIDS crisis. Her newfound knowledge of HIV/AIDS treatment and activism in NYC can be used to better address the issue within the Charleston community.
Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture Facilities, Outreach, and Public Programming Coordinator D.L. Calhoun, II said, “We started this award to recognize students who are driven to become leaders of change in the community. To give students a true grant writing experience they can apply when working in the field, students were tasked to submit an electronic application and a written funding proposal that used the Charleston County Racial Disparities Report to support their project.”
Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture Executive Director Dr. Patricia Williams Lessane added, “The RSJI Student Leadership Awards recognize innovative and nuanced research projects that address and examine the intersections of race, class, and gender equity at the macro and micro levels. We applaud the award recipients’ research endeavors and fierce commitment to race, gender, and class equity.”
The 2018-2019 award recipients and their projects are; Vanity Reid Deterville (Political Science, Public Policy) – AIDSWatch: AIDS United Annual Conference in Washington D.C.; Sylvie Baele (Master of Public Administration, Nonprofit Management) – 2019 National Bike Summit hosted by The League for American Bicyclists in Washington D.C.; Thomasena Thomas (Political Science, Public Policy – Rwandan Reconciliation Research; Allie Stern (Public Health) – Black Lives Matter: Looking at Charleston; Ebony Venson (Master of Public Administration) – Taste of Emerge Conference hosted by the Emerge America Organization; Malayna Nesbitt (Public Health, African American Studies) – Environmental Racism in The Lowcountry; and Ethan Davis (African American Studies, Political Science, Jewish History) – understanding of theories on community development and the ideal way to execute community development.
Graduate Assistant Katherine Jones, Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture assistant project manager said, “Over the past few months, it has been a great privilege to work alongside RSJI on this project. In today’s social and political climate, the Student Leadership Award recipients are an inspiration, and I am proud RSJI could assist them in their endeavors to promote equality on campus and in the Lowcountry community. In the future, I have no doubt they will continue to spread change far beyond Charleston.”