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I lost a dear friend during the production of this issue of Journey to complications with breast cancer. She loved me like a son, and I’m never going to forget our nurturing, thoughtful conversations. I’m a better person because she existed. Mrs. Mizella “Princess” Clifton August 11, 1960 – August 24, 2010

n every issue of Journey, between each page, lies a mirror, depicting the realities of student life (p. 22). One thing that holds true about mirrors is that the reflection will always be accurate—showing the good and bad, as well as the repugnant and admirable. Mirrors also tell stories—stories of success, stories of downfall and stories of legacy. Dr. William P. Foster’s phenomenal musical accomplishments and legacy has invigorated millions worldwide. At every home game, students and alumni alike flock to Bragg Memorial Stadium, just as the second quarter ends, to see “ the show.” To be honest, I’m not sure that we would be able to pack the stands every Homecoming if not for the wonder that is “ the Hundred.” More than the legacy of Foster and the “Baddest Band in the Land,” (p. 16) generations of Rattlers can relate to the hardships that we experience—both as a whole and individually (p. 6). My story started on a watermelon field in Powell, Ala., where I spent the summer before I was readmitted into Florida A&M University. When I arrived at the bus depot on Tennessee Street, I had a large duffel bag with my entire life in it and no apartment to put it in. I just wanted to get back into a classroom; now I’m running a magazine. The hard times made me hungry. The desire for a better existence made me dream big—bigger than the vast Alabama night sky that bid me farewell what seems like a lifetime ago. This issue we turned that mirror on “the Hill” to capture the influx of artificial pink hair, 3-inch purple eyelashes (p. 24) and natural afros (p. 18) of the women on campus. We tossed in a few prominent issues beyond Capital Circle (p. 26) that indirectly affect the quality of life on Wahnish Way with a sprinkle of internal affairs (p. 28). We even found the old argument that is still sprouting (p. 8). I am writing this editor’s letter as one of the “underqualified” students FAMU gave that once in a lifetime opportunity. And I’m doing my part to change the image in the mirror. If you find yourself wanting to do the same, log in to


Back Row (L to R): Taylar Barrington, Kendra Anderson, Brittany Barriner, Kristen Swilley, Laura J. Downey, Bianca Flowers, Terrika Mitchell Front Row (L to R): Anthony James, Antonio Rosado

Staff EDITOR-­IN-­CHIEF Antonio Rosado


WEB DIRECTOR Keith “Units”  Woods

MANAGING EDITOR Terrika Mitchell

STAFF EDITORS Wesley Martin Brandon  Neasman Kristen  Swilley


ART DIRECTOR Anthony James PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Taylar  Barrington ASSOCIATE EDITOR Kendra  Anderson ONLINE EDITOR Anamarie  Shreeves   ASSISTANT ONLINE EDITOR Bianca  Flowers COPY DESK CHIEF Lauren  M.  McDade )$//-2851(<0$*21/,1(&20

PUBLIC RELATIONS Andy St.  Hilaire ART TEAM Ashleigh  Beverly Quintavious  Shephard LaShonda  Snelling Keith  “Units”  Woods CONTRIBUTORS Brittany  Barriner Kristen  Edwards Charyl  Montgomery Marcus  Scott Janeen  Talbott

SPECIAL THANKS Ulysses Franklin Yanela  Gordon Wennifer  Paul Robert  A.  Richardson Joe  Ritchie Dr.  Valerie  White Level  8  at  Hotel  Duval PRINTER Gandy  Printers

contents FACEOFF 6









On the Cover Featured: Dr. William P. Foster Photo provided by: FAMUâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Office of Communications Photo colored by: LaShonda Snelling Copyright 2010 by Florida A&M University. All rights reserved. This issue of Journey magazine was produced by the student organization Journey with essential support from the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication. Journey is funded through student activity and service fees, as allocated by the Student Senate of Florida A&M University. For more information on Journey or the Magazine Program, contact the Division of Journalism, 510 Orr Drive Room 3078, Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, FL 32307 or call (850) 599-3502. -2851(<


FAMU faculty disheartened by the university’s failure to correct money mismanagement issues


he first of the month is fast approaching, and she has been working overtime on the Hill. Her iRattler account says the money should be in her bank account, so a routine telephone call checking her account balance is supposed to reflect the deposit. But it’s not. It’s hard to contain the frustration as the unsympathetic automated voice repeats the same account balance from days earlier. There has been another glitch somewhere in Florida A&M University’s finance department. Similar to years before, she had not received her check from the university on the contracted date. She inquired about the malfunction, and like clockwork, administration distributed blame in place of money. The administration appears unmoved by the systematic failures; their checks were deposited on time. Tiring walks, vaguely answered questions and futile phone calls to FAMU’s Foote-Hilyer administration building brings no promise of timely payment. University faculty members and employees, akin to students, encounter continual financial mishaps and disputes with administrators who fail to address these shortcomings appropriately. “In the summers, you may work a whole term and not get paid until the next term,” says Faye Spencer, a FAMU English and adjunct journalism professor since 2005. “Just about every summer I’ve worked (at FAMU), I’ve had some delay in getting money.” Spencer, with a pessimistic laugh, notes that this summer was probably her “best” experience with receiving timely payment. Employee payment complications have remained fairly internal news; however, they reached Tallahassee Democrat headlines this summer. A report that “about 50 employees” had been paid nearly one week after biweekly checks had been deposited was revealed in the article. University Provost Cynthia Hughes-Harris was quoted )$//-2851(<0$*21/,1(&20

as saying the delay was due to “paperwork deadlines” not being met. According to Donald Palm, assistant vice president of academic affairs, payroll documents matriculate from the department’s chair, to its dean, who checks for completion and errors, then to the provost’s office, where all paperwork is verified in a timely manner. “From what I see, there are a number of reasons paperwork gets to (the Division of Academic Affairs) office late,” Palm says. “But once the paperwork gets here, the paperwork is processed in the proper time, and in a very efficient manner.” Mockingly, Spencer says mishandling documents, such as faculty contracts, is common reasoning for paycheck setbacks. The end of the university’s fiscal year, June 30, triggers an annual interruption of timely payment as well, according to Spencer. “Somebody (from administration) always tells you it’s paperwork,” Spencer explains. “It didn’t get to this office. It didn’t get to payroll. It didn’t get to the provost’s office. I expressed to the (administration) that if you know there’s a problem, what are you doing to fix it? These are the things that make faculty get in a relaxed state.” Spencer believes campus morale among faculty is exhausted, despite sitting in her 4th floor office of the newly-upgraded Tucker Hall building. Her attitude, she says, is mainly due to the administration’s failure to pay faculty timely. “I think morale is poor in terms of faculty, and I think especially in the English department,” Spencer says. “(English professors) teach a lot of students, and in the last couple years, with economic downturns, we’re asked to do more; however, we’ve not been compensated or given any kind of raise or bonus in quite a few years.”

As president of the FAMU chapter of United Faculty of Florida (UFF), Elizabeth Davenport directly negotiates contracts and payment issues between faculty members, the faculty senate and administrators. In FAMU’s August 2010 UFF newsletter, Davenport expressed concern for the school’s cyclic payment issues. Davenport’s piece, ‘Why Can’t FAMU Pay Nine Month Employees Every Summer,” provides intricate details about the situation. “During the James Ammons administration, we have made plenty of strides to improve procedural problems that have existed at FAMU,” Davenport wrote. “There is still one problem that occurs every year: summer checks for summer appointments (faculty, OPS workers, graduate students, etc.). For this summer, the first explanation was a new accounting system.” Davenport wrote that responsibilities to analyze and report on the issue that occurred in both Summer A and Summer B sessions were delegated by President Ammons to Charles O’Duor. “Ammons, in a letter dated July 21, 2010, asked Charles O’Duor, FAMU’s vice president of audit and compliance, to ‘take immediate steps to effect this audit and provide (a) written report by Aug. 6,” Davenport wrote. As of press time, after several inquiry phone calls and visits to O’Duor’s office to request any findings from this summer’s audit, no formal report had been produced. Office assistant, Alysha Seabrooks returned a reporter’s phone call, on O’Dour’s behalf, regarding the report. “He wanted me to tell you that he is still working on (the summer) report for the president and is unable to discuss it at this time,” Seabrooks said in a Sept. 8 phone call. Palm says the audit will identify what department is responsible for the payment mishaps. Financial audits and reports for FAMU are mandated not only by in-house authorities, but by state legislative regulations, according to Florida statute 218.39 on Previous reports on the university’s financial state rendered questionable findings. The news of FAMU’s past money mismanagement was plastered across Florida headlines three years ago after State of Florida Auditor General David Martin reported findings from a December 2007 audit. Martin’s Independent Auditor’s Report on Financial Statements, No. 2008-050, “noted certain matters involving the university’s internal control over financial reporting and its operation that (were) considered to be significant deficiencies and collectively material weaknesses.” Progressively, a March 2010 summary for FAMU’s 2009 end of fiscal year audit, No. 2010-177, suggests an improved financial stability. The summary reveals that “the university’s basic financial statements were presented fairly,” and that no “deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting” were identified. FAMU faculty and students, however, may dispute the school’s newfound money management successes. While faculty and other university employees have tolerated non-payment episodes from administration, just as regularly, so have students. Battling missed paperwork deadlines, and the PeopleSoft Financial System shut down and break-in, many students still have not received money for financial aid six weeks into the semester. “This is my second year obtaining financial aid,” says sophomore business management student, Tyrell Sims, from Jacksonville. “It’s actually been quite a struggle, moreso this year than it was last year. This year I’m living off campus, and I have to pay rent and utilities. It has to come out of my pocket because my financial aid didn’t arrive on time.”

Marcia Boyd, former FAMU director of financial aid, says late aid disbursements for students is due to several reasons like “students not filing the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)” or doing so late. Boyd, who has been promoted to the school’s associate vice president of student affairs, says there are federal constraints that, if not met by students, slow down the financial aid process. “We have a number of students that did not complete the Master Promissory Note and/or loan entrance counseling,” she says. “These are federal requirements and, until they are fulfilled, the loans will not be authorized by the U.S. Department of Education. We had over 1,000 documents received after August 1, 2010. Each day we continue to receive paperwork that was requested in March and April.” Tyrell says he visits the financial aid office “weekly, if not daily,” only to be discouraged by a variety of excuses from fiscal officers. He says he was never made aware of this year’s loan stipulations. These loan conditions, however, do not apply to federal grants, which some students have not received either. “They say that I have to turn in different documents, like of course my FASFA, but that’s been on time each year,” he says. “Last year, I don’t recall signing a Promissory Note (but) I received loans.” Siera Butler, second-year nursing student from Jacksonville, says instead of blame being placed, staff and students can work together to ease processes. “(Administrators) keeping students aware of when they need to do what they need to do (may help),” she suggests. “And instead of students waiting to be told, they should also take the initiative and not wait for someone to tell them when they need to handle their business.” Spencer says personal standards, not financial gain, motivate her to teach. Being an alumna of the university, she aspires to be the same inspiration for her students as the “handful of teachers who (cared) and gave (me) what (I) needed to succeed.” Disregarding her circumstances, Spencer empathizes with the student body when pertaining to the university’s money mismanagement. “It’s not the students, it’s the grown people who cause problems by how they work with each other. That’s from the professors in the classes to the president,” Spencer says.

I expressed to the (administration) that if you know there's a problem, what are you doing to fix it?





FAMU has been a beacon of light for underprivileged blacks for generations; however, recent concerns have prompted some to demand change. Staff writers Andy St. Hilaire and Marcus Scott argue the pros and cons of such a move



ollege is more than just a classroom education. It is a life experience of self-identity, adapting to oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s social environment and a journey of productivity. According to Florida A&M Universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Office of Institutional Research, FAMU accepts an average of 2,000 freshmen a year. Sixty percent of those freshmen do not meet admission requirements (3.0 GPA and a SAT test score of 1,000) set by predominately white universities. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were established with a mission to educate Black Americans. Raising the GPA cap for admission will ostracize 1,200 incoming students from FAMU denying them the right of scholarship in a conducive environment. Some are ignorant to the type of racism that exists in this country. Segregated bus rides and whites only restaurants no longer exist. Racism has taken a psychological route. Every 49 seconds of a school day a black student drops out of school according to Ford and Obiakor, authors of â&#x20AC;&#x153;Creating Successful Learning Environments for African-American Learners with Exceptionalities.â&#x20AC;? Before black students even attend college they are at a disadvantage. In the same book, the authors also write that, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Every seven seconds of the school day an African-American student is suspended.â&#x20AC;? Public school curriculums are not geared to those of color. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill banning ethnic studies programs in May of 2010. It is clear that minorities have no input in the public school system. HBCUs strive to involve minorities in the learning experience. FAMUâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mission is to take the underprivileged student and create a scholar. Self-identity is a major issue in the black community. Many black students lack mental confidence because they are not privy to education from an African perspective. History in public schools rarely delve into the affects of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation to those of African descent in America. Blacks are continuously left out of American history. Accomplishments of African-Americans are hidden to depower the race, thus creating a lack of self-awareness and confidence. This is a blatant sign of psychological slavery. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Coincidentally,â&#x20AC;? African-American history is a mandatory course at FAMU. It is also common for students to review popular black authors, such as Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid and James Baldwin, in freshmen composition courses. The exposure of successful black Americans creates a self-awareness in the black community. Black colleges serve as institutions to free the minds of young blacks in this country. Increasing the GPA cap creates a hurdle in the process of enlightening the black community. An August 1997 Time survey named Florida A&M â&#x20AC;&#x153;College of the Year.â&#x20AC;? Former senior editor Jillian Kasky was quoted saying, â&#x20AC;&#x153;When other schools and other state systems are turning away minority students, Florida A&M is looking to create a better environment for those same students.â&#x20AC;? The mission of this university is to educate the masses not just the qualified. Florida A&M University does not function like most universities. In a system that makes minorities an afterthought, we should not seek validation of success from the same people. Maybe financial aid and disbursement are issues at FAMU, but what university doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have issues? The same financial aid issue allows students all semester to pay for school. More focus should be set on the black community rather than appeasing most universities. The nuisance of long financial lines, limited customer service and an old football field should not overshadow the advancement of black people. Our ancestors fought for our opportunity to progress as a race. Whether we disagree with the effort put toward school we should never take away or discourage someoneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s opportunity to attend a black college. If weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re going to tackle the issue our race has with education we should start from the root. We need to understand and change our childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s view on education. FAMU currently graduates the most African-Americans with baccalaureate degrees and we should continue to do so.

ooking around the cobblestone streets on ‘the Set,’ I cannot help but notice a change. The crowd in the pit ‘jukin’ is larger than the students who attended the President’s Convocation. I noticed more people chasing social media stardom than collegiate oriented students equipped with open minds and the desire to learn. And I cannot help but notice campus looks more like the let-out at The Moon on “hood” night. Students are attending class dressed for midday dope slanging and late night hooking instead of focusing on their education. This school year has already been considered a milestone in Florida A&M University’s history as enrollment hit an unprecedented high. The 2010-2011 student population totals more than 13,000. In addition, Young and Sampson dorms are being renovated and will be able to accommodate more males. And the new Charles Winter Wood Theatre in Tucker Hall has everyone anxious to go to its inaugural performance. However, with all of these modifications the school’s image and reputation is at stake, and not because of the faculty or insufficient parking. This time. According to the FAMU Office of Admissions, perspective students need at least a 2.0 GPA to enroll. Because of this modest GPA requisite, FAMU has given students who may have come from low-performing high schools and other non-traditional students a chance at a quality education. Equipped with this opportunity students are expected to enter into the college arena prepared to learn. The positives to this good fortune would be graduation, enlightenment, and the tools to become gainfully employed. Somewhere along the way students lost sight of the mission, and consequently, the university is suffering. According to, a website that reports college statistical data, a mere 13.4 percent of students who started as freshmen graduate at FAMU in four years. In comparison to 20.3 percent at Jackson State University and 23.3 percent at North Carolina Central University, FAMU’s figures don’t compete. FAMU is behind the curve. In the 2010 U.S. News ranking of historically black colleges and universities, FAMU was No.12— a far cry from our well-touted No. 1 spot in the late ‘90s. In tough economic times where the operating budget of the school has been threatened with a $15 million reduction, change is necessary. If not, our institution that serves to mold engineers, entrepreneurs and doctors will suffer beyond repair. In order to restore FAMU to its No. 1 ranking, the school needs an influx of fresh blood and not just anyone will do. The school should consider raising the GPA requirements for new students in order to attract a better quality of student. In the 2008-2009 school year, FAMU spent $21,376 per student for student services, academic support, plant operations, scholarships and other operational functions. So on average, it costs the university roughly $85,000 to educate a student during a four-year span. However, statistically speaking, the school is wasting money because students are not matriculating. By raising the admissions standards the campus will attract more federal funded student programs such as National Achievement Scholarships, plus, Bright Futures scholarship recipients. Along with these students come grants and other financial incentives for the institutions that house them, not to mention the accolades for attracting those types of students. This will raise FAMU’s academic reputation, which matters more than how good our parties are or the turnout for homecoming. I feel there should be a .5 increase to 2.5 for admission to the university. Naysayers may feel that by raising the GPA, the school will be closing the door to high school students that need an environment to grow and mature. In reply to that, the university can still make an impact in the education on those students and, at the same time, lower the risk of possibly losing those students to the college process. FAMU should develop a low GPA entrance program similar to ones at other colleges such as Valdosta State University, where students who do not meet the requirements would still be admitted to the school but would have one or two years of academic support, which would prepare them to become full-time students. For the round-table debate on this issue, visit







FASHION Study hard but play this season’s newest looks. Thanks to the city of Atlanta for being our playground


ON HER: Open-back sweater dress (NV-U Boutique, $57); Brown floral belt (Sick Boy Vintage, $12); Brown pumps (Dillardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s, $45). ON HIM: Blue sweater (Gap, $22); Pink shirt (Nautica, $15); Bluepatterned tie (H&M, $11.99); Dark-denim skinny jeans (H&M, $64.99); Brown hard bottom shoes (Traffic, $24.99). Models: Sasha Wallace and Christian Robinson Location: Philips Arena

ON HIM: Plaid shirt (Forever 21, $27); Dark-denim skinny jeans (J.C. Penney, $46); Athletic canvas shoes (Journey, $60). ON HER: Army green jacket ($59.99); Grey sweatpants ($42) (both items provided by NV-U Boutique); Grey Steve Madden pumps (, $90); Silver Leaf earrings (AgnĂŠs, $48.34); Yellow snap bracelet (H&M, $20.72). Models: Fred Johnson and Sigoura Edge Location: An alley in downtown Atlanta

ON HER: Khaki dress with animal print belt (NV-U Boutique, $42); Lace headband/ mask (Forever21, $8.50); Pearl bracelet (Forever 21, $4.50); Black heels (Charlotte Russe, $32.50) Model: Meaghan Taylor Location: A garage in downtown Atlanta

Pearl necklace (Forever 21 ,$12.99); Olive green dress (NV-U Boutique, $65); Cream pumps (Aldo, $90) Model: Jennell Loper Location: Centennial Olympic Park

ON HER: Pearl necklace (Forever 21, $12.99); Olive green dress (NV-U Boutique, $65); Cream pumps (Aldo, $90) Model: Jennell Loper Location: Centennial Olympic Park


A Final Note: Dr. Julian White’s reflection on his relationship with the late Dr. William P. Foster

DR. FOSTER On June 1, 1946, William P. Foster became Director of Bands at Florida A&M University with 16 members, and created what is known today as “The Most Imitated Marching Band in America.” He is credited with revolutionizing marching band techniques and reshaping the world’s concept of the collegiate marching band. His textbook “Band Pageantry” is considered to be “The Bible” for the marching band.



Quintavious Shephard


My relationship with Dr. Foster was one of great closeness. Our friendship dates back to my junior high years when my brother played in the band under his leadership. I was allowed to travel with the band frequently, and upon my completion of high school, Dr. Foster offered me a scholarship to come play for “The Marching 100.” I successfully completed my matriculation at Florida A&M University with the accomplishments of serving as a section leader for the flute, and saxophone sections, and ultimately becoming head drum major— three very rigorous, and time consuming accomplishments that could have possibly been considered difficult if I had not been serving under the leadership of Dr. Foster. Following graduation, I became Band Director at William Raines High School in Jacksonville for 10 years prior to coming back to Florida A&M University. I was extended the opportunity to come and work beside Dr. Foster. Honored, I accepted the invitation and began working as his assistant band director in 1973. During my period served as the assistant band director, I learned Dr. Foster’s techniques and also developed my own. I look at Dr. Foster in 3 dimensions: as a professor, as an employer, and as a mentor: my “musical godfather,” my “Vito Corleone.” When Dr. Foster retired in 1998, I took over as Director of Bands. I still continued to consult with Dr. Foster about the band after he retired. Dr. Foster passed on to me the ability to have compassion. Compassion not only for colleagues, but for students as well. Unfortunately, there is also a fourth dimension, and that is Dr. Foster’s passing. I must admit that I have not gotten accustomed to him not being here. Even though he was not physically here, I could call him and gather some inspiration from him. Physically, he is gone, but

spiritually he will always be here with me. Dr. Foster and I were both confessed and confirmed workaholics with understanding families, but most importantly a genuine love for working with the band is what made us both perfect for the job. When Dr. Foster’s health began to fade, I made sure that our friendship remained strong, and although I am a band director and family man, I never became too busy to visit Dr. Foster. The last thing Dr. Foster said to me was, “Congratulations Dr. White, and thank you so much for coming to see me.” I would like to continue the legacy of artistic excellence by the Marching 100 as I learned from my mentor Dr. William P. Foster. There is nothing to change in the band except everything changes because we’re always changing with the times. I mean that everything must change, because that’s kind of our philosophy. We look to see what the audiences like and what is popular: Broadway hits, celebrities such as Michael Jackson and things of that nature. During the funeral, the band marched to the graveyard with Dr. Foster’s hearse leading. I felt as if our relationship was close enough for me to march alongside of him, and that is exactly what I did.

Even though he was not physically here, I could call him and gather some inspiration from him.

Photos provided by: FAMUâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Office of Communications -2851(<


OGJ<K ;@9JQDEGFL?GE=JQ <=KA?F 9K@D=A?@:=N=JDQ H@GLG?J9H@Q L9QD9J:9JJAF?LGF Charyl Montgomery recounts her battle with typical beauty standards to embrace her natural roots


remember one day looking in the mirror, rubbing my hands along the edges of my hairline, caressing what black women with permed hair would call “new growth.” My hair was straight from a chemical relaxer, but my new growth held my hair’s original texture. I admired the softness of my roots, but I knew this act of affection toward my new growth would end soon because it was time for my next relaxer. Still, I wondered how my hair would look if it was all natural and not chemically processed. I had no memory of my hair in its natural state because I had my first relaxer at about age six. Almost everyone around me wore straight hair. Naturally, I thought that my hair should be that way, too. Because my roots didn’t produce silky straight tresses, I constantly received lifelong messages of having “bad hair.” I continued to relax my hair, month after month even though I liked the look and feel of my natural coils. My straightened hair was beautifully healthy, yet deep within, I longed for hair that was not tampered with. My natural inquisitiveness for learning only pushed the idea of wearing my natural locks further. I have read novels since age nine and decided to be more scholarly and engage in reading non-fiction books when I entered college. Some of the books I read my freshman year were “The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley),” “Message to the People” by Marcus Garvey, and “The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson. These books did not focus on hair solely but on the minds of African-Americans. The more I read, the more I wanted to have natural hair. Society kept telling me that I had to look a certain way to feel pretty, but the books I read told me not to listen to society and to be true to myself. It was my freshman year in college that I had the initial thoughts of sporting my natural mane, but back then, I didn’t have

the courage to stop relaxing my hair. I didn’t want to be an outcast. My friends disapproved and said I’d look crazy. But three years and several books later, I finally got the courage to wear natural hair. I laugh at myself for that, but I am OK because I did it. I learned to love myself, unchanged. Reading was not the only factor that induced me to stop using relaxers for straight hair. I also understand the use of propaganda and the effect of societal messages and how I was conditioned into thinking that straight hair was needed to be pretty or to be accepted. I harmed myself, and sometimes burned my scalp every month with chemical relaxers, just to have straight hair, not realizing that I was adhering to conformity just to fit American standards of beauty. I never paid attention to the unnecessary effort I put forth to have the hair of white women and celebrities. Most celebrities reflect what they are told they should look like for societal acceptance and stardom. I wear my hair as I choose it to be, not as what others tell me it should be. I didn’t think twice about all of the money I spent to buy hair when my body naturally produced it free of charge. Relaxing my hair and wearing silky straight hair weaves was a reflection of what I thought was beautiful ... of what I was told is beautiful. Today, I define beauty for me. Hair is hair, and I’m comfortable wearing my hair naturally how it grows from my scalp, unhindered. I may be viewed as a rebel for wearing my hair this way. But I don’t understand how being my true self makes me rebellious. Changing myself would make me rebellious because that’s resistance to who I am. Since my transition, a lot of people ask, “What made you go natural?” One day, a former classmate asked the same question with an addition. He asked, “Why did you go natural, and is it just the hair that’s natural, or are you living a natural lifestyle?” I told -2851(<

I've realized that women with natural hair can't be placed as a categorized group in society.

him that I had only changed my hair because I was no longer interested in upholding European standards of beauty for myself, but his question about changing my lifestyle left me a little perplexed. I didn’t know that changing my hair meant that I had to change the way I live. Yet the journey to natural hair did change my way of thinking. I think a woman with natural hair is expected to think a little differently. In my assumption that women with natural hair would think distinctively, I had the wrong idea about another woman who wore her hair naturally. I remember the day she walked into my job boldly dressed in an outfit that was runway-ready. She wore big, wooden earrings that were shaped like Africa, nice accessories for her natural hair. I thought to myself, “That is a strong, intelligent, fashionable black woman.” My assumption died a quick death when she asked a question. She sounded like she couldn’t spell intelligent and barely belonged on a college campus. I dropped my head in grieving disappointment. In that moment, I realized that to people from the outside looking in, having natural hair as a black woman is more than just having natural hair. Natural hair on a black woman has a message. I’m unsure of what the exact message is because everyone’s perception is different. My classmate expected me to have changed certain things about myself because I have natural hair, and I expected the other woman to be knowledgeable when I noticed her stylish, Afrocentric vibe. I’ve realized that women with natural hair can’t be placed as a categorized group in society. Everyone’s story is different. Though, if we all have )$//-2851(<0$*21/,1(&20

one story in common, that story would be a tale of courage. It takes nerve to be different and to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Because natural hair is bravery, every time a black woman says, “I like your hair,” I hear her saying, “I like your courage.” In the past, I chemically relaxed my hair only because it posed as something that I should do. I choose natural hair now because of a shift in my awareness of the definition of beauty. I was insane to think that the hair I was born with isn’t beautiful. I received my first perm at about the age of six. Now, I’m more than old enough to make my own choices, and I choose to embrace the hair that I was born with despite what is considered to be more attractive in the mainstream media. There are no more days of standing in the mirror and wondering how my natural mane would appear. Today, I see a reflection that I’m content with, with no additives. I love the feeling of liberation that came with my transition to natural hair, and I think all women should feel they’re beautiful regardless of how their hair flows or doesn’t flow. Hair is just a minute, yet important, part of who we are.

Visit to see what hair products students recommend for those considering making the “big chop” and going natural.

Starting a business isn’t something that just happens. A lot of meticulous planning and promised commitment has to take place, especially if the incentive is to sustain and financially thrive. What better way to test your ideas and have them critiqued than from today’s local leading business experts, executives and profitable entrepreneurs. Florida Magazine Association’s top honoree, 850, business magazine of Northwest Florida is sponsoring its first Collegiate Entrepreneur Invitational. This competition will allow ambitious, independent ventures from undergraduate students at Florida A&M University, Florida State University, FSU Panama City and University of West Florida, the opportunity to present their visionary plans in front of the ones who know best about developing a business. “Students across all disciplines will benefit from this business plan competition,” says Jennifer Collins, FAMU’s point person for the contest. “It will allow them to sharpen their critical thinking, analytical and reasoning skills as well as expose them to the intricacies involved in managing a successful entrepreneurial venture.” Top three contenders will receive a cash prize to use toward his/her education or business. First place winner will have the rare opportunity to pitch his/her business plan to a group of local venture capitalists. Finalists will also be featured in 850’s April/May 2011 issue. “850 is very excited about the potential this contest holds for the future of Northwest Florida. Our hope is to encourage the dreams of budding entrepreneurs who will in turn become tomorrow’s business leaders,” says Linda Kleindienst, editor of 850 business magazine and coordinator of the contest. This team or independent effort requires an application, executive summary and business plan. Submissions are due no later than 5 p.m. Oct. 29. Visit for application and entry details. FAMU students with questions should see professor Jennifer Collins in School of Business and Industry, east wing, room 418. For questions call (850) 599-8347.

friday, DECEMBER 3 at 7 p.m. Saturday, December 4 at 2 p.m. ( matinÉe)

LOCATION: TUCKER HALL’S CHARLES WINTER WOOD THEATRE THE FOLLOWING DOCUMENTARIES HAVE BEEN APPROVED FOR AUDIENCES OF ALL AGES: Fishing for Answers produced by: Marrita Royster-Crockett and Dekywan Debose Skin Deep produced by: Marsha Buchanan and Monique Mitchell Reception will follow in the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication’s Gallery



Students at FAMU don’t adhere to a university dress code, but their distractive attire prompts professors to mandate class dress policies


he enters the classroom softly, so not to interrupt the professor who had already began her lesson. The sheen from her scantly covered, dark mahogany legs flashes as she lightly presses her way toward the row where her usual seat is located. The door makes a solid thud behind her and draws the stares of a few of her classmates. A young man fixes his eyes on the rear pocket of her tiny jean shorts and out of impulse blurts, “Damn!” as she finds her seat. The professor, who had been facing the board, abruptly snatches her head around to witness the student walking to her seat. Startled by the pupil’s shorts gripped tightly to her skin- even the professor finds herself staring at the risqué bottoms. )$//-2851(<0$*21/,1(&20

The profanity from the unidentified student went unsolved; however, the cause for the gesture was clear. Edna Francois, a young curvaceous freshman, was dressed for a pool party, not a classroom. As Edna sat in her seat, the professor’s demeanor was obvious- Edna’s attire was an interruption to the environment. “I can wear what I want,” Francois recalled saying in retaliation. “I didn’t understand the big fuss that everyone was making.” The Miami native says this scene from her freshman year is typical of most Florida A&M students who are experiencing the college setting for the first time. “I guess I didn’t consider it an issue because even though the shorts probably portrayed a ‘slut’ image, I knew I wasn’t one,” says the junior Health Care Management student.

The professor’s perception of Francois’s attire warranted her to ask Francois to stay after class for a conference. The instructor couldn’t dismiss her from class because FAMU cannot impose a dress code to restrict inappropriate classroom attire. “There is no university-wide dress code in existence because FAMU is a public (State of Florida) institution, which receives public (state and federal) funds,” says Dean Henry L. Kirby, associate vice president for Student Life and dean of students. “The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the citizenry the right to free speech and expression. Dress is a form of freedom of expression and any restrictions on such rights must pass constitutional muster.” Kirby, also a 1975 FAMU alumnus of FAMU, has witnessed changes in style of students for more than 40 years. He says the various styles of dress played a part, directly or indirectly, in the student movements during the Vietnam War; the tie-dye explosion during the Hippy Movement; the all-black attire and large Afros sported by supporters of the Black Power Movement and many others. The absence of professional, acceptable dress goes along with students revolting against ideals and customs with which they disagreed. “Many people in society expressed extreme displeasure at how young people dressed during those times,” Kirby explains. “The various styles of dress [from each movement] always spilled onto the college campuses. Now we have hip-hop and rap style clothing with pants below the hips, and tattoos are commonplace.” Aside from political movements, students today, are stars in their own worlds. Tattoos and hip-hop style clothing are mere reflections of celebrity lifestyle and personal style choices seen in magazines, on fashion blogs, TV, and the red carpet. The wardrobe of current and future generations is not of concern to Kirby, but he is sure their attire will express the popular beliefs of the time. Students in certain schools and programs dress professionally rather than wearing what’s popular. Kirby says some FAMU schools like the School of Business and Industry, Nursing, and Pharmacy have dress codes to satisfy program curriculums. Some dress to reflect who they aim to be. Aspiring entrepreneur, Steven Pargett, a junior Public Relations student from Los Angeles says your personal style of dress can leave a lasting impression on others. “People are going to receive you however you present yourself,” he says, “so the way that you dress is your opportunity to tell them who you are before you open your mouth or shake someone’s hand.” Whether their character is being judged or not, some students dress freely. Hanna Brooks, a Political Science graduate student from Chicago, Ill. thinks university rules restricting what students wear would send a terrible message about the university; FAMU cares more about shoes and dress than the substance of academic experiences. “I don’t care too much about people’s

opinions of my clothes or style. I just want to be comfortable and feel like myself,” she explains. Brooks also says that she does not think a person’s attire communicates a certain message; however Assistant Professor of Public Relations Gina Kinchlow says apparel does communicate a message about the perception of one’s environment. She says students will dress casually if they recognize the campus as a casual environment. “The way we present ourselves publicly isn’t just a statement about who we are. It’s a statement of respect, or lack thereof, for those with whom we will interact,” Kinchlow says. Faculty members, under the umbrella of academic freedom, are allowed to reasonably enforce students dressing properly in their classrooms according to Dean Kirby. “The key reason I enforce a dress code is because I teach upper-level courses in the public relations sequence, and I know that appearance is important in the PR industry,” says Kinchlow, who doesn’t hesitate to moderately regulate her students attire. Student attire would be inappropriate on their own will if specifications were not given she says. Many college students wear jeans and T-shirts for their entire college career, which leads to discomfort in settings where professional dress is expected. Still, Kinchlow supports student’s self-expression. Kinchlow opposes the university enforcing a uniform for students because she understands that fashion trends, with a few exceptions, has more casual leniency now. Although casual dress is more acceptable, she warrants caution for FAMU students thinking of joining the movement. Kinchlow says the ‘real world’ isn’t as receptive as some may think. “Our choice of clothing still makes a tremendous statement about who we are,” she says. “Women are still harshly judged by their clothing choices, and people of color, particularly AfricanAmericans, are still occasionally stereotyped because of clothing choices. Maybe it isn’t fair, but it’s the reality.” Today Edna is no longer the girl underdressed with barely-there clothing. She adheres to more realistic standards when it comes to her attire. She says she realizes the ‘message’ one’s clothing can send. “I’ve matured since I became a manager having to wear business casual clothes to work. I even find myself paying attention to how people dress when they come in for an interview because [their attire] does tell a story.”

What do you think about the lack of a dress code at Florida A&M University? Visit to see what students have to say about the influx of scantily clad attire on the Hill.


Female rap artist Nicki Minaj has become the poster child for Black Americaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s growing obsession with superficiality





er hair is bubblegum pink. Her store-bought eyelashes bat rapidly, and she smiles briefly before grimacing at the camera. Suddenly, she spits a verse in a jargon that sounds like a cross between baby babble and random phrases from a Tourette’s episode. This woman is perfect. She is Barbie. She is Nicki Minaj. Nicki’s body image is being pumped into mainstream society as today’s ideal woman. Contrary to popular belief, Lil Wayne’s protégé, born Onika Maraj, may not be naturally endowed with the assets that make many men stutter. Minaj is rumored on blogs such as and to have gone under the knife several times to have her nose altered, breasts enhanced, and add poundage to the posterior young men dream about hunting and bringing home to feast. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, minorities who are undergoing cosmetic surgery to become more physically appealing to the opposite sex has drastically increased. Minority patients made up 22 percent of the 11.7 million procedures that were done in 2007 alone. The ASAPS believes that the media acts as an advocate for plastic surgery by airing shows such as “Nip/Tuck” and “Dr. 90210.” Minaj is not the first to manipulate the “perfect” Barbie image, but experts argue this trend stems from exposure to unrealistic body images. In a 2006 Developmental Psychology article, psychologists found that girls between 5 and 7½ years old who were exposed to pictures of Barbie were more likely to have lower body esteem and a greater desire for a thin body than girls viewing photos of a more realistic sized doll. The Body Project of Bradley University found that if Barbie were a life-sized woman, her measurements would be 32-17-28, a size that would make her smaller than the average anorexic. Not only has Minaj been accused of going under the knife, her sexuality has also been questioned. Nicki has never formally confirmed or denied these and similar, more severe allegations. Minaj’s lifestyle might have been exceedingly different before she walked the star-studded staircase to fame. Although she has publicly confirmed that she is bisexual in the April

2010 copy of Details magazine she retracted her statement in Black Men Magazine’s July 2010 edition. Regardless of Minaj’s alleged past, she is climbing the Billboard charts and has graced the covers of several magazines. Many members of the black community’s younger generation are trying to perpetuate the very images that misrepresent them. A question regarding hip-hop’s progression to becoming “gayfriendly” was preceded with “As an openly bisexual rapper,” in Nicki’s Details interview. Later, she issued the statement, “I don’t date women and I don’t have sex with women. That’s, of course, until Cassie comes available,” in Black Men Magazine. A YouTube video, taped in 2005, features a butchesque woman who goes by the name of Nicki. She bitterly speaks about her sexual relations with another female rap-artist and calls her cell phone to prove it while being filmed. The media seems to desensitize African-Americans to their hardships. If blacks fall victim to them it is not only accepted; it is expected. On TV many rappers have iced-out chains, floss whips with candy paint and threaten to kill anyone who threatens their manhood. Women are seen as objects to be acquired with these things and showered with money but only if they are visually stimulating and physically satisfying. These images are a couple representations of what many young people consider African-American success. While many of them are trying to live this fantasy, depression, a misconception of selfworth, a skewed perception of priorities and a lack of morals may just become their reality. The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation found that an estimated 650,000 American teenagers exchange sex for favors, gifts, money or drugs. Today’s role models may be trying to be someone while the children who look up to them are trying to be like them. Either the black community is becoming obsessed with superficiality, or Nicki Minaj and artists like her are truly perfect. After all, she is, “Barbie bi***!” For more of this story, visit -2851(<

OGJ<K CJAKL=FN&=<O9J<K <=KA?F 9K@D=A?@:=N=JDQ Months after the first drop leaked in the Gulf of Mexico’s emerald water, Apalachicola residents brace for the impact of the British Petroleum oil spills


The next time you sit down to enjoy an appetizing seafood platter, you might want to savor it a little longer. The effects and impact of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill are still rippling to shore. Few of us know the shrimp, oysters and crab we consume might have been caught, processed and sold by the hands of black fishermen and seafood workers just an hour away from campus. In fact, Florida A&M University has strong ties to the fishing community of Franklin County, especially the town of Apalachicola, hometown to former university president Dr. Frederick Humphries. Faculty and students, past and present, have been, and are being, )$//-2851(<0$*21/,1(&20

supported by the work of African-Americans who make their livelihood from the waters of the Gulf Coast. In fact, according to The City of Apalachicola website, “Franklin County harvests more than 90 percent of Florida’s oysters and 10 percent of the nationwide supply. Within the county, oysters make up more than one third the value of commercial marine landings.” With the county containing a population of 13,000, the fishing industry is heavily dependent on seafood revenue. The BP oil spill from April 2010 has been devastating to an already fragile black fishing community, and the spill’s effects are not over. “We don’t know what’s going to come. We don’t know what’s going to happen when they start pulling those oysters out the (Apalachicola) Bay two to three months from now,” says Tami Ray-Hutchinson, owner of AJ’s Restaurant in Apalachicola. A native of Apalachicola, Ray-Hutchinson and her husband are owners of AJ’s Bar and Restaurant, a central hangout for the African-American residents of this small fishing town. “It was my husband’s dream,” Ray-Hutchinson says. “We started four years ago and we are still here,” she says. Ray-Hutchinson, who attended FAMU for three years, has a son, Tevin Ray, who attends FAMU. The success of her restaurant and the fishermen of Apalachicola are important to her son’s college success. Unfortunately the number of black fishermen in Apalachicola is dwindling fast, and the oil has not helped. “I can count the number of black fishermen and oystermen on one hand now,” says D.T. Simmons, an AJ’s customer. “It’s very hard work, and for many (fishermen), it’s just not worth it anymore.” Ray-Hutchinson says, “One of the few people I know, like Mr. O’Neil, that (fished) full time, that’s their only means of income.

His livelihood was challenged [by the oil spill]. His whole way of living and the way he paid his bills was completely threatened.â&#x20AC;? She goes on to observe that Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Neil was lucky to be hired by BP early in the claims process and was, â&#x20AC;&#x153;able to be employed by BP and able to generate income there.â&#x20AC;? Unlike today, years ago, there were many black fishermen who fished the waters of Apalachicola, says Simmons. They not only fished in Apalachicola but they also traveled to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for seasonal fishing. Drayton Bass was one of those black fishermen. He sits alone at the bar of AJâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s with legs crossed and weather-worn hands balancing a cigarette and holding a drink. A smile comes to his face as he talks about his life on the water. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I came here in 1961,â&#x20AC;? he says. Fishing â&#x20AC;&#x153;put all my sons through college,â&#x20AC;? he adds. Now, he says, he works in a seafood processing plant and he also did some work for BP in its efforts to head off the negative effects of the oil spill in Franklin County. As BP moved in, Bass has been one of few fishermen able to sustain a job. Bass says he worked for a man whose boat was rented by BP for $3,000 per day, and boat hands were paid $100 daily. Not all fishermen have been as fortunate as Bass, however. For those fishermen, BP began accepting claims before there were any signs of oil washing up on the shores of Apalachicola. Compensation was given for property damage and emotional distress. However, on Aug. 23, BP handed over the claims processing to Gulf Coast Claims Facility based Dublin, Ohio. So far, while some fishermen have been given some relief, others still wait. On the consumer side of the spill, Ray-Hutchinson says AJâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Restaurant has not had the same difficulties as some others. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We havenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t been affected as much,â&#x20AC;? she says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve only had issues with getting certain seafood like grouper and oysters. When shortages occur, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s usually because our suppliers werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t able to fish.â&#x20AC;? Despite their luck, times remain tough.

The hard times have led the business owners to file a claim with BP, but they have not gotten a response. With managing a sensitive financial flow and supporting their son, Ray-Hutchinson says they need the extra help. Despite it all, the owners of AJâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s have a mixed view of BPâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s efforts in Apalachicola. â&#x20AC;&#x153;BP hit the ground running,â&#x20AC;? Ray-Hutchinson says, and she recalls the positive effects BPâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s arrival had on the small town. She mentions the frenzy brought more customers to visit and dine at her restaurant. Local hotels that hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t received much business before were now bustling with guests. Despite the increase in customers, Ray-Hutchinson says, â&#x20AC;&#x153;There was a period of time when we could not get any oysters. Then when we did begin to get oysters and local seafood, I began to see a steady increase in the price.â&#x20AC;? She adds, â&#x20AC;&#x153;While our sales were continuing to go up because of some positive stirring in the economy, due to all the people in town, my cost in seafood gradually went up. Mullet went up. Oysters went up. Shrimp went up, and the availability was definitely affected.â&#x20AC;? What the future holds for Apalachicola and Floridians who like to enjoy the bounty of the sea, no one knows. Ray-Hutchinson, reflecting on recent events, says, â&#x20AC;&#x153;I think that there are some subtle effects now, and even though we had no oil directly on our county beaches, I think the full effect of the oil spill, or even the threat of oil, we wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know for months to come. We didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t find any oil but who knows whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll come to the surface. We wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t really know the full effect immediately, even though the well is capped.â&#x20AC;?


June  17 Farewell. BP  CEO  Tony  Hayward  appears   before  a  congressional  hearing   modestly  apologizing  for  the  spill.   However,  lawmakers  accuse  BP   RIFXWWLQJFRUQHUVWRERRVWSUR¿WV Hayward  steps  down  39  days  later   and  is  replaced  by  Robert  Dudley.

April  20 Worst  oil  spill  in  history.   BPâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s  drilling  rig  Deepwater   Horizon  explodes  and   FDWFKHVÂżUHNLOOLQJZRUNHUV 11  and  leaves  17  wounded.

Sept  19 Aug  4

May  2 2EDPDœV¿UVWWULS Within  300  min-­ utes,  the  president   arrives  to  Venice,   /DKLV¿UVWYLVLWWR the  Gulf  Coast  to   personally  witness   clean-­up  efforts. 86RI¿FLDOVFORVH areas  that  are   affected  as  oil  is   spreading.

Finally  under  control.   BPâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s  new  cap  stops   oil  spew  after  87   days,  since  it  was   detected  in  April.   Four  million,  four   hundred  thousand   barrels  were  dumped   into  the  ocean.

Static  kill. A  procedure  that   involves  pumping   heavy  mud  and   cement  into  the   well  is  successfully   executed.  Seventy-­ ¿YHSHFHQWRI the  oil  had  been   captured,  burned   off,  evaporated  or   broken  down  in  the   Gulf.  

Effectively  dead. With  the  help  of  a   cement  plug  in,  U.S.   government  declares   the  Deepwater   Horizon  well  dead,   after  5  months.  Final   clean-­up  cost  for  oil   spilled across  Louisi-­ ana,  Mississippi,   Alabama,  Florida   and  Texas  is  nearly   $10,000,000,000.

July  15 -2851(<





Journey explores the reasons behind why a growing number of blacks are choosing not to identify with traditional African-American religious beliefs

he cross he wore around his neck faded from a vibrant symbol of his salvation to dead weight on his chest. The hymns he once sang passionately among his congregation seemed hollow. At the end of what he felt had been another useless service he decided it was finally time to come clean about his faltering faith. It was a sweltering Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, and Cameron Askew had completed his last of countless trips to New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Cameron was not rebelling, lazy or even bored. He simply lost all faith in God. “I remember leaving church with my dad,” Askew says. “I didn’t agree with the sermon and my dad said if I didn’t believe in the message, I didn’t believe in God.” Cameron turned to his father and watched the shocked expression on his face as he responded, “Because I don’t.” This confession changed his life, significantly. For years, the second-year computer-engineering student says he lacked the type of religious conviction he’d seen from his parents and other members of his community. His attendance trickled from five times a week to the occasional Sunday and he no longer internalized the words coming from his pastor. Cameron says after studying evolution in his science courses, he began questioning his faith and ultimately stopped believing in God. The obedient church boy was dead, and the atheist who abandoned his Christian upbringing was born. He was soon faced with the whispers and sneers from theists of all races, but he found the strongest reactions from fellow African-Americans who expressed their sadness and disappointment with his newfound ideology. “My parents constantly say, ‘you need prayer.’ It seems like white people were more willing to accept (atheism),” Askew says. “But with black people they think I’m being more unscrupulous or don’t believe because I don’t want to follow the rules. My black friends were more judgmental.” Through experience, Askew now

realizes that African-Americans view atheism as blasphemy and an insult to black culture. He says whites were more accepting of his absence of faith. “It doesn’t have as much of a cultural bias for whites,” he says. “That history (of enslavement and the Civil Rights Movement) just isn’t there for them.” Kennith Barrington, who pastors Metropolitan Cathedral of Truth in Havana, has worked in the Christian theology for over 25 years and says church is more than a matter of faith for African-Americans. “Church has been the bedrock of our culture. Back in the day when black folk were just out of slavery our social lives, our political lives-all of that revolved around the church. Christ was the source of our lives,” Barrington says. “What we have done is drifted away from our understanding of who God is. Young people go to church all their lives, but they get to campus and walk away from God. They were baptized. They went to Sunday school. They sang in the choir, but they don’t have a personal relationship with the Lord. It’s easy to walk away from someone you don’t know.” Although Barrington has noticed a waning in faith among young people, studies show that most blacks still identify themselves as religious. According to a 2009 Pew Forum on religious diversity, African-Americans are the most religious ethnic group in the United States. Eighty-seven percent describe themselves as religious. However, the number of blacks who identify as nonbelievers recently climbed from 6 to 11 percent. Though the numbers are still small, they represent a growth in the black free-thought movement and new challenges faced by those who choose to “come out.” Jamila Bey, a journalist and activist, travels across the country speaking to fellow black atheists to help those like Cameron find a sense of community. Bey realized she was an atheist in her early childhood, but did not reveal her beliefs to her mother until her sophomore year in college. Bey -2851(<


says the reaction from her mother was the hardest to swallow. “I can’t believe that I have a child who would think that way,” she remembers her mother saying. Bey sarcastically shot back, “Yeah, you have a child that thinks. What a failure of a parent you are.” After this incident Bey realized the sacrifice she made would drive a permanent wedge between her and her parents, but never envisioned the level of sacrifice she would be forced to make in other areas of her life. “I’ve actually lost a job because when you Google my name ‘black atheist’ comes up,” says Bey who makes no effort to hide her beliefs or apologies for her vocal opposition of religion. “When my boss saw that I was not retiring in my description or my lack of religious beliefs I was fired. I’d been labeled ‘a troublemaker.’” Her views have also impacted her ability to maintain romantic relationships with black Christian men. “I’ve had trouble dating. I visited when the site was still in its early days. Once the guys I was talking to found out they’d say, ‘Oh well you’re an atheist. I’m not interested in you.” Despite the problems she continues to face as a social outcast among her own people, Bey refuses to hide her beliefs. “I would sooner renounce my blackness than renounce my atheism,” Bey said. Derrick McMahon Jr., a fourth-year history student from Frostproof, Fla., does not believe in God but attends a local church on a regular basis to maintain his cultural ties. McMahon abandoned his religion based on instances of misogyny, rape and murder in the Bible, but still embraces the sense of community offered at a black church. “I go to church more than most Christians do,” McMahon says. “I have respect for the black church. It’s a part of our heritage as African-Americans and even though I am an atheist now (the black church) is something I’m very fond of,” McMahon says. He says initial reactions to his beliefs were disheartening. “My mom doesn’t really understand it because ‘atheism’ is such a loaded word in society,” he says. “I’ve expressed it to my family. Whenever it comes time to pray I won’t bow my head or close my eyes. I didn’t want to offend them, but this is who I am.”McMahon says his regular church attendance has made the transition from religion to secular life much smoother and provided a sense of comfort for his family. However, not every black atheist is able to balance the two contrasting worlds. Debbie Goddard, student president of the Campus Freethought Alliance at Montgomery County Community College, says her story mirrors the struggle and rejection often faced by nonbelievers in the black community. “I grew up in a black neighborhood in Philly,” Goddard says. “It was tough because I knew no other atheists. I accepted over time that I shouldn’t expect to fit in.” She was raised by Catholic and Jewish parents who rotated her between mass and synagogue, in efforts to satisfy each of their religious beliefs. Goddard started doubting the existence of God in elementary school. )$//-2851(<0$*21/,1(&20

Goddard’s feelings got her suspended from her Catholic middle school for being a “troublemaker,” isolated her from her family and helped shape her views on religion forever. “The African-American community faces more social pressures. (Atheism) is turning our backs on our culture, history and people,” Goddard says. Goddard never forgot her personal struggles and has made it her mission to give black atheists a sense of community. She recently became the director of African-American for Humanism, a non-profit atheist organization based in Washington, D.C. She was also instrumental in organizing the single largest gathering of black atheists in history with about 60 participants. Goddard says the group was diverse, but that each attendee was able to share common experiences. Goddard says religious references are a major part of AfricanAmerican culture, which is an issue for those who don’t subscribe to religious beliefs. “People make certain assumptions,” Goddard says. “If I’m the only black person walking in a group with four white people I’ll get ‘the nod.’ (African-Americans) will assume I’m a certain kind of way. They’ll say, ‘Have a blessed day,’ ‘Oh, Lord’ when something goes wrong or ‘Bless you’ when I sneeze. They just don’t realize what kind of an impact it has on nonbelievers.” Goddard has noticed a lack of diversity within the atheist community, which makes some African-Americans even more reluctant to come out. She says she’s traveled to countless atheist meetings and conventions over the years but rarely sees a black face in a movement dominated by whites. “If there’s a conference with 15 speakers, 14 of them are white males and one white woman. All I could think was, what about the rest of us?” Goddard says. Her feelings of isolation are common for black atheists. Like Goddard, McMahon also deals with detachment issues, mostly as a student at a historically black college and university. McMahon says he often feels like the only black atheist on campus and waits for the day when others will admit their religious doubts. “One of the hardest things you have to learn to overcome is “groupthink,” the idea that you’re not alone and the feelings of not wanting to be an outcast. There’s a lot that exists out there. Just trust yourself and what you believe in.” McMahon has also learned that it is possible to maintain ties to his culture without religion. “The church is a very important component for a lot of people but I do think that you can have the black community without the black church.”

What happens when you denounce religious beliefs? Visit to view footage from an atheist meeting.

Journey Magazine Fall 2010  
Journey Magazine Fall 2010  

Journey Magazine Fall 2010