A Step-Up Or A Come-Up: What’s The Goal Of Student Leadership?

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Student Government President Jill Cartwright (center) attends a Spanish for Healthcare class at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga. on Monday, April 9, 2018. Cartwright, a senior majoring in Women's Health, is the first in her family to attend college.
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Student leadership can be life changing. I’m a witness. The success that I’ve accumulated at the age of 23 can only be attributed to the journey that I embarked upon at my HBCU. I’m fully confident that I’d be successful no matter where I went or what life path that I chose. However, it was something about going to Fort Valley State University that unlocked something inside of me. I was pushed to grow. I was given models to follow by alumni that were successful in the fields that I aspired to venture in. My HBCU gave me a sense of purpose and goals to reach for. 

My story isn’t unique. It’s typical of students that have the wealth of opportunities to grow during their matriculation at their institutions. Our HBCUs give us every resource possible to achieve our dreams. Even if we don’t believe it, it’s true. At no other institution are students granted with the opportunity to serve as the faces of their institution. Our campus kings and queens are celebrated year-round and are afforded a platform to make change in the community and for the institutions they serve. Although SGA’s exist at other colleges, HBCU SGA’s have a deeper purpose. SGA officials at our institutions are more than just glorified concert promoters. They’re stakeholders in the national conversation. Their the voices for individuals who aren’t often heard. This is power. But, are we really utilizing the full potential of our power as student leaders and alumni at our institutions?

What is our endgame? College is 4-5 years of our lives that we brand as the best years of our lives. How many of us are truly using these formative years to set the template for what the rest of our time on this earth will be? I often feel a lack of seriousness that permeates the national conversation of student leadership in the nation. We don’t treat our student leader positions as jobs. We treat it like a come up. Conferences, meant for networking and furthering our knowledge, often turn into stroll-offs and hook-up sessions that create great memories but do nothing to further our personal missions and the responsibilities of our positions. Groupchats, used to bring us all together, often lead to cliquishness that go against our creed of being brothers and sisters. Student leadership positions are often treated as if they are a 9 month-1 year free party pass and not the launchpad for our dreams. 

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It’s discouraging. I often look at the alumni of our respective institutions and find inspiration. I often visit the stories of the Tom Joyner’s of our world. The Terrence J’s; the Will Packer’s; the Jamila Mustafa’s; the Darren Brand’s. Even Meghan Thee Stallion, who isn’t an alumnae yet but is on her way, gives me hope that something can come of this journey. I want this desperately for all of us. But, do we realize the secret to success?

The keys to unlock the doors of opportunity have been bestowed upon many of us in the past couple of months. I’ve seen students crowned as Mister and Miss of their HBCU’s. I’ve seen new SGA members sworn in, ready to start their tenures and cultivate change that’ll be felt for years to come. However, I charge these newly elected student leaders to look at these positions as more than just a come-up or university obligation. I want these leaders to realize that they have the power to impact their campuses in ways unimaginable. Not only that, they can jumpstart the success of their future. 

The power is in our hands. We have the power to bring students out to on-campus events and engage them so well that they yearn for what’s next. We have the power to increase voter turnout and start a movement amongst our peers that shifts politics and saves this country  as we move past a worldwide pandemic. We have the power to show the collegiate class of 2024 what it means to be a part of a collegiate family that loves one another and pushes each other to grow. Let’s tap into it. It doesn’t matter how much you’re seen, how many likes you get or who knows you on what campus. What matters is the change we make. If we don’t realize this, we’re robbing ourselves of valuable time and an opportunity to grow. 

Click here to learn more about the HBCU Pulse Student Leadership Academy!

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