Senior Dionta Brown joined Michigan State University’s NAACP branch two years ago, when the organization was just two years old itself. Quickly becoming involved, Brown started off on the executive board as the organization’s secretary and is now president.
Q: What would you tell someone if you were asked why the NAACP is important?
A: It’s important because when we look at history, African Americans have been an oppressed group of people. Our founders realized that the way to counter that was through politics and law. Our constitution provides our citizens with rights. Even within it, there are loopholes that prompt certain inequities. We’re looking to hold people accountable and make sure we’re appointing good leaders that appoint good leaders for all people. That’s what the association is working toward— having that voice in government. Ensuring that the government is a reflection of the people.
Q: What do you focus on as an organization?
A: The main focus points for the association are economics, education, social society and politics. We try to make sure that our programs connect with one of those points. This semester, we’ve been talking about graduate school. We’ve seen an increase of African Americans in undergraduate education, but there is a fall off for graduate graduation. The world is moving in a direction where furthering that education is becoming more necessary. We can’t just settle for undergrad.
Q: What are some of the events you have planned for this semester?
A: We are planning a trip to Flint during February (Black History Month.) It’s important to understand how politics played a role in the Flint water crisis and to grab the narratives from the residents. Why do some people across the street have clean water and they don’t? Borders are making the difference between clean water and unclean. It makes you wonder how something like this could happen here in America.
Another event that we have is the Black Business Exposition program. This is how we focus on the economics program. We want to bring awareness to black businesses here on campus — repairing cell phones, cleaning shoes, bakeries. We also want to point to other businesses in the greater Lansing area. One of the areas of opportunity we have in the African American community is focusing on the fact that we have billions of dollars in other businesses outside of our own. It hurts us as a people. If we are more supportive of one another, we can be a more successful race/people.
Q: How has the organization made an impact on your life?
A: Being involved in the association has opened my eyes in how politics play out. Listening to presidential addresses. Following up on laws and seeing how they advance or disadvantage people. It’s shaping the way that I see the world and determining the way I want to impact it with my life. I want to help people, but in what capacity and in what ways? Looking at politics and seeing how garbled and shady it is, it needs some light.
Q: Is there anything else you want people to know about the NAACP?
A: A lot of people will make the argument that this is an exclusive group only for colored people. It’s interesting when people say this because we have to understand that 1) the reason we need to have organizations like NAACP, NASO for Native American students and CRU for latinx students, is that these are the groups that are constantly and frequently oppressed and discriminated against. When you have a group of people that are always ostracized, you have to create spaces for them to find validity. A lot of people don’t know that some of our founders were actually white. They understood that in order for us to create this vision of diversity and equity, we have to provide certain support for those who are disenfranchised. We are not just a “black organization.” It is a great space for us to gather, but it’s important for all of us to be able to come together and discuss these issues. We’re turning our backs on one another. We all need to be concerned about these issues together. I’m trying to find more ways to bring inclusion into NAACP. When we reflect on Philando Castile and Trayvon Martin, we can share those experiences together. And that’s when we can begin to build sympathy and empathy with one another. That’s something that gets passed down to generations to come.
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Emily Reyst is a senior majoring in professional writing. Outside of writing for ing, she interns for the Broad College of Business marketing team and the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing. She was once hit by an airborne pizza box while driving her moped. Follow her on social media for life updates in real time. Twitter: @accio_avocado Instagram: emilyreyst