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Columbia Missourian

GUEST COMMENTARY: We need more Arvarh Stricklands

By Rikki Byrd
May 3, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

When I got rejected from a teaching organization in January, I cried for 15 minutes and then pulled myself together. I had to figure out what I was feeling. Was I angry? Was I sad? Was I unworthy? I convinced myself that "yes" wasn't an answer to any of these questions, as far as I was concerned. Because when I applied, it was never about me, it was about the kids I wanted to teach.

Yes, I was angry that children in the ninth grade could hardly read. Yes, I was sad that brown-skinned boys are walking the path to jail cells more often than they are walking to Harvard. Yes, I feared that society had convinced itself that these children were unworthy of substantial education and that maybe they’re better off where they are.

In my mind, I went on a rant about how the organization’s application and interview process was totally irrelevant to the mission of their organization. I complained about their lack of diversity in the hiring process. I lashed out against the countless individuals who are accepted and go into schools because they're what the organization calls "qualified" but can't even begin to grasp the strife of the inner-city youth, whom they will stand in front of and will never be able to relate to.

Then I stopped. Because realistically, I would apply all over again just to have the opportunity to work with inner-city youth. Then, I would apply for the organization’s diversity committee (if one exists) and start working on establishing high school and college preparatory programs that prepares minorities interested in teaching youth for the program. I would be like Arvarh Strickland.

When I heard of Arvarh Strickland's death, my heart jumped, not at his death, but at his mission. I've sat in classrooms many days without considering the power that exists within the bricks of the building. As the first black professor hired at MU, he had a building named after him. He fought to increase representation of black faculty so that the few black students that sat in the chairs actually felt like their existence was acknowledged and meant something. That those students would believe if they worked hard enough, maybe one day a building could be named after them.

Of course, I understand that merit is gained through hard work. I'm not sitting here writing this article advocating for the university to hire every black person it interviews. I'm not even saying that every black person is qualified for the position.

But, hypothetically, what if the organization that I was rejected from had more interest in a candidate’s experience with inner-city youth, personal connections to the communities and advocacy for closing the achievement gap as opposed to merely a GPA and unrelated leadership experiences? What if brown-skinned children in inner-city schools had the opportunity to sit before their brown-skinned teachers everyday, who instilled in them pride and confidence in themselves and their academics to achieve beyond measure? More people looking like me, teaching people like me?

Then, there would be more Arvarh Stricklands, more buildings named after blacks and more representation overall on campuses. The contributing factors are far too outnumbered to provide an accurate correlation. Nonetheless, the mere imagination of such a thing is quite fulfilling.

Rikki Byrd is a senior studying journalism at MU. Since high school, she has built a portfolio of articles, photographs and her own magazine titled s c u l p t. She is an avid blogger and poet. Each day she is tailoring her craft to prepare for a career as an editor-in-chief of a major publication.