Tougaloo College is committed to developing social justice leaders
Tougaloo College – In her younger years, Dr. Carmen J. Walters grew up in New Orleans, with her parents building homes by sun and working profusely at the railroad by moon, and her mother cooking for local schools. She developed faith, education, work ethics, and a strong inclination for social justice as part of the values she inherited from her parents.
“They were hard-working people,” Carmen tells us, “and they taught us to work hard and get an education.” It’s an upbringing that prepared Carmen for her current role as President of Tougaloo College. Established by anti-slavery activists in the 1880s on a former slave plantation in Mississippi, the school is a historically Black liberal arts college.
As Carmen points out, Tougaloo’s tapestry is woven around social justice and racial equity. As the College of the Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, the same has been credited with changing the educational, political, and social landscape of Mississippi, the South and the nation through its work in advancing the principles of equality, freedom and justice.”
As well as the Freedom Riders and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Tugaloo was also the home of mythical civil rights leader and strategist Ralph Bunche, Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael, James Baldwin, Roy Wilkins, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Robert F. Kennedy and Fannie Lou Hamer.
“Students are exposed to outstanding speakers and thought leaders to expose them to current issues in society and to uncover some of the complexities and potential opportunities.” According to Carmen, Convocations and Presidential Lectures are a vital part of a student’s education. The Reuben V. Anderson Institute for Social Justice, a newly established program, also aims to prepare students for lifelong engagement with social justice issues through theory, practice, and initiatives designed to transform global society.
Students are responsible for starting and ending change, according to Carmen.
Often gaining the title of ‘first’ in their professions and making noteworthy contributions to society, our graduates are politicians, scholars, researchers, professionals, and leaders,” says Carmen, proudly. For over a century, Tougaloo College has produced over 40 percent of Mississippi’s African American physicians, dentists, and attorneys, as well as teachers, principals, and university faculty and administrators.”
Tougaloo’s history and mission matched those of Gilead’s Racial Equity Community Impact Fund, which was established a year ago to provide grants to organizations whose mission is to reduce inequalities in the Black community nationwide. Students will be supported, social justice offerings will be strengthened, and leadership training will be bolstered with this funding. For example, students currently complete a capstone research project that will prepare them for the workplace, facilitate mentor connections, and give back to their communities. Social justice is an important component of these research endeavours, and some connect students with healthcare institutions.
One of Carmen’s colleagues, Sandra Hodge, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Tougaloo, says, “I think this has enabled us to be more involved with students on the ground.
For the future, it plans to develop a social justice curriculum, beginning with a certificate and later adding social justice minors and majors for students who want to pursue their passions. Students will be equipped with the skills necessary to reduce health disparities by applying their classroom learning to bring about social change in their communities.
In the same way that Carmen saw the dawn of a new era for social justice in New Orleans, she sees it as the beginning of a new era at the college. “Our aim for our scholars is to transform their minds,” says Carmen. The values instilled by Carmen’s parents prepare her to lead the 700 students at her institution, with the values that were instilled by her parents. This keeps Carmen focused on her mission and she is able to overcome any challenges.
“This is what I was designed to do and what I am meant to do,” she says.
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