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The black Fantastic text with brown background

“The Black Fantastic” is a project the University Communications and Marketing team created as a means to highlight excellence among a few of WCU’s Black faculty and staff members. As we celebrate Black History Month, this is an artistic and creative look at some of the people who are helping to shape and mentor the great minds of the future. In their own words, each was asked to respond to the phrase, “I am proud of my success because …” The title “The Black Fantastic” was chosen by the participants and stems from Richard Iton’s book, “In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era.”

As Munene Mwaniki, WCU associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, explains, “The book broadly discusses the contemporary and lingering political problems facing Black America since the landmark Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. Though still widely heralded, the Civil Rights era did not result in a restructuring of American politics, rather it found that the foundational aspects of U.S. politics had certain, if flexible, limits towards social change. In the decades that followed, Black entrance into the political sphere not only failed in many respects, but also led to a number of compromises that constrained Black political thought and attempted to separate Black political thought from its long relationship with Black popular culture. For Iton, the Black Fantastic represents a challenge, a destabilizing force, to the status quo that seeks to limit and constrain Black creativity and politics. It is a pushing of boundaries, a grasping and claiming of space, beyond those limits that only appear to be concrete in order to create something new, something human. The Black Fantastic here, then, should be seen as unconventional, with sense towards ignored or underdeveloped possibilities for those considered Black in the U.S. and throughout the Black diaspora.”

Benny Smith - Executive Director of Communications

Benny Smith

I’m proud of my success because I am deliberate in using the investment of time and energy that a community of people have given me throughout my life to make a lasting impact in the lives of others.

Like my Jewish neighbor in Hendersonville who constantly challenged my way of thinking to grow, or the former University of North Carolina at Asheville professor Cathy Mitchell, who took nothing less than excellence when writing and submitting a news article for her class. These are moments that helped to shape the person I am today.

As we celebrate Black History Month 2022, I reflect on what it is like being a Black man in America today and what is my responsibility to the community. Racism, although not as overt, still exists in many forms.

But then the bigger question for me is how am I becoming part of the solution? How am I helping people who may not have as much interaction with us as Black men to understand that some of the negative media and cultural entertainment depictions of us are false? We are strong, smart, attentive, community-minded and yes, we care about ALL people.

As an adjunct college instructor of about 35 students, I repeatedly hear, “You are the first Black male teacher I have ever had, even throughout public school.” I realize that this is my one chance to make a lasting impact on them and maybe show them something different than what they may perceive us to be.

I own that challenge by just being me, the human me. Over the last 15 years, this has resulted in numerous students attaining their doctoral degrees and landing jobs such as fashion designers, teachers and even a social media director with a lucrative career. My success comes from seeing the impact I have made on others because they are claiming their stake in making life not only better for themselves, but their communities.

So, to the aunt who taught me how to read at 4, the athletic trainer who took me from being able to only lift 20 pounds to winning 10 bodybuilding competition awards, the group of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers for giving me the needed collegial and professional support and former longtime educator and university president, Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy, who pushed me to get my master’s degree and accreditation in public relations.

THANK YOU. You helped to make me fantastic!

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