The Department of African American Studies honors exemplary African American students across the university every year for their academic excellence and community engagement with the Black History in the Making Award. Founded in 1983 by Dr. Daryl Dance, this award is organized by the Department of African American Studies, and recipients are nominated by their departments or programs for academic excellence or engagement with the community that goes above and beyond normal student activity. Of the 46 people honored this year, 21 were students in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
A few of these exemplary students are profiled below. A complete list of awardees can be found here.
Kevin Britton says he feels a strong personal connection to the people he serves. For the past two years Britton has regularly visited the Richmond City Jail through his position as peer mentor for Rams in Recovery, to talk about substance abuse and recovery with inmates whose lives, he says, closely resemble his own.
“I have a background similar to most inmates so I show them possibility and hope that even though you’re in a tough situation, you come from a tough situation, you still can evolve and be a better person,” said Britton.
Britton grew up in Los Angeles where he says he became involved in drugs and gang activity at an early age. However, the election of President Obama in 2008 inspired him to turn his life around and seek help for his addiction.
“When I saw him and what he did, and he looked like me…he was my idol. I patterned my life after him. It’s hard, and I’m still working on myself, but he is the epitome of everything I want to become,” Britton said.
Today, Britton is a senior philosophy of law student at VCU, with plans to attend law school and eventually become a prosecutor. His experiences as a peer mentor have shown Bitton first-hand how the court system treats inmates, and says he hopes to have a humanizing influence on the way criminals are treated one day.
“It changed the way that I view law and humanity. I want to be a prosecutor but I want to be someone that sees a person and sees a person that made a mistake, rather than condemning and punishing, but trying to really reform,” said Britton.
Fadel Allassan is a political science major, but he says he’s not particularly interested in picking political sides. Instead, Allassan wants to use his training to reinforce his work as a political reporter and managing editor of The Commonwealth Times.
“I see journalism as a vessel for disseminating information that can empower people. I want everyone to feel as empowered as they can be when making decisions that affect them and their families and their friends and their community. I see journalism as a way to bring forth those issues into their eyes, so that they can feel a sense of agency when they’re making critical decisions,” said Allassan.
Allassan has used his position to cover issues surrounding race, mental health, and policy in Richmond, and to engage his publication directly in the production of political discourse. By combining his passion for politics and journalism, Allassan has found a platform to highlight injustices and highlight achievement in marginalized communities. Recently, he moderated a town hall-style discussion organized by the student newspaper and VCU Student Media Center on gun violence called “Beyond the Politics”.
“The CT I think is a unique platform for the work I want to do which is highlighting some communities that often don’t get the attention and the coverage that they should get. I’m glad that my mission, and the organization’s, are so co-aligned that I can do the best work that I can do while doing something that I love to do,” Allassan said.
At Dress for Success, a non-profit boutique and female empowerment organization, volunteers help women select professional attire, prepare for job interviews, and receive career development opportunities. The organization is committed to promoting confidence and economic independence in women by providing them access to professional development tools.
Joy Gilchrist, a senior at VCU pursuing dual degrees in psychology and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, originally volunteered with Dress for Success to fulfill a service learning requirement but was genuinely inspired by the service they provide women in their community.
“I just really love hearing the stories of the women that they serve, because they all come from different backgrounds. I really enjoy the fact that they pride themselves on giving these women a true experience,” said Gilchrist.
Two years later, Gilchrist is working as a teaching assistant for the same service learning class which sent her to Dress for Success, where she still volunteers today. She says her work makes her feel connected to her community.
“I think that for lower income families, women especially, I think just creating that network is important. I think that by going through Dress for Success, they are able to make connections with other business or entrepreneur people here in Richmond,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist is also deeply involved in the VCU community, where she works as a Residential Assistant and Student Admissions Ambassador.
By Megan Schiffres
May 3, 2018