Mungano attends Black Student Government conference

Story by Maya Hodison, Staff Writer

More than 400 students are still texting in a group chat, raving about the empowering weekend they had together. Friendships were made between young adults who may never see each other again but created a bond from their similarities.

This year, the 42nd annual Big XII Conference on Black Student Government was held at the University of Missouri. The topic was deemed as Leadership Reloaded – Redefining Our Purpose, Expanding Our Vision. 

Black student organizations, like Black Student Unions (BSU) and other cultural groups, came to the conference from universities within the Big XII Conference, along with other colleges and universities, like Baker. For one weekend, students were immersed in their culture.

Mungano executive board members President Myan Elrington, Vice President Grant Boehm, Secretary/Treasurer Fabien Franck-Love, Public Relations Executive Stanico Taylor and Student Advisor Aradaisia Walker attended the event as a multicultural group from Baker. Mungano Adviser Paul Ladipo accompanied the group.

From Feb. 21 to Feb. 23, the different groups from around the country participated in engaging activities, including workshop sessions, dinners, fraternity and sorority strolls, a career fair and parties. 

A “Gospel Explosion” event, including gospel music and singing, was held on Friday evening in which students had a worship experience with one another. Walker enjoyed the atmosphere at this particular event.

“It was just black excellence exploding,” Walker said. “It was just nice to be with a group of students and young adults who have this passion for worship and passion for culture. The singing was like karaoke with no lead.”

Six keynote speakers graced the students throughout the weekend, one of whom was the National Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders in his 2016 presidential campaign. Political and social commentator Symone D. Sanders shared her experiences as a young, black woman in such a powerful position. She encouraged the student leaders to persevere and earn their way to the top, amidst prejudices.

Another favorite keynote speaker among the students who attended was Michael Eric Dyson. Dyson is a sociology professor, author and TIME magazine contributing editor. He has been named one of the 150 most powerful African Americans by Ebony magazine and has won multiple awards for his books.

“Mr. Dyson talked about empowering the black community. He said that once you get your foot in the door and move your way up in society or the workforce, don’t forget about everybody else,” Taylor said. “We have to stick together instead of tearing each other down. Racism has always been present so as a community, we have to realize when we have bigger issues at hand. We just need to continue to keep pushing each other to be better.”

Along with soaking up knowledge from these prestigious members of society, students were able to choose specific sessions to go to. Much of the conference focused on how to be black student leaders at predominantly white institutions since that was the case for all of the schools who attended. The sessions tackled this issue and more.

One workshop session was geared toward helping campus organizations form mission statements and vision statements so that people have a clear understanding of the group’s purpose. The executive board members plan on using this new information to improve Mungano.

“I wrote the most notes in the session about having a solidified name and statement,” Taylor said. “Also having strategic plans for the future is important because we’re a growing organization so we have to continue to grow, even after the current executives eventually graduate.”

“You’ll start seeing changes in Mungano, like an updated mission statement,” Boehm said. “Once everyone knows and understands our mission statement, we can become more unified in what we say and do on campus because that’s really important.”

Members of Mungano want everyone on campus to understand that even though it originated as a black organization, its purpose is to cater to all backgrounds and cultures on campus while being a support system for those marginalized groups. The executive board members believe they can clear up this misconception with communication and leadership skills they learned at the conference.

Baker is a small campus, and it does not have organizations like a BSU or black fraternities and sororities, but Taylor feels Mungano fills that void.

“I don’t really think Baker needs a BSU because we have Mungano,” Taylor said. “Mungano does the same stuff, except a BSU emphasizes black community on campus, while Mungano is more of everybody.”

The conference offered other compelling sessions that dug deep into problems the black community faces, and how to stop the negative cycles. One session called “Focus: Breaking Generational Curses” emphasized issues like generations of families who do not attend college or end up unproductive members of society, and how to end them.

“I found it really interesting because a lot of us don’t think we have generational curses or that they don’t apply to us,” Walker said. “We think that how we navigate through life doesn’t shape us and the next generation, but it does.”

Another session dove into the misconceptions of manhood. It was entitled “My Brother’s Keeper.” Along with tackling the classifications of manhood that society creates, the instructor expressed that men should hold each other up.

“Black men need to hold each other accountable, so this session reminded me that if I see a brother doing something dumb, I need to check him,” Taylor said. “Also, we can’t be tearing down our black women because at the end of the day, they’re our number one support system.”

Being in a space with people who have common struggles and goals helped students understand that there are countless others who are in the same boat as them.

“I learned that you don’t have to struggle alone,” Walker said. “Doing it alone is a choice because there are always people to help and guide you. Even if they can’t help or guide, there are people to go through it with you.”

Taking notes from the sessions and keynote gave students the opportunity to make a change back at their own universities, organizations and within themselves.

“Leadership begins with you,” Boehm said. “Sometimes leadership is not a title or a job description, it’s just who you are as a person. You shouldn’t have to be praised, you just lead the right way and people will follow your actions.”

This conference proved to be an important, beneficial and memorable experience for the young people who attended.

“There aren’t a lot of conferences like this one nowadays that focus on young, educated people who are trying to figure out their future plans, so it was a huge booster to just say that ‘we can do anything and we have the knowledge and skills to be successful in everything,’” Boehm said.