The Democratic Presidential Debate is Where? 6 Facts about Texas Southern University

As you may or may not know, the next Democratic Presidential Debate is happening September 12th in Houston, Texas, but very few people have no idea about the school hosting the event, Texas Southern University.

This institution is a student-centered comprehensive doctoral university committed to ensuring equality, offering innovative programs that are responsive to its urban setting, and transforming diverse students into lifelong learners, engaged citizens, and creative leaders in their local, national, and global communities.

Since its existence, Texas Southern has made it a priority in achieving student success, academic quality, funding, partnerships, and culture. Their rankings on the national stage is a head above the rest, being #1 in degrees for African Americans in Texas, and #1 in doctoral-professional degrees in the lone star state.

To get us excited about this week’s debate host, I have found six fun facts about the beloved HBCU that makes it unique:

  1. It’s rich history: Texas Southern started as Houston Colored Junior College in 1927 with more than 300 students in its first semester. The school upgraded to a four-year institution to be known as Houston College for Negros in 1934 and was housed at Yates High School before outgrowing it in 1946. The school had another name change in 1947 calling it the Texas State University for Negros and finally became the school that we know and love in 1951, where it has over 9,500 students, making it the second-largest HBCU in the great state of Texas, and offers a variety of majors like Education, Pharmacy, and Business. 
  2. Their alumni are fire: The graduates of Texas Southern have made a dent into the cultural thread of history for this country in politics, sports, and music. Civil Rights Activists, Barbara Jordan, became the first African American elected into the Texas State Senate after Reconstruction and the first Southern African American woman elected into the U.S. House of Representatives. The school’s Public Affairs department is named in her honor. Football Hall of Famer, New York Giants Defensive End and TV host, Michael Strahan, wore the burgundy and grey as a member of their football team before entering the draft in 1993. He also gave back by donating high-end equipment to his former team.  And gospel singer, Yolanda Adams, recently announced her syndicated radio show “The Yolanda Adams Morning Show” will be broadcasting at the university’s public station KTSU 90.9 FM in Houston. 
  3. Debate coach trained Denzel Washington for a role: The candidates should get some pointers from TSU’s debate coach emeritus Thomas F. Freeman. His 70-year tenure at Texas Southern as professor and head coach of their award-winning debate team used his talents for the film “The Great Debaters” in 2007. Actor, Denzel Washington, got training from Freeman for him to play Wiley College professor, Melvin B. Tolson in the 1930s. 
  4. Houston’s first driver-less shuttle is on TSU’s campus: Back in June, the students got a cool way to commute to class with the self-driving METRO shuttle. This shared autonomous shuttle is the first in the Houston metro area. The shuttle rolls on the school’s Tiger Walk promenade that goes up to 12 miles per hour. 
  5. The most murals on any campus: As part of the seniors’ final project, Art majors have created 128 murals around campus since 1947. The idea came from the art department’s founder, Dr. John Biggers, and the majority of the murals are housed in Hannah Hall. 
  6. Their law school is full of #BlackGirlMagic: Just last month, the Thurgood Marshall School of Law hired Joan R. M. Bullock as its new dean, making her the first female dean in its school’s history. The school can also brag about the historical election of 17 Black female judges elected during the mid-term elections in November. Of those judges, eight of them are TSU graduates. 

Beyoncé Homecoming marches HBCUs onto the mainstream of pop culture

“If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.”

                          Toni Morrison, Howard University 1953

That was how Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé began its journey of Black excellence. The documentary, starring Beyoncé Knowles Carter, takes you on the eight-month preparation of her 2018 performances at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

The now historic show marked Mrs. Carter as being the first African American Woman to headline the festival since it started in 1993. Not only was this a historical moment for Coachella, but it was the symbolic homecoming of her return to the stage since having her twin babies.

Beyoncé put a lot of thought into her performance, especially wanting to find a way to expose her beloved Beyhive to another side of her, which was her passion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The inspiration was weaved carefully thought out the execution of her performances. From the musical arrangements of her chart-topping hits to the rhinestones on the costumes of the over 200 dancers, musicians, and background singers on stage, Homecoming gave her fans the HBCU experience without even having to go to class.

The History of HBCUs

“Education must not simply teach work– it must teach life.”

W.E.B. DuBois, Fisk University 1888

Officially, Historically Black Colleges and Universities are American institutions of higher education that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African-American community. The purpose for these institutions were needed after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery in the southern United States. Segregation enhanced the need for the schools when predominantly white colleges refused to enroll Blacks into their schools.

film poster

In the 1930s, there was on record to be more than 121 HBCUs in existence, however, the Civil Rights Act also hurt the institutions with allowing Blacks to enroll in all schools in the country. As of today, there are 101 official HBCUs that offer programs ranging from associate degrees to doctorates and everything in between.

Some well know graduates of HBCUs are actress Taraji P. Henson (North Carolina A & T/ Howard University), Actor Samuel L. Jackson (Morehouse College), California Senator and Democratic Presidental Hopeful, Kamala Harris (Howard University), and Georgia Democratic Gubotorial Candidate Stacy Abrams (Spellman College).

The Marching Band Experience

Mention in the film, Beyoncé confides her love for HBCUs that started with her parents taking her to football games at Prairie View University and dance rehearsals at Texas Southern University was all of the inspiration Knowles Carter needed to create the best music festival performance of all time.

Going back to football, attending a game is VERY different than if you were going to a Division I game. For one thing, very few of the fans go to see the team. Instead, they want to see their school’s marching band perform for the entire duration of the game. The pride for their school’s marching band develops early in one’s life for no one gets disappointed by of the showmanship and entertainment pizzazz of the full-time students who put into the scores of music needing to be memorized. There’s even camaraderie between the two school’s bands as they try to outperform each other for bragging rights, which makes it a competition in itself.

Thank You, Beyoncé

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Marian Wright Edelman, Spellman College 1959

Minutes into the performance, Beyoncé gave her rendition of the “Black National Anthem” Lift Every Voice And Sing, lyrics written by Atlanta University (now called Clark Atlanta University) graduate James Weldon Johnson and later adapted musically by his brother John Rosamond Johnson, which was also sung by her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter (whom knows a lot more lyrics than most adults which is very impressive) in the documentary and its soundtrack. The anthem universally binds all of the schools together having them performed it at all of their sporting, artistic, and scholastic events.

Just like Morrison, Beyoncé surrounded herself to her culture of being a southerner, and African American, and, of course, a woman.

So thank you Beyoncé. Thank you for showing your love for HBCUs to everyone around the world. Thank you for the philanthropic support you have given these institutions in the past, and thank you for showcasing Historically Black Colleges and Universities front-and-center where they belong.


Rhodes Scholar wants to inspire Black girls, women to ‘have audacity’

Life has been a whirlwind for Agnes Scott student Madison Jennings since she heard she is bound for the United Kingdom to be a part of the Rhodes Scholars program. 

Jennings and 31 other students from across the country will be in the postgraduate program at Oxford next year, where she plans to pursue a master’s in Public Policy and a Master of Science in Public Policy Research.

“I love keeping my head in a book but I also love being out in the community with people taking everything that I’ve learned and applying it to – using that wisdom – that information then brings it out to the people I know,” Jennings said. 

Jennings, a Savannah native, is part of the first generation of her family to go to college. 

She and UGA student Mariah Cady were selected from over 2,500 applicants to participate in this three-year fellowship with other notable recipients like former President Bill Clinton, news correspondent George Stephaopolus, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Senator Corey Booker (D- NJ). 

“I want to have a positive change in the world but also in my local community, always remembering Georgia and carrying that out to the world,” Jennings said. 

She was already making a worldly impact when she studied abroad in Jordan and worked on a project with the Carter Center in Liberia.

Agnes Scott. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

“Agnes Scott has a unique focus on global learning so being able to study abroad changed the direction of my academic endeavors like studying abroad in Jordan and picking up a focus on women’s rights in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region has been very transformative,” Jennings said.

Jennings also said that she wants to put an international spotlight on the Gullah culture she grew up around while living on the Georgia coast.

“The Gullah people were once enslaved Africans on the coasts of Georgia, Florida, South and North Carolina and have been able to preserve their unique heritage because a lot of the enslavers would be further inland so they were able to cultivate their own identity,” Jennings said. 

Jennings hopes that her success will encourage more Black Americans to apply to the program. Although the recognition has been awarded to international students since 1903, it wasn’t until 1979 that an African American female became a Rhodes Scholar. 

As a Black woman, Jennings thinks being a member of this prominent list of fellows is groundbreaking, and she is now a part of that legacy. She also feels that Black women have something to bring to the program, no matter their interests.

“I’m always reminded of this quote from Toni Cade Bambara, ‘revolution begins in the self and then it works out into the community,’ so I believe in change. I believe in progress and that’s something that I want people to know about me,” Jennings said.

In addition to Black women, she also wants to expose Black girls to this opportunity and not be afraid to reach for their dreams. 

“Have the audacity to go for it. You have to have the audacity to know that what you bring to the world is worth it and that it will create a positive impact. Keep shooting all the shots you can even when there are none, just keep going,” Jennings said. 

Jennings graduates from Agnes Scott next semester and will begin her studies with the Rhodes Scholars program at Oxford University next fall.

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New casting office gives SCAD Atlanta students opportunities to work in film, television productions

The Savannah College of Art and Design’s (SCAD) Atlanta campus opened its new casting office in September to help students get unique, industry-ready opportunities in professional and student film, TV and digital shows.

Alpha Tyler is an acting professor and Casting Director for the new office at SCAD Atlanta. She describes casting as a human resource with producers and directors as their clients. The clients come to them to look for someone to fill a role in their next film or show. The office staff will recruit new talent and hold auditions and interviews and select the best possible candidates for the filmmaker.

“We also try to think outside the box because they may have one idea – which is wonderful – and we go with it, but our job is to give them a nice variety so that they are exposed to talent they may not have considered before,” Tyler said. “Whether that means changing gender or looking for a different ethnicity that they may not have considered.”

With casting being a not-so-glamorous facet of the filmmaking process, SCAD Atlanta now offers a Minor in Casting, which provides hands-on training that will prepare them to step into the world of professional casting. This new field of study is an opportunity for students who don’t intend on pursuing casting as a career but want to understand the ins and outs of what it takes to be booked on a project.

“[SCAD] is the only school that provides this minor,” said Andra Reeve-Rabb, Dean of the School of Film and Acting at SCAD. “We are training our students professionally to cast all those shows you all love binge-watching.”

When casting a role that does not have a physical description of what the character is supposed to look like, Tyler tries to cast people of color to reflect a better image of the world.

“Whether it’s someone who was within the LGBTQ+ community or someone who is otherable, we want to open it up to anyone right for the role and that’s what comes first if the particular actor is right for the role,” Tyler said.

Tyler is training interns throughout the casting process with tasks like creating headshots, resumes and holding auditions to help them become familiar with the actors in order to find the right parts for them.

“This is a great opportunity for them to be able to see how the process works and it demystifies the process and lowers their anxiety because they understand what it’s like to look at actors from the other side of the table and not feel isolated and worry about making mistakes while auditioning but to understand where those decisions come from,” Tyler said.

Located in the school’s new FORTY-FIVE complex, the office is making significant progress towards the end of its first quarter.

The complex is an addition to the Midtown campus’s major rollout of new resources, helping students prepare to work on the cutting-edge technology already used on sets immediately after graduation.

“The fact that we have an 11-acre backlot in Savannah, our second LED volume, the next logical step was to continue expanding our programs and studies in Atlanta,” Reeve-Rabb said.

“We have a massive acting program in Savannah, and yet the heart of everything as we know happens in Atlanta, Reeve-Rabb said. “So we thought, “What better time to open up a second acting program in Atlanta?””

“We’re the only university in Georgia that has every single aspect of filmmaking,” Reeve-Rabb said. “There’s not one thing we don’t teach from casting, acting, sound design, visual effects; everything is covered. Whatever it is, we have it.”

Reeve-Rabb also thinks the office is a great opportunity for all their students as they continue to think about what is new and next in creative spaces.

“We [at SCAD] are leading the way and continue to lead the way in what’s next and answer the call of what is happening in all aspects of the industry and making sure we are doing right by our students by putting out these incredibly talented and prepared professional, young artists,” Reeve-Rabb said.

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Midtown High club hosts school board forum for students before Election Day

Organized by the student group Midtown Votes, students from Midtown High School club last week to hear from candidates running for school board offices about significant issues affecting the Atlanta Public School (APS) system.

Alfred “Shivy” Brooks and Tamara Jones, running for District 7 At-Large; Jessica Johnson and Nkoyo Effiong Lewis, running for District 9 At-Large; and Ken Zeff, running for District 3, accepted the club’s invitation to speak directly to student voters and district residents on what their priorities would be if elected. 

Candidates running for APS school board positions speak during the Midtown Votes forum. (Photo by Allison Joyner.)

The Midtown Votes club helps Midtown High School become a voter registration and engagement hub by helping students get out the vote by assisting them in securing photo IDs, advocating for local issues, and registering people to vote. 

Last year, the club registered over 400 new voters in time for them to cast a ballot in the midterm elections. 

“The mission of our club is to register students to vote and encourage them to get active in the government to encourage civic engagement,” said Jason Slaven, Social Studies teacher at Midtown High and co-sponsor of Midtown Votes. 

Students and members of the community filled the patio of the MetroFresh restaurant located across the street from the high school to hear from the candidates. 

In addition to increasing teachers’ salaries and improving the literacy rate for students, choosing the next superintendent is a priority for the candidates when they take office. As the school system has had four superintendents in the past five years, most recently Dr. Lisa Herring, who was removed a few months ago, finding a permanent replacement is a hot-button issue for not only parents but for students as well. 

During the Q&A portion of the forum, students asked questions about overcrowded schools throughout the system and the qualities they are looking for when selecting the next superintendent. 

Sierra Pape is an 11th grader at Midtown High and co-president of Midtown Votes. She hoped the forum educated young voters on the importance of voting in school board elections despite not having other state and local officials on the ballot. 

“The other purpose we had coming into this was to talk through a lot of current issues right now in the school board,” Pape said. “We will address and bring the importance of voting in off-season elections like this to young voters.” 

Slaven added that having an open dialogue between students and school board members was another purpose for hosting the forum, which he hoped was accomplished during the event. 

Pape and other members of Midtown Votes want to start a culture of making voting a popular activity for teens and Gen Zers to participate in future elections. 

“We’re trying to create and encourage a supportive environment around voting, which contributes to a social and collaborative aspect to remind people that we’re all in this together,” Pape said. 

Early voting for the APS school board election ended last week, and general voting will resume on Election Day, Nov. 7.

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Mastercard donates $6.5 million to AUC Data Science Initiative to enhance diversity in data science

Last week, the Atlanta University Center (AUC) Consortium gathered with MasterCard to announce a new partnership about expanding data science across Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The AUC Data Science Initiative received a $6.5 million grant from the credit card company to engage AUC students and faculty toward becoming data scientists in the workforce. 

Dr. Talitha Washing is the Director of the Initiative, who will use the grant to work across the 107 HBCUs nationwide to teach data science and partner throughout the data science curriculum for students and faculty. 

“There is a growing workforce need for data scientists and other professionals who possess data science skills,” Washington said. “Data science impacts everything that we do and we need all talent at all HBCUs to drive innovations.”

The school announced they will begin their partnership at the AUC Woodruff Library. The goal is to equip students with the skills they’ll need to succeed in emerging industries. 

Dr. David Thomas, President of Morehouse College and Chair of the Consortium Board of Trustees, says that the Consortium’s vision of exposing minorities to data science was driven by the observation that data will define the 21st century.

“It won’t matter if you want to be a journalist or if you want to be in bioinformatics or even a lawyer, you’re going to have to understand data,” Thomas said.

With information spreading worldwide, the information forms accumulated data for people to use to improve everyday life.

Washington also mentioned that data can be used for social justice for people of color. 

The use of facial recognition programming has wrongfully accused Black males of recent crimes, resulting in their arrest. She says if there were more diverse data scientists to analyze more objectively, the probability of happening again would be more negligible. 

“When our datasets aren’t diverse – when we don’t have diverse people looking at these algorithms, bad things can happen,” Washington said.

The initiative’s Pre-Freshmen Summer Experience is one of the ways the AUC Data Science Initiative is exposing young people to data science. The program selects incoming first-year college students to work on a project that uses data to help improve health and social justice. 

Last summer, the students’s research revealed that 81 percent of mass shooters exhibited signs of a mental health crisis. 

Washington says by knowing information like this ahead of time law enforcement can prevent people from engaging shootings or becoming the victims of them. 

“People need equitable access to data, data technology and data science,” said Shamina Singh, Vice President for Sustainability for MasterCard and Founder and President of the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth. “This partnership exemplifies that and builds on the work we’ve already been doing.”

Washington wants everyone to be good stewards when collecting data and accumulating it ethically and transparently. She also wants everyone to know how your data is being used in apps, websites and other entities, gathering it and giving it to a third party. 

“Data is here to stay and so being able to navigate through the data landscape will be a new normal moving forward and I think it’s exciting,” Washington said.

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Black geeks embrace growing diversity at DragonCon

By Allison Joyner

What started as 30 cosplayers dressed in their costumes in 2015 is now an annual event for African Americans attending DragonCon each year. 

Channing Scott Sherman saw a need for a small demographic of convention attendees going against the status quo of Black stereotypes to come together for an unofficial DragonCon group photo. 

Last month, over 400 Black Geeks gathered at the steps behind the Hilton Hotel to continue this tradition and celebrate their individuality.  

Black Nerds, POC Nerds, Blerds, Cosplayers of Color, or Black Geeks are what Sherman and others from the African Diaspora call themselves within the cosplay fanverse. 

Through the years, society has defined a “nerd” as a socially awkward white male who enjoys comic books, action figures, and playing games like “Dungeons and Dragons” and was portrayed as that in TV and films. 

It was in the early 80s when Black actors were cast to play one in “Revenge of the Nerds,” which opened the door for other pop culture legends such as Dwayne Wayne in “A Different World,” Carlton Banks in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire” and Steve Urkle in “Family Matters.” 

“A Blerd is really no different than a hardcore football fan,” Sherman said. “They’re going to dress up and paint their faces before they go to a game.”

When growing up, Sherman said that he wanted to spend his time playing G.I. Joe and reading comic books rather than playing sports. 

When he worked at a newspaper in Augusta in 2007, he saw pictures from the annual DragonCon parade posted on the Associated Press feed. His fascination with the event motivated him to attend his first DragonCon the following year. Through the years, Sherman sought to find others who looked like him. So when he did, he would make sure to take their picture. 

By 2010, his interest in picture-taking became an obsession, so he would chase people down throughout the hotel lobbies and down the street. 

He came up with the idea that all Black Geeks should take a group photo in 2015. Around 30 people showed up at Harvey Ivy Park, across from the Hyatt Regency, to mark an annual event during DragonCon. 

He also created the Black Geeks of DragonCon Facebook page to keep everyone connected and invite others to join their tribe. 

This year, Black Geeks made up for less than a percent of the over 70,000 attendees who flooded the streets of Downtown Atlanta, making them a minority in one of the Blackest cities in the country.  

“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘thank you and your friends for doing this,’” Sherman said. “Even if they didn’t know that there were this many Black Geeks or had felt marginalized, they were ignored by photographers at other conventions, and this was a place where they didn’t have to worry about that.”

People spend months creating their costumes for DragonCon, and Black Geeks have been known for wearing impressive designs that wow everyone around them. 

“DragonCon has some of the best Black cosplay you’ll see,” said Greg Burnham, an independent comic book writer who featured his work at the con’s Artist Alley this year. He and his business partner Marcus travel to other conventions every weekend promoting their new projects and editions like his latest book series, “The Search for Sadiqah.” 

When he would enter the convention space, he would feel uncomfortable being one of the few Black content creators there. Now, with more African Americans embracing their geeky side, he says that others, including himself, are more comfortable with their “Blackness” at these events. 

“No one is looking over their shoulder wondering what people think of them, and that’s one of the things that was an early mission for us to make it to where this is commonplace,” Burnham said. 

“The Search for Sadiqah,” on sale now at Challenges Comics and Games inside Northlake Mall, features a 13-year-old girl fleeing the Black Wall Street Race Massacre in Tulsa, Okla., and heads on a quest to find a mythical place and the many encounters she endures. 

Seeing cosplayers dress up as characters from “Sadiqah” or his other comic, “Tuskegee Heirs,” is surreal for Burnham, which reminds him of how he would dress up as Luke Skywalker with a makeshift lightsaber as his prop. 

“I was talking to this little girl for like five minutes before I realized she’s cosplaying one of my characters,” Burnham said. “When kids do it, it knocks me out!” 

He’s also happy that Black Geeks, like Candace Bazemore, are now comfortable roaming the convention floors as their unapologetically Black self.

Bazemore, the Director of Digital Strategy at Morehouse College, who describes herself as “the coolest geek you’ll ever meet,” loved dressing up in costumes during Halloween, so the love for cosplaying came easy to her when she became an adult. 

She was introduced to it in 2007 when a friend told her about a DragonCon event where people tried to break the Guinness Book of World record for the most people in the same room wearing Star Trek costumes.  

Volunteering at the con every year, Bazemore has seen the diversity of the organization and the visitors grow firsthand. 

“I think we’ve seen a lot of efforts made by DragonCon to be more inclusive,” Bazemore said. “One of their primary things is to be kind, love all people and be nice to everybody is one of the things that is a part of the DragonCon philosophy.” 

This year, Sherman was invited to a panel discussion on the diversity of DragonCon with other Black Geeks pictured in the first photo in 2015 and talked about how the TV nerds of the 90s influenced him. 

“Dwayne Wayne was a personal hero of mine because I was a huge nerd, especially at the show’s start,” he said. “He had a — lack of a better term — gotten cooler throughout the show, but he was still smart and educated and passionate about nerdy things and got the girl!”

Black Geeks show that African Americans are not a monolith and are multifaceted in many ways, enhancing the culture to be what it is today. 

“We shouldn’t just be relegated to things that seemed stereotypical, like going to a basketball game. If I want to be a Black Nerd and geek out at a con dressed as a member of a Hogwarts house — team Gryffindor, by the way — I should be able to do that,” Bazemore said.

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