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Educating and empowering

Students find belonging and purpose in the Black African Coalition at ASU

students holding signs on campus

February 16, 2016

“Just like being at home.”

That’s how Arizona State University senior Arianna Cannady described feeling when she discovered the Black African Coalition (BAC) at ASU.

Being a person of color at a predominantly white institution can be tough at times.

“It’s hard being in a classroom where you’re the only black girl,” said Cannady. “When you have a question, sometimes you don’t want to ask because you might seem dumb or uneducated, so you just keep quiet.”

Fortunately, the BAC provides a place where she does feel comfortable speaking up. Cannady — who is majoring in public policy and public service with a minor in criminology and criminal justice — is the event director for the BAC at ASU, which serves as an umbrella organization for all of the black and African students and student organizations at the university. Currently, there are 20 such groups.

“It’s like a family away from your family,” echoed business law major and fellow senior Brittney Willis, who serves as president of the BAC. No small task, considering it’s her job to oversee those 20 member organizations housed in the BAC, and also to act as the ASU liaison to the African and African-American community.

And with this being Black History Month, both Willis and Cannady have a lot on their plate. They see the monthlong event as an opportunity both to celebrate black history and to educate people of all colors.

portrait of two women sitting on stairs

ASU seniors Arianna Cannady (left) and Brittney Willis hope the Black African Coalition at ASU will serve to educate and empower its members and the general public. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Most recently the BAC hosted a ball at Old Main, and earlier this month one of the BAC’s member organizations, the NAACP, hosted a march on ASU’s Tempe campus to spread awareness of the group and its efforts.

Despite some unsavory reactions, overall Willis said the march was “really nice.”

“We had a lot of faculty and staff come out and support us, so that was a great experience,” she added.

Though Willis contends that it’s common for students of color to feel “unnoticed and disconnected” at a predominantly white institution, “being involved creates an environment that helps allow students to feel welcomed and appreciated,” something she believes ASU provides ample opportunity for.

“My favorite thing about ASU is the huge amount of opportunity to get involved, as well as to prepare for our futures,” she said. “There are endless amounts of clubs, organizations and majors at ASU, so everyone has the opportunity to be a part of something they truly care about.”

Within the BAC, Willis is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and both she and Cannady regularly attend biweekly meetings of Zaria, an African-American women’s group that meets to discuss topics such as relationships and personal experiences in an open forum.

Though the BAC leaves most of the event throwing to its member organizations, it does host an annual weeklong summer program for incoming freshmen, a welcome-back barbecue and pool party, and spring and fall Black Graduation Ceremonies.

And Cannady wants people to know that everyone is welcome at these events. As she poignantly stated, “Come to events to get educated, even if you’re not black. It’s just good to know different histories, because this is your history. This is American history.”

To learn more about the BAC and its member organizations, click here.

To see more events being hosted by the BAC, click here.

Follow BAC on Instagram at BAC_ASU.

Top photo depicts the ASU Mizzou Day of Solidarity, hosted by the ASU NAACP Chapter on Nov. 16, 2015. Influenced by racially motivated incidents that took place at the University of Missouri, students marched with signs featuring racial stereotypes. Photo courtesy of Arianna Cannady

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