Black History Month graphic with photos of historic black americans in the background

A Letter to CCCS Faculty and Staff from Dr. Ryan Ross, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Equity, and Inclusion

This time of year always brings up mixed emotions for me. In January, I am thrilled to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and in February, the hard work and vision of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who created what we now celebrate as Black History Month. Between the two observances, we experience about 44 days when Black Excellence is embraced in the workplace, the tone and tenor on television changes, and people proclaim that Black Lives Matter—as well as the inequities created by oppressive systems.  It’s an incredible 44 days.

We must remember our mission, our purpose, and those we serve.
- Dr. Ryan Ross, AVC for Student Affairs, Equity & Inclusion
Then, suddenly, the Marade and marches end. Black History Month commercials and social media posts begin to fade, and I wonder, Now what?  What do we do when the dream feels deferred?  How do we stay focused when the data shows continued inequity, especially in the midst of a pandemic that’s still impacting our students and colleagues? How can we continue to stay focused when society’s attention largely turns to something else?

The complexity is challenging, but we cannot allow the shift in mainstream media to stop us from answering, Now what?  The answer is simple: We keep celebrating and we keep moving forward.

Higher education professionals, especially in the two-year sector, embody both legacies of MLK, Jr. and Carter G. Woodson. Dr. King dreamt of access, equality, and addressing the inequities of those in poverty. Dr. Woodson made an academic appeal for the institution of Black History, which is American History.

Colleagues, I am here to tell you, we do both. So, when the times get rough, we must remember our mission, our purpose, and those we serve.

  • First, our mission: We are about access, completion, and opportunity. We create an environment that appreciates the history and narratives of all people. We are the place where people “Can Start Here and Go Anywhere!” So when you are plagued with Now What?, answer by remembering who we are and how we honor the legacies we carry with us.
  • Next, our purpose. When we think about Black History Month and our path forward, we must continue courageous conversations. Our collective choices affect us more than we can imagine.The hundreds of years of oppression and inequity are not impenetrable barriers.
    If we choose to, we can expand the mission from access and completion to include placement and prosperity. We can face the truth of our retention and enrollment data. And we can challenge complacency while celebrating our resilience and the work yet to be done.We are a community of educators. Let us reflect on how we can stop deferring the dream and start realizing it.
  • Finally, our students. Students come first, and we should celebrate the diversity on our campuses every day—not just 44 days out of the year. We can tell the stories of all students and discuss narratives that hold us accountable to our past. This time of celebration, if we choose to let it, can be the springboard for action.

So, when asked Now what?, let’s answer with actions that ensure everyone thrives. After all, Black History is a celebration of making something from nothing, overcoming insurmountable odds, and moving forward when paths are not clear.

Sound familiar? Then join me in celebrating this month and by rededicating ourselves to our organizational DNA—creating an environment where education and thriving are not a privilege for some, but a right for all.