SWC faculty honor student ‘heroes and sheroes’

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Illustration by Andre Aliseda

Illustration by Andre Aliseda.

There is a saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”

At Southwestern College some African-American students have been busy. Busy breaking down barriers, obstacles and challenges. SWC’s fourth Unsung Heroes and Sheroes celebration was a case in point. In honor of Black History Month, 14 of the colleges’ most brilliant and talented students as well as nine high-achieving community members were honored.

Clark Rucker, son of deceased community honorees Charles and Julia Rucker, had a powerful message for the students.

“As African-Americans we stand on the shoulders of all those who have preceded us in the struggle,” he said. “The list is long and the numbers are many for those who have given their lives so that we may stand here today, without shame, without provocation and without interruption. We hold every soul that has passed before us the honor of our grace and prayers. When we go to sleep at night and we awaken in the morning, we have to thank them.”

Theater arts standout Tanika Baptiste was one of the students who heard Rucker’s message. She has performed in multiple plays, including “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf,” the NAACP award-winning “Down Around Brown Town” and SWC’s production of “Rent.” Her goal, she said, is to one day open her own preforming arts academy.

Assistant Professor of Theater Michael Buckley said Baptiste has a unique characteristic.

“There is one thing we can’t teach our students…we can’t teach them IT,” he said. “IT, it’s that thing that separates a wannabe from a star,” he said. “When Tankia walks on stage, your eye goes right to her, cause she’s got IT!”

Mallory Johnson was honored by the School of Arts and Communication Forensics Department for her excellence on the debate team.

Professor of Communication Jordan Mills said Johnson was astonishing.

“Not only had Mallory, her first time ever doing it, win the entire tournament, she was named top speaker amongst all the people there,” he said. “She sent Arizona State packing, she sent San Diego State packing and Cal State Sacramento. She got multiple scholarship offers after that.”

Student honoree Caleb Henderson said events like these are important to him and people of color.

“I’m 6’4”, he said. “I could pose as a threat to a police officer. As intelligent as I am and with all the accolades and awards, I’m big, I’m tall and I’m Black. I have all these stereotypes that are targeted against me but I choose to not let that distract me,” he said. “So I really appreciate ceremonies like this because it encourages us as minorities. We get tired of being told we’re not good enough. Events like this give us that extra push and confidence.”

Community honoree Zoniece Jones, along with her husband Paul Jones, established Pazzaz Inc. in 1995. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the future life prospects of youth and families through quality customized academic, technological and enrichment programs.

“Our children, African-American, Hispanic children and other children of color have the ability to succeed,” she said. “All they need is an opportunity. If indeed America is a nation of opportunity, then we should make sure that there is a level playing field and make sure our kids have the opportunity to live the American Dream.”

Community honorees were Charles and Julia Rucker, Dr. Reginald Baylock, Mary Castleberry, Cassandra Countryman, Robert Countryman, Althea Dougherty, Zoniece Jones and Dr. Gregory O. Morgan.

Student honorees were Melvin Graham, Asjia Daniels, Andra Caston, Karenina Alvarez, Tanika Baptiste, Charles Goodman, Caleb Henderson, Ben Ruffin, Daeniesha Burrel, Mallory Johnson, Joseph Grant, Dominique Fuqua, Shareef Shabazz and Aisha Metivier.

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