Sacred Cirlces builds bonds
April 12, 2017
Filed under Opinions
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People often attribute the following quote to Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Although it is questionable whether or not Frederick Douglass actually articulated that phrase, the point is well noted.
The quote is short and profound. It illustrates a need for mentorship and opportunity as it regards the youth. It appears to be a statement that transcends partisanship on its face. No politician is outright against initiatives that help the youth. Specifically in the context of higher education, there are needs for programs that can address the particular needs and vulnerabilities of black youth.
At Western Illinois University, a group called Sacred Circle ultimately fills that niche. Generally, Sacred Circle serves as a cultural group that promotes education of all kind within the African diaspora. It prides itself on collective unity and holds its members accountable through the mantra of “Help me and let me help you.”
Its knowledgeable and deliberate President Charles House Jr., who is reserved but always speaks with meaning at the right moment, heads the program. Students Mercedes Joyner and Amari Harris assist him with the leadership. Joyner, making her presence known, is profound in her ability to plan effectively and to ask the right questions to make the necessary information available. Harris has a remarkable ability to insert moments of levity in the context of serious and visceral dialogue within the meetings. All members of the group are advised by the experienced, knowledgeable and personable Byron Shabazz, also known as Brother Byron.
On April 1, Sacred Circle invited black children of all ages to come visit Western’s campus to have access to the right information that would allow them to make the best choices as it regards their future in higher education. The event was called, “My Brotha’s and Sista’s Keeper Children’s Conference.” When the children arrived at the school, they were greeted by opening remarks by Brother Byron. He encouraged them to seek out problems within their lives as well as their communities. They were then divided into workshops that prompted their career goals and subsequently provided them with specific information in order for them to reach those goals. Some examples include workshops predicated on the importance of a grade point average, involvement on a college campus and college preparation.
The second half of the conference allowed the youth to see the social side of college life with appearances made by the Preeminent Gentlemen Society, the Preeminent Ladies Society as well as the fraternities of Alpha Phi Alpha and Phi Beta Sigma. These appearances addressed the importance of image and reputation as well as its ramifications to the youth. The event culminated with the admissions office meeting with children and answering specific questions.
Sacred Circle and their conference represent the role that universities need to play in recruiting and retaining African American students. African American students, who often come from underinvested communities, are frequently placed in precarious positions when it comes to making decisions facing higher education. Much of this is due to the fact that many of these students come from families with parents who lacked opportunities to attend postsecondary school. As a result, much of the onus is on the children to understand the complexities of university life and make the appropriate decisions. Universities need to be more active in addressing such problems, bridging the gap between universities and underinvested communities. Western Illinois University, being the leader in college accessibility through several initiatives such as fronting MAP grants in the absence of state funding as well as lowering the tuition rate, needs to be front and center of this idea, turning the mantra of Sacred Circle into a well needed higher ed axiom: “Help me help you, so that we can help each other.”