Prior leader sets sights on revival

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

The organization that has been an integral part in organizing events for Black History Month and providing students with support is emerging from another lapse of inactivity.

Contra Costa College’s Black Student Union presidential candidate DeAndre Russell said he is planning to reestablish the club for a second time in 18 months.

Russell said he stepped away from his position as president during the spring semester to cope with a death in his immediate family while meeting his academic and athletic commitments.  

“February is almost over — and I hate that we didn’t do a lot for Black History Month,” Russell said. “I don’t want to start up the BSU just to have it stop again. (The BSU) won’t have events this month but once we have our first meeting in March we should get going and plan events throughout the year.”

BSU adviser and African-American studies department Chairperson Carolyn Hodge said the annual Talking Drum in the African World Community was canceled due to seismic retrofit project in the Knox Center.

While she said there are other events being hosted by other departments celebrating African and African-American history, it was difficult to find a replacement event of that scale without an active BSU.   

Inter Club Council President Safi Ward-Davis said while the BSU is not the only club doing something for Black History Month, not having access to the Knox Center hinders the club because it usually hosts three or four events.

Russell said he has not confirmed a time and place for the club’s first meeting with Hodge. 

But he said he has spoken with students and has a small group to meet the five-member requirement and start spreading information about the first meeting. 

“I know some people who are interested, who have ideas and who want to keep organizing events — but we need to focus on getting (the BSU) going first,” Russell said.

History professor Manu Ampim was co-adviser for the BSU before he went on his sabbatical at the start of the fall semester.

Ampim said all the former club members from the spring semester either transferred to a four-year or quit for personal reasons. Another election will take place because Russell was BSU president for two semesters.

Ampim said because Russell was involved in starting up the BSU the first time so he has been allowed to run for re-election.

“He was not appointed. He was elected by students,” Ampim said. “So theoretically students could have chosen someone else even though he put forth the effort. And it doesn’t ensure his re-election because effort alone does not entitle someone to be president.”

Ampim said he will not be closely involved with the BSU election while he is on sabbatical, but encourages anyone interested in running for president to consider the responsibilities that come with the position.

He said students who want to become members or hold one of the five executive positions should attend the first meeting to learn about the BSU’s constitution and bylaws, meeting procedure and duties.

The art of compromise

 In fall 2014, the BSU first meeting had a turnout of more than 50 students. But toward the end of the 2015 spring semester there were only four — and by the fall semester it had become completely inactive.

Hodge and Ampim said the club began to fall apart when Russell stepped away from his position to deal with the death of his sister in May.

“What caused the BSU to become inactive was my sister’s passing,” Russell said. “It was hard to deal with so I took some time off and when I came back I had to focus on getting my schoolwork done.”  

Ward-Davis said Russell notified her that the BSU would be unable to attract enough members.

“The BSU last semester did not have enough members because a lot either transferred or just moved on,” Ward-Davis said. “It wasn’t because the BSU missed meetings. (Russell) informed me that it would be inactive.”

Hodge said before it went inactive former BSU Vice President and Treasurer Bridgette Lott was the main student leader helping set up events for Black History Month last year.

“She was a very strong leader and still got her work done as a student,” she said.

Hodge and Ampim said the four other executive members were unable to operate as a club in Russell’s absence because differences of opinion and busy schedules.  

Lott and former BSU Vice President Nakari Syon said their disagreement about how money for the club should be spent and who would step up as a interim leader got in the way of establishing a replacement leader and caused a rift in the club.

Ampim said, “There was conflict. They didn’t have much experience in organizing and being part of a group. They thought everyone was going to always agree with each other as organizers.”

Syon said he designed T-shirts for the BSU and brought in an invoice for about $250 for approval at a meeting, but Lott said the $500 in the general ledger account would be put to better use if it were used to organize more campus events.

Because there were only a few students in the club, votes carried more weight and any absence would limit the ability to vote on action items.

“She had no reason not to, but her opinion was that BSU money could be spent for events,” Syon said. “But what else could be more useful than a visual representation for other students so when we are at events and hosting activities we look like a club.”

While Lott transferred to San Francisco State University, Ampim said Syon quit the BSU because of personal reasons, but did not inform anyone of his decision.  

Lott said she does not remember exactly what it was that created “a lot of tension that affected the leadership roles of the club” but said it was not handled “maturely.”

Russell said, “If (Syon) didn’t quit he could have become president, but because he became the ASU president he can’t run in the BSU election.”  

He said he accepts full responsibility for not being on campus to calm tensions within the group.

“I learned from my mistakes last year,” he said. “I would provide more structure this time by making sure to keep it at one title per member. It will be an upgrade so people don’t bump heads.” 

Russell, Lott and Syon said despite the breakdown in communication last  semester they learned valuable lessons in the art of compromise. 

Ampim said the nature of student activism is conflictual and fluctuates in participation rate. But retaining students at a two-year college club compared to one at a university is difficult.

Students that go to four-year universities usually come from out of town, he said. Because they are not at home they have to become more connected to people through clubs — so they tend to do better and are more consistent in its membership.

“So the best way to bridge one academic semester to the next is by staying connected to advisers,” Ampim said. “It requires close interaction with Hodge and (Russell) to help things move in the BSU.”