Note: This month, the Office of Equity and Diversity will be talking with UTHSC leaders in recognition of Black History Month.
Darrylinn Todd, EdD
Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Services (AFSA)
OED: What does Black History Month mean to you? Why is it important?
Dr. Todd: Black History Month is a time of reflection, a time to think about what it means to be an African American. Over my lifetime, I have been continually told by my parents and grandparents that “we stand on the shoulders of giants,” those who sacrificed to pave the way so African Americans could have a better tomorrow. These “giants” of the past were involved in the ongoing struggle for racial equality. These activists and organizers demonstrated bravery in the face of extreme racially motivated violence.
Black History Month allows me to think back on the progress that was made in a somewhat short period of time, but also lets me recognize how much more work there is to be done. Each year, the United States sets aside a few weeks to focus on the particular contributions that people of African descent have made to this country. While not everyone agrees Black History Month is a “good thing,” there are several reasons why we must celebrate this occasion. When we observe Black History Month, we give citizens of all races the opportunity to learn about a past and a people of which they may have little awareness. I have personally experienced situations where individuals were educated not to respect or appreciate the fact that African Americans have always made valuable contributions to society, they were taught not to respect and appreciate the African Americans in this country. The end result was and still is distrust, insensitivity and a disregard for treating other people, particularly African Americans, as they should be treated.
Learning about black history is good for all, not just African Americans, over time it can help end racism; it will give a complete and balanced view of African Americans in this country, and finally, it will help fight xenophobic views. Black History Month benefits all and makes our country a place where everyone can feel valued, appreciated, and safe.
OED: Do you have a favorite soul food restaurant in Memphis? What is one of your preferred soul food dishes?
Dr. Todd: The Four Way Grill. This restaurant is a South Memphis landmark and has been a pillar of community activism for greater than 70 years.
The restaurant is owned by Jerry and Patricia Thompson and is a no-frills, classic soul food restaurant. When I arrived in Memphis, a local historian told me that this restaurant was a popular meeting place for civil rights activists from the 1940s through the 1960s. He also said that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a frequent patron of this establishment. The Four Way is famous for its straightforward “real” southern home cooking menu and is best-known for the turkey and “best-dressing-ever,” as well as fried chicken.
My preferred soul food dishes are dressing, smothered cabbage, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, and peach cobbler.
OED: Will you share a favorite quote of yours, attributable to a figure in Black History?
Dr. Todd: One of my favorite Black History heroes is Barbara Jordan, who was born on February 21, 1936, in Houston, Texas. Barbara was a lawyer and educator who served as a congresswoman from 1972-1978. She was the first African-American congresswoman to come from the Deep South and the first woman ever elected to the Texas Senate (1966). Texas Congresswoman Jordan (1936-1996) rose to the national stage from Houston’s largely African-American Fifth Ward, becoming a public defender of the U.S. Constitution and a leading presence in politics for two decades. She earned a B.A. from Texas Southern University and a law degree from Boston University.
I have several favorite quotes that are attributed to Ms. Jordan:
“If the society today allows wrongs to go unchallenged, the impression is created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority.”
“There is no obstacle in the path of young people who are poor or members of minority groups that hard work and preparation cannot cure.”
“One thing is clear to me: we, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves.”
“If you’re going to play the game properly, you’d better know every rule.”
OED: Is there a book, movie or author that you would recommend to others to learn more about Black History?
Dr. Todd: I recently finished reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.
I personally find considerable enjoyment in learning about African-American people through their biographies and memoirs. As a native Chicagoan, I knew I would be one of those eager to read the recent release of Michelle Obama’s memoirs.
“If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately described by others.”—Michelle Obama.
Only history and the passing of time will judge Michelle Obama’s success as the first African-American First Lady. Her book speaks to her time in the White House and how she trusted in the power of hard work and optimism to rise above, to go high when others went low.
Mrs. Obama set the stage for the reader with a recounting of her life on the South Side of Chicago in the late 1960s. She remembers her parents forced to pinch pennies and living with relatives, while the world around them tried to come to terms with racial integration. I think people will be surprised at the level of self-doubt she exhibited in many of her life experiences. Throughout the book she states that all through her life, including when she was in the White House, she was never sure of herself. “Am I good enough?” For me this was and is a true African-American story, and it will be one that many will understand as they reflect back on their own personal experiences.
I found Michelle Obama’s memoirs to be inspirational and direct about race, gender, and politics. It is a very uplifting, powerful, and revealing story of not just a woman, but an African-American woman. A women who sought to fight for equality years before she became the first lady and to advocate for others. Michelle Obama has been able to pave the way for many other women to follow her.
OED: What is one experience that has shaped the person you are today?
Dr. Todd: I did not realize the impact that growing up in a military family had on my life, until I left home to attend college. My family was and is still extremely close, because we had to travel together for so many years. In many cases we were each other’s “best friends,” until we got established at a new base. “I think people would be surprised if they knew the number of elementary and high schools we attended during my dad’s military career. He spent 30 years in the United States Air Force, and every 18 to 24 months, we would be moved to another military location. Due to my father’s assignment as a strategist, we were stationed at military bases throughout the U.S., as well as in international countries (e.g. England, Germany, and Japan). My dad was reassigned several times during my teen years, and I actually went to four high schools before graduation.
I will always appreciate this great experience of living in a close-knit family, traveling the world and being introduced to new cultures and circumstances. Meeting different people and seeing different ways of living was an amazing opportunity that not everyone gets to experience.
Just being aware of someone else’s way of life can truly be an eye opener. I definitely learned patience and perseverance (especially when you are in a family with six children) and how to overcome language and culture barriers. At the end of the day, I was fortunate enough to have many opportunities that helped me understand myself and learn how to adapt to life’s changes.”