The State News - February 7, 2023 - Black History Month

Page 1

BLACK HISTORY MONTH Spartans paving the way into the future


MSU’s Black Mental Health Coalition helps foster mental health discussions in Black community

The founders of MSU’s Black Mental Health Coalition hope to create a safe space for their community.


From star player to coach, Sharonda McDonald-Kelley now has the keys to MSU softball

As MSU’s first new head coach in 29 years, Sharonda McDonald-Kelley is ready to revamp a struggling program.


Joe Tate recalls his journey from MSU to becoming Michigan’s first Black Speaker of the House

Michigan’s speaker of the house reflects on lessons learned while playing football for MSU and in the years since.

Illustration by Antonio Griffin. Read more on page 3. Michigan State’s Independent Voice




Drew Goretzka


Maddie Monroe


Chloe Trofatter


Morgan Womack


Dan Netter


Miranda Dunlap


Jenna Malinowski


Claire Grant


Audrey Richardson


Lauren Snyder


Madison Echlin

COVER: Antonio Griffin, a digital artist from Detroit, created the cover art for the Black History Month issue. Entitled “Leaders of the World,” Griffin was inspired by the women in his life. “They are strong and open minded leaders – I feel like they’re more than this world,” he said. He designed the cover to encourage people to read more. “I want to raise awareness because the world is changing and we have to evolve.”


(517) 295-1680


(517) 295-5149


Christopher Richert


M-F, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The State News is published by the students of Michigan State University every other Tuesday during the academic year. News is updated seven days a week at State News Inc. is a private, nonprofit corporation. Its current 990 tax form is available for review upon request at 435 E. Grand River Ave. during business hours.

One copy of this newspaper is available free of charge to any member of the MSU community. Additional copies $0.75 at the business office only.

Copyright © 2023 State News Inc., East Lansing, Michigan

113 | No. 12
The State News @thesnews @statenews @thesnews The State News @statenews
Michigan State hockey fan waves the Spartan flag after MSU scores their first goal of the night in a game against University of Notre Dame on Feb. 4, 2023. The Spartans defeated the Leprechauns with a score of 3-2 to sweep the weekend series. Photo by Jonah Brown
YOUR NEWS • YOUR VOICE • YOUR WAY @thesnews @thesnews The State News @statenews • Apply for your MSUFCU Platinum Plus Visa Credit Card. • Receive 1% cash back on ALL purchases once approved.1 • Rates as low as 13.90% APR.2 MSUFCU Platinum Plus Visa cardholders will earn 1% cash back on all purchases. Cash back is not earned on tax payments, any unauthorized charges or transactions, cash advances, convenience checks, balance transfers, or fees of any kind. Account must be in good standing to redeem cash back. Returns result in the loss of cash back equal to the amount returned. Negative cash back will be given if returns or credits exceed purchases. Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of 13.90% is lowest rate offered for MSUFCU Platinum Plus Visa Credit Card. Actual rate determined by member’s credit score. We CU SHOWING YOUR SPARTAN SPIRIT. | 517-333-2424 | Visit a branch MEET THE ARTIST

MSU’s Black Mental Health Coalition helps foster mental health discussions in Black community

Psychology senior Ajhane’ Kindle was a senior in high school when the pandemic hit. Like many people stuck at home, her mental health started to suffer. When she arrived at Michigan State University, it only got worse. Adjusting to a predominantly white university was hard and Kindle, who is Black, often felt like she didn’t fit in at MSU. Luckily, since she had years of experience in therapy, she was able to manage her mental health.

Soon, Kindle began making friends at MSU, but she found they did not have the same emotional tools. As a result, Kindle often helped her friends with their mental health. When she realized the impact she had on her friends, she decided to create a student organization to help more people.

“I’ve always been a very huge advocate of mental health,” Kindle said. “I’m helping my friends when I don’t even know I’m helping them. I just talk to people and they feel better. So (l realized) maybe this is my calling. Maybe I should just go out and do it.”

Kindle created the Black Mental Health Coalition, or BMHC, a group devoted to fostering a safe space and loving environment for students to discuss their mental, physical and spiritual health.

When human biology sophomore Jourdyn Starr heard about the new club, she thought it was a good idea to have a space that catered to Black students’ mental health on campus.

“There’s not a lot of outlets for Black people to just express how they’re feeling, and there’s a lot of stuff that we go through that other people wouldn’t understand,” Starr said. “It’s nice to be able to talk to someone who shares those experiences and you can experience those together because it’s hard to constantly go through that alone.”

The club has helped Starr with the transition from high school to college.

“This organization has made the campus feel smaller, ‘cause this campus is huge and most of the people on campus do not look like us,” Starr said. “This organization has helped (me find) a community on campus I can really identify with and just have a good time and open up, talk about deep stuff and still feel included.”

The club also enabled Starr to feel comfortable discussing her mental health. She said people have dismissed her mental health struggles in the past, but coming to the BMHC validated her feelings.

Psychology senior Shaurice Brunson said mental health is often stigmatized, especially within the Black community.

“I think mental health overall is not talked about a lot, but also within the Black community it’s really not talked about,” Brunson said. “It’s getting there, but this is the first step to change.”

As a result, the executive board has learned that it can best facilitate the club meetings by creating a judgment-free space.

“We don’t want anybody to feel shame about it, (we try to) take the shame away from mental health,” Starr said. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s just a reality.”

Kindle said “what happens in this organization, stays in the organization,” since none of the club officers are mandatory reporters. This allows members to open up and experience the most growth.

“The first time someone comes, they always cry,” Kindle said. “They’re gonna be really emotional, but they’re gonna feel better when they leave because they know that they have this space. And when you come the first time, you’re not gonna stop coming.”

Each meeting includes a mental health “check-in” and an activity. One of the activities involved writing negative thoughts on a plate

and then breaking the plate, which Brunson said helped her feel lighter. Brunson said going to the meetings has also helped her learn new methods to relax and feel happier, as well as given her new perspectives on mental health.

The most helpful aspect of being in the BMHC, Brunson said, is knowing that there is always someone there for her.

For computer science sophomore Ryon Baldwin-Williams, having a space specific to his community has helped him be vulnerable.

“We’re here just to be that space for people to let those feelings out, and we’ve seen groups of people cry and have really important moments here,” Baldwin-Williams said. “I feel like through this club I’ve gotten … different tools that I can use when I’m going through a thing. So it’s not that we’re here to fix the problems, but we’re here to help you address those things that you don’t (address).”

This is exactly what Kindle strives for as the BMHC president, and she hopes to spread this to a wider community. Next year, she will pursue her masters in social work at MSU and she plans on opening a practice to help minors in the justice system with an emphasis on Black youth.

Through this, Kindle hopes that she can address Black mental health and teach others that it’s okay to focus on their mental health and take care of themselves.

“(I’ve learned) that a lot of the Black community is dealing with pretty much the same thing,” Kindle said. “I’m not gonna lie, we’re very strong people, but sometimes we just need to sit down, and cry and break down, and just have that moment to ourselves and with people that love us and care about us.”

The Black Mental Health Coalition E-Board members (from left to right) Reggie Allen, Jourdyn Starr, Brandy Dunigan, Ryon Williams and President Ajane’ Kindle, photographed on Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Denille Reid
“I think mental health overall is not talked about a lot, but also within the Black community it’s really not talked about. It’s getting there, but this is the first step to change.”
Shaurice Brunson Psychology senior

‘The squad’: Women leaders in the Department of African American and African Studies make their mark

performance spaces, investigating diasporic identities as it relates to the formation of Black identity and using art as a means of exploring different societal issues.

Experiential learning is a priority in Strother’s classroom because of its valuable impact on students’ learning. Strother said it is important to seek the information and experiences of others to make real change and acquire full knowledge.

“A lot of my previous work has involved creating these international collaborations as well as finding ways to be able to merge the conversations (of students) with members of the community,” Strother said.

Strother was a playwright and performer for the 15th Annual Stage-to-Play New Play Festival held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. She also made an appearance in the Handmaid’s Tale as an extra. Students come into the classroom with an abundance of knowledge and experiences. Strother said she values that as an opportunity to grow.

“The moments that stick out to me … are those moments in the classroom where you not only see the ‘Aha!’ moment in students, but you, yourself, have that ‘Aha!’ moment,” Strother said.

Strother admires the “dreamers” who brought the idea of an AAAS department to life and she strives to continue to build upon their work and contribute to the cause.


With the work of four dedicated women, the Department of African American and African Studies, or AAAS, has continued in its success since its start in 2018.

Ruth Nicole Brown, Gianina K.L. Strother, Yvonne Morris and LeConté J. Dill have each made significant contributions to the department. Through their leadership, the department has put an emphasis on Black feminism, sexuality and gender studies.

“We call ourselves ‘the squad,’” Brown said. “We call ourselves the ‘dream team’.”

The unbreakable bond between the staff in AAAS and the passion they each hold for their work has built a strong foundation and a rapidly growing presence for the department. Students have started to pick up on the values that AAAS prides itself on.

“Me and my coworkers and my colleagues refer to each other as ‘squad,’ but we also hear our students building a squad amongst themselves,” Dill said.


Following the success of the African American and African Studies program, Inaugural Department Chairperson and Professor Ruth Nicole Brown worked alongside a team to form the Department of AAAS. The new department was important to Brown, as she dedicated her career to creating more opportunities for students to center their studies on Black feminism, gender and sexuality.

“I wanted to be a part of those institutional conversations about how to get students involved and how to change the way we think about research,” Brown said. “So that engagement and research are mutually reciprocal.”

Now that the department has been established, Brown said she is working to create an institutional culture that holds itself accountable to the university staff, students and the communities it is a part of.

Brown was involved in the hiring process for all faculty members and said she is excited about the variety of skills and experiences that this year’s faculty brings.

The 2022-23 school year is the first in which students could declare an AAAS major. Brown’s effort to pass the major through university and state governance paid off when she saw how much it meant to students.

“A student came up to me after class and asked me what I’d been working on … she was like ‘I want to major in AAAS,’” Brown said. “As soon as it did (receive approval) she declared. I will always remember her and I will always remember that moment.”

The support AAAS has received from the university has given the department strength and the ability to organize a lot of unique opportunities, Brown said.

“We are really leading with love,” Brown said.


Associate Professor LeConté Dill is passionate about Black girlhood studies and came to MSU specifically for the new AAAS department. As a transdisciplinary scholar, Dill brings a variety of lenses to her teaching.

Dill was the keynote speaker at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Community Unity dinner and spoke not only about her scholarship, but also about the values of the AAAS department. Furthermore, Dill said she enjoys hearing the positive feedback from students about her teaching and the curriculum.

“Students really being excited about learning in a way that they aren’t even used to … That’s been an accomplishment,” Dill said.

Moments of affirmation in the classroom are meaningful to Dill because she loves seeing students focus on the possibilities in their future. Dill said working in a space that focuses on Black feminism has allowed her to teach classes she is passionate about within the curriculum and work with colleagues who have the same interests and goals.

“In coming to MSU, the people in this

department who dreamed of this department … are people I was already reading on the bookshelves, people that I was following at conferences, people that I wanted to get to know,” Dill said.


As an assistant professor, Gianina K.L. Strother prides herself on upholding the values of the AAAS department and creating opportunities for students at MSU.

“I had goosebumps when I read the call in the announcement for this new department,” Strother said. “The diversity of thought, the colleagues that I have the privilege to work with and the diversity of talent and artistry is really a gift.”

Strother is a performance studies scholar and her interests include examining the ways in which Black women and girls navigate

Academic specialist Yvonne Morris teaches along with her recruiting duties. She centers her work in joy and creating a positive, welcoming environment within the AAAS department.

“One of the goals that I have here is to make sure that our students have a place of community,” Morris said. “We always hear from our students that this the first time in their classes that they’ve been able to show up as their whole selves.”

The department started a series of events this semester called “Happy Meals at Lunches” where students are invited out to lunch with the department to strengthen their bonds and ensure they stay motivated in the winter months.

“We are on the rise; we are moving joyfully forward,” Morris said. “I’m excited to create a bigger presence here on campus.”

Professors Gianina K.L. Strother and Yvonne Morris pose for a photo in Strother’s office in the Department of African American and African Studies in North Kedzie on Feb. 2, 2023. Photo by Sonya Barlow A look inside the “Flex Room” used for discussions, activities, galleries and performances at the Department for African American and African Studies in North Kedzie Hall on Feb. 2, 2023. Photo by Sonya Barlow

From star player to coach, Sharonda McDonald-Kelley now has the keys to MSU softball

For 29 years, Michigan State Softball had the same coach as the face of the team: Jacquie Joseph. She inherited the team before any of today’s players were born and announced her retirement in May, one month after she reached her 750th MSU victory.

Sharonda McDonald-Kelley didn’t consider herself a candidate for the position that was vacant for the first time in nearly three decades. Joseph is a college softball coach that McDonaldKelley idolized. Plus, McDonald-Kelley was the head coach at Campbell University in North Carolina, where she was having great success, had met her husband and had their first child. If she were to take a leap in her career, it would’ve ideally be in the South where it’s warm and close to home.

Michigan State reached out to McDonaldKelley. She politely declined. Then Joseph gave her a call and everything changed.

Joseph, with an overall record of more than 800 victories during her tenure, endorsed her, telling McDonald-Kelley that she was the right person to supplant her.

“I was like, ‘Woah, this is Jacquie Joseph,’” McDonald-Kelley said. “When someone’s in a position like that for 29 years, you give your life to it. And so when you’re passing something along and I’m a person that she thinks can be a great fit, then it’s like, ‘OK.’ It was an honor, I guess, to get that call from her. I thought that was pretty cool.”

McDonald-Kelley is the sixth head coach in program history, bringing with her a winning pedigree from her playing days at Texas A&M, to playing seven years of professional softball and numerous coaching stops along the way. She’s been handed the keys to MSU’s program, one that she plans to revitalize through her competitive mindset.

“To me, I’m so competitive,” McDonald-Kelley said. “If you don’t win at the end of the year, then it’s the worst.”

Finding her game and a passion away from softball

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, McDonaldKelley wasn’t surrounded by softball like many other professionals. Her parents didn’t play, nor did her two sisters. It wasn’t until McDonald-

Kelley was seven years old that she brought a softball flyer home from school, telling her parents that she wanted to play.

“I didn’t have parents that played or anything like that,” McDonald-Kelley said. “I have an older sister, so the next year she also played and a younger sister that when she got (to an) age where could play, she played too – so we’re now a softball family situation.”

McDonald-Kelley played at Texas A&M where she was a four-time All-Big 12 selection from 2004 to 2007. She was a speedster on the bases, holding the Texas A&M record for career stolen bases (153) – at one time stealing 73 consecutive bases, tying an NCAA record. In 2005, she led the NCAA with 48 steals, earning her the Golden Shoe Award. McDonald-Kelley was also a force with the bat, compiling a .338 career batting average and ranking second in Aggie history with 249 all-time hits and 195 runs.

In her final season with Texas A&M, she led the team to its first Women’s College World Series in 20 years, before returning as a coach later. During her seven years of professional softball in the United States and Italy, McDonald-Kelley also decided to give coaching a shot, despite some weariness of whether or not it was the right fit for her.

“I did not want to coach,” McDonald-Kelley said. “(When) I was in college, I would work our camps at Texas A&M and I think it was my junior year into my senior year, that summer, I was doing a camp and one of the other coaches there was like, ‘You’re good at this, would you want to do this?’, I was like, ‘No, never. I would never want to coach.’”

McDonald-Kelley started her coaching career in 2009 at Texas Southern, then was an assistant coach at Ohio from 2010 to 2012. She made other stops at LSU, Texas Tech, Florida and Ohio State before settling down as Campbell’s head coach in 2019.

Campbell went 26-28 in McDonald-Kelley’s first season, then 10-15 in 2020 before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when the program took a huge jump, going 28-19 in 2021, winning the Big South and advancing to the NCAA Regionals. She then followed it up with a 37-19 record and another appearance in the NCAA Regionals. While bouncing around from school to school

isn’t easy on anyone, it hasn’t been all that bad for McDonald-Kelley. It has also fed one of her passionate hobbies outside of softball: home renovations.

She’s working on her sixth house now, recently finishing with tiling her shower. Next, she’s working on the freestanding bathtub, where she surrounded it with ship lap and painted it. McDonald-Kelley said she still needs to install the bathtub and finish up the painting, and then she will move on to the next bathroom when that one’s complete.

“My brain loves to problem solve, so I like the idea of figuring out how to fix things and put them back together,” McDonald-Kelley said. “The demo was a lot of fun, but, yeah, I like just putting things together and building things.”

McDonald-Kelley has also realized the stress relief that can come with it.

“When I get mad about a game, I come home and rip down some cabinets,” McDonald-Kelley said. “Then you have to put them back which is the hard part, but it’s kind of like a nice stress relief and another world I can kind of go to.”

“It’s not a lack of talent”

Restoring Michigan State as a force to be reckoned with is no easy task. The Spartans have been in the Big Ten gutter for most of the last 20 years, recording just one winning season since 2007. MSU last qualified for the NCAA Regionals in 2004, part of a Cinderella Big Ten Tournament run where the seventhseeded Spartans won the entire tournament. The last three seasons have hit rock bottom, with Michigan State not finishing higher than 12th in the conference.

One of McDonald-Kelley’s first tasks on her todo list was to shake up the culture. It started with her determining a theme for the first season: “Unleash.” Forgetting what’s happened in the past and analyzing with a different approach is – in her eyes – paramount from the start.

“I think everyone understands what it can be and everyone understands we’re underperforming and everyone understands the word ‘potential,’” McDonald-Kelley said. “We talk about it a lot, but it’s just a word until you make something of it.”

McDonald-Kelley brought Danielle Stenger with her from Campbell to help install that culture. Stenger was named Michigan State’s pitching coach, after she aided Campbell to a 2.10 team ERA in 2022. She also hired Nadia Taylor as the new hitting coach, a nine-year professional player who was a four-time allconference player at Texas from 2009 to 2012.

“I think what stands out the most to me is that they hold us to a different standard,” senior third baseman Jessica Mabrey said. “They expect a lot from us. We expect a lot from them, and they push us to get the best out of us. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely worth it. They’re trying to get us to the next level as we want to be to the next level, so it’s really encouraging that they believe in us enough to care enough to push us.”

The transfer portal age of college athletics has helped expedite rebuilding programs, and McDonald-Kelley did not shy away from utilizing it. In fact, 12 of the 23 players on the team are new, including seven freshmen and five transfers.

“We have some really good talent,” McDonaldKelley said. “It’s not a lack of talent, and I tell them that every day. It’s just a matter of changing your mindset into championship thinkers.”

Michigan State will start its first month of the season as always down south, with the season-opener on Feb. 10 against Texas A&M - Commerce. The Spartans will return home March 21 for a mid-week game versus Central Michigan, before kickstarting conference play that weekend against Wisconsin.

“I think we have an advantage over other teams just because we have girls coming in from everywhere, all schools, like different age levels,” senior first baseman Camryn Wincher said. “We mesh so well. We all are very just realistic in our own way and we’re all unique.”

And while Joseph is still working with the

athletic department as a sport administrator for men’s and women’s tennis, gymnastics and rowing, she has also kept her door open for McDonald-Kelley to drop by. But one thing remains clear, the MSU softball reins now belong to McDonald-Kelley.

“She’s awesome,” McDonald-Kelley said of her relationship with Joseph. “I think her kind of objective and thoughts were she was going to stay out of it and if I needed her she’d be there. That’s exactly what she’s done. She’s been so awesome. And I think the foundation she’s left for us and our staff is a really good one. I’m thankful for her and thankful for the groundwork that she’s put in here.”

“I think everyone understands what it can be and everyone understands we’re underperforming and everyone understands the word ‘potential’. We talk about it a lot, but it’s just a word until you make something of it.”
Sharonda McDonald-Kelley MSU softball Head Coach The new MSU Softball Head Coach Sharonda McDonald-Kelley poses for a photo on the field inside the Duffy Daugherty Football building on Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Sonya Barlow Photo courtesy of Michigan State Athletics

Joe Tate recalls his journey from MSU to becoming Michigan’s first Black speaker of the house

Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, still remembers running out of the tunnel under the lights at Spartan Stadium in his first game as a student-athlete.

Now, nearly 25 years later, he’s experiencing a different kind of thrill under a spotlight — one that comes with being a top-ranking elected official in the state.

Tate, who was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives for his first term beginning in 2019, hails from the 2nd District, which encompasses part of Detroit and its northern suburbs. Born and raised in Detroit, Tate said his upbringing gave him a strong sense of public service.

“My dad was a firefighter for the City of Detroit, my mom was a public school teacher for Detroit Public Schools for a number of years,” Tate said. “And I think through their actions, they taught me that service is important and giving back to others, giving back to your community, doing your part.”

Tate’s football success brought

him from Detroit to Michigan State University in 1999, where he joined the team under Nick Saban and, later, Bobby Williams. He studied public policy and started in 29 games at left guard during his time at MSU, an experience he said shaped the way he approached careers in the military and later in politics.

“Playing football, it’s certainly a team sport,” Tate said. “You have eleven people on the field at all times. That’s your team, trying to work together towards a goal … and that was similar to the Marine Corps and politics.”

Tate made his mark on and off the field at MSU, earning the university’s award for community service and leadership in 2003 for involvement with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program and reading to local school children.

Following his graduation from MSU in 2004, Tate spent time in the NFL playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and St. Louis Rams. Eventually, he returned to East Lansing for a master’s degree in kinesiology, during which he worked as a graduate assistant in the football program. In

2009, he decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served two tours in Afghanistan. After leaving the Marines, Tate returned to his home state, this time to pursue a dual master’s degree at the University of Michigan in 2017. Upon graduation, Tate began his first campaign for the state house, a decision that would lead him to become Michigan’s first-ever Black Speaker of the House in 2023.

Tate said the weight of his position and its historical value isn’t lost on him.

“The reason I’m in this position is because of the work that people have done, and have already kind of laid the groundwork for me to be able to be in this role,” Tate said. “And there is a responsibility to that.”

Tate said positive representation is always at the forefront of his mind during his work, and he’s concerned about

Detroit’s lack of Black congress members in 2023.

The election of U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar, D-Detroit, to Michigan’s 13th Congressional District in November 2022 marked the end of a 70-year streak of Black congressional representation for the city, which has a 77.2% Black population, according to the 2020 Census.

“At the end of the day, representation matters,” Tate said. “This is similarly reflected in our halls of government. To make the best policy decisions, you have to have diversity in those spaces. And you have to have those people that really understand the needs of the community that they serve.”

Tate said he draws inspiration on this topic from his grandparents, who moved to Detroit from the South during the Great Migration.

“We are a state where Black Americans have helped to grow and move this thing forward and have settled here,” Tate said. “So I think being able to have that reflection is incredibly important. And at the end of the day, we need to ensure that those voices are being heard.”

Tate said being a Black man

in politics isn’t always easy and comes with its fair share of stressors. After recent police murders of Black men like Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tenn., Tate said he’s acutely aware of the dangers facing Black people.

“People are exhausted by having to continue to see this take place,” Tate said. “And I most certainly do not want to have another conversation with a parent that lost a son at the hands of police officers.”

Tate said he’s committed to finding ways to prevent police violence and hopes to tackle it in the ongoing legislative session.

As the top house legislator, Tate said he’s centered his priorities around “putting people first”. Democrats now hold a majority in both chambers of the legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years. This puts him in a unique position to lead his caucus toward the realization of decades-old policy goals. He’s particularly interested in bringing tax relief, civil rights expansions and updates to antiquated laws surrounding abortion to Michiganders. “We want to get to work,” Tate said. “Democrats want to get to work putting people first.”

Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Joe Tate poses for a photo in his office at the Capitol in Lansing on Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Sonya Barlow