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2023 - Resistance Through Black Excellence: Its History, Meaning, and Leaders

Tags: Academics | Accomplishment | Faculty Profile
Published 02/08/2023
Vincent Gaddis, PhD, professor of history

Vincent Gaddis, PhD, professor of history

Elgin Community College’s theme for Black History Month, “Resistance Through Black Excellence,” truly captures an essential ingredient to the centuries-long struggle for Black liberation, human rights, equality, and equity. Frederick Douglass famously remarked that “power concedes nothing without a struggle.” The success of struggle rests in the display of excellence throughout the struggle. In one sense, we see this exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in terms of resistance through intellectual excellence. King was a Reverend and held a PhD in Systematic Theology from Boston University. Malcolm X took a very different path. After being arrested, convicted, and sent to prison, Malcolm learned to read, developed a voracious hunger for knowledge, and became part of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X, as he was known after his conversion, lectured at Harvard, Penn, and Oxford and leveled a devastating critique of white supremacy. His intellectual prowess and knowledge of the street gave him tremendous leadership ability, so he, like King, gave both a moral critique of America and a strategic vision of the shape and conduct of resistance.

Resistance through excellence evidenced itself in other ways. Jo Ann Robinson, the head of the Montgomery Women’s Political Council, was a schoolteacher who became one of the key organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The excellence of Fannie Lou Hamer led the resistance through the blistering violent heat of Freedom Summer of 1964. The excellence of John Lewis as the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, raised the profile of the struggle with the Freedom Rides. The excellence of Edward Brooke, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1967—the first since Reconstruction. The literary excellence of DuBois, Zora Neal Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and the poetry of Sonia Sanchez, who told us that freedom means to “resist, resist, resist.”

Resistance through excellence means having the moral courage to do what’s right even when you don’t know what comes next. Four freshmen from North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, North Carolina, decided on February 1, 1960, that the segregated lunch counters were a symbol of oppression and carefully planned a sit-in. Four days later, they returned with 300 students, and within three months, the national student sit-in movement was born. 

In actions for freedom across time and throughout history, resistance requires excellence. The national nonviolent revolution led by Mahatma Gandhi. The revolutionary scholarship of Franz Fanon, the leadership of Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The courage of Malala Yousafzai fighting for human rights. Mother Teresa’s work with the untouchables in India, and Anne Frank’s courage during the Nazi reign of terror. All we need to do is see that resistance requires excellence, which can take many shapes—visionary oratory that raises the hopes and dreams of the oppressed to action, the organization and collaboration to bring people together, and simply seeing the wrong and having the moral courage to resist that wrong. It means not only excellence in resisting, but in excellence, we find the capacity to resist and the deep meaning of dignity as we resist.

Excellence in Leadership at ECC

Resistance through excellence is on display right here at ECC. I would not be part of this community if it were not for Clark Hallpike, professor of business, and Joyce Fountain, retired professor of sociology. These two brilliant professors have also led the resistance by bringing more professors of color to ECC, creating the intellectual foundation for continuing education to the community through efforts like the Multicultural and Global Initiative Committee (MAGIC), and raising the profile of ECC as a hub for critical engagement on issues of race and other social problems. They have moved in their excellence to foster students' activism and to open doors for new faculty and staff to challenge the institution to live up to its proclaimed values. 

The resistance through the excellence of Hallpike and Fountain paved the way for a new generation of leaders, such as Erik Enders, student life coordinator for equity. His ability to inspire, organize, and challenge the institution to live to its highest values is what our students need to see so they can aspire to transform their world. Anthony Ramos, EdD, executive director of equity, diversity, and inclusion, is making ECC a more open and inclusive institution in the curriculum and our policies. We have also seen the excellence of the African American Studies Learning Community created by LaTasha Dehaan, PhD, assistant professor of political science, and Chasity Gunn, instructor of English.

We have Patrick Gordon, JD, professor of business; Glenn Earl, professor of business; Antonio Ramirez, PhD, associate professor of history; and many other faculty of color who exhibit their excellence every day. Mia Hardy, PhD, assistant professor of sociology, embodies the very word excellence. Her dynamic presence brings people together, and her creation of the Center for Undergraduate Research, Innovation, and Creativity gives students a space to develop their own capacities for excellence to then bring voice to areas we still must continue to fight and resist, such as economic exploitation, racism, militarism, cultural apathy, and hunger, to name a few.

Resistance through excellence also characterizes the students at ECC. In my classes, I find a wonderful tapestry of diversity. Students from all different ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds work to bring awareness and equity to the institution. Students like Naomi Alemu, an Ethiopian immigrant now serving as the political/social engagement chair of Black Student Achievers and looking to be a lawyer, or Tolani Bateye, the vice president of BSA, originally from Nigeria and going into medicine. Imani Sykes, who works with BSA and wants to be a physical therapist, or Latifah Matovu, also part of the BSA and who wants to be a doctor. Aolany Campuzano served as past president of the Organization of Latin American Students and currently serves as secretary of United Students of All Cultures.

These students are outstanding in the classroom and active in serving their community and using their gifts to bring change to ECC and their local communities. Did I mention they were all Dual Credit Students? What an amazing opportunity for young leaders to gain valuable experience and knowledge so that when they move on to University, they will have the skills and leadership learned here at ECC, along with a whole institution of professors, administrators, and fellow students to support them in their endeavors!

This month, as we recognize the meaningful contributions of Blacks to the development of this country, let us remember that the foundation of resistance is a commitment to excellence.

Vincent Gaddis, PhD, professor of history