Jada Wiggleton-Little: At the end of the day, I sit back and count my steps. Where did I start? Where was I headed? Did I detour? Did I arrive? What did I learn along the way? Did I stop and enjoy the scenery? Did I make each step count?
It was Calvin Murphy who took the first step in the late-1960s. One of the first African- American students to be enrolled at Davidson, he was one of four founders of the BSC. The fact that they were drunk in a dorm room in Little when they came up with the idea of the BSC may not be public knowledge, but now you all know. Enters Janet Stovall in the early-1980s. During her time in the BSC, also serving as BSC President, she drafted Project 87 to the Board of Trustees listing her grievances regarding the lack of diversity at Davidson, including the need for more African- American faculty and a creation of an Africana Studies Department. These are the first steps. This is where we started.
It took approximately thirty years for the Africana Studies Department that Jane Stovall envisioned to manifest, but in no way did that diminish the significance of the steps she took to produce the change she wanted to see. Drunk in a dorm room, demanding a space on Davidson’s campus that they could call their own, the four founders of the BSC never imagined their safe space would one day grow to hold over 150 students from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. All they knew was given that time, given that place, they felt they had to take a step.
Fast-forward to 2014. During my sophomore year, I served as Community Service Chair of the BSC, my first position on the Executive Board. That year, I watched BSC President at the time, Will Vaughn, and other members step up and organize what became known as the Davidson Die-In. It was my first ever protest, and I was not even there. Low on courage and in health, the only contribution I could muster was painting the names of lives lost to police brutality on the back of the shirts worn by those lying on the cold asphalt. For a year, I was ashamed to say that the extent of my participation, in probably the most historic protest to hit Davidson’s campus, was painting names. However, when I reflect on my time here at Davidson, I’ve grown to understand how that little step activated a strength in me, and led to the steps I took during my term as BSC president.
This year, I watched as my closest friends found it more and more difficult to focus on their lessons on statistical analysis when all they could see were the statistics of black lives lost to police brutality. I knew I had to do whatever I could to try to make a difference, even if the impact of that step would not be felt for years to come. The Black-out Protest was a defining moment of my term as BSC President, because it helped me realize that the steps we make today may not immediately take us to where we need to go, but will get us just a little bit closer– and that counts. Reactions I received from the Blackout Protest were mixed. Some felt it was redundant, the same approach to the same problem – the infamous gathering around the flagpole. For others, the Black-out was their first protest and made them question what further steps they could also make.
As I prepare to graduate, all I can think of is steps. That sometimes we take steps and feel as if we are going nowhere, as if the goal is too far to reach, and as if the steps we are taking are too small. We host events that few people show up to, we repeat the same conversations, we witness the same police brutality on our streets and the same lack of diversity and inclusivity on our campus. There’s been times I have asked myself, are my steps even headed in the right direction, or are am I merely wasting my time in a detour?
Then it hits me: Things aren’t the same. From the 60s to the 80s to 2014 to now, we as a community have gradually progressed in this march toward supporting our students of color and broadening our conception of diversity. In one year’s time, I’ve seen students hang homemade Black Lives Matter and No Ban No Wall flags out their window, saw a Black Lives Matter flag hanging in the middle of the union, watched the Teach-Ins emerge, noticed more diverse guests start to arrive on campus, and the list goes on. I also saw how one protest, one gathering of frustrated students in the middle of the BSC, multiplied to change still being initiated on campus today.
As my time as BSC president comes to an end, in the future, I want to see more steps from the BSC and from Davidson as a whole. I say this statement so many times, I have now self-proclaimed it to be my motto: In order to engage in activism, one only has to look at the word and it tells you exactly what you need to do –“Act”. Step. No matter where you start, you probably will not reach where you are going today, but do not let that deter you. For years, the collaboration of steps, big and small, taken by students on this campus has produced a Davidson community vastly different than the one seen in the early 1960s. But it starts with you, it starts with me. I can only look back and smile, knowing like the BSC presidents before me, I did my best to step out.
Jada Wiggleton-Little ’17 is a Philosophy major, Health & Human Values minor from Charlotte, North Carolina. Contact her at email@example.com.