“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.”
I am proud of my success because it does not belong to me alone. It belongs to the
ancestors on whose shoulders I stand, and it belongs to the future generations that
will follow me. I have worked very hard to establish myself as a leader who uses empathy
and compassion to guide my walk and fuel my work. I have learned much over the nearly
30 years I’ve spent in higher education and I know that each of those lessons became
building blocks in my success. The Black excellence that is synonymous with my personal
and professional brand is built upon the foundation my elders paved and the legacy
my children inherited.
As a Black woman of African descent, my cultural heritage is a great source of pride and helps me to define excellence daily. It is because of the sheer greatness of my people that I have come to understand what it means to persevere despite the odds. I know that success to me may not necessarily be success to someone else. As the Negro Spiritual says, “If I can help somebody … then my living will not be in vain,” and then, and only then, may I count myself truly successful. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had to demonstrate and encourage excellence. I imagine that I am the dream of my ancestors and the evidence of their tenacity and determination. My success was predestined and cannot be contained in the accumulation of material goods. I am proud of my success because it represents the progress of my people generations past, present and future.
When I think about all of the things I have been blessed to achieve in my life, things like a doctorate degree from Washington State University in 2006, while also working full-time with a family, I am grateful. I am humbled and I am hopeful. I truly see my success as a point for the next generation to surpass. I know that my success provides a path for my children and their children’s children. I know that I am an example and a guide for Isaiah, Kayla, Destiny and Jacqueline, as well the many young hearts I have encouraged over the years.
I am proud of my success because I know that my late mother, Jaqueline Annette Jones Murray, and my other ancestors would be proud of my success. I believe they would be very pleased to know that I was walking in my purpose and being a lighthouse for those who need that support. I am not saying that I have all the answers to helping people. I don’t believe that I do. But I do believe that I have the ability to understand and to become a bridge to better as shown by the work that I have done up to this point in my success story.
Success is not easily achieved, and I acknowledge the difficulties and the scars of success. There have been times in my life as an educator and as a person where I wondered if being successful was even worth it. There were moments when success seemed too far a reach. It was in those moments that I found the courage to reach toward success in the knowledge of my own history. My mother was from Memphis. Her sisters heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech. My father was born in Birmingham and was childhood friends with a sister in the church bombing that killed five little girls. I was born in Tuskegee, Alabama because my parents were students and graduated from Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). I am from registering people to vote in the heat and the heart of the resistance. I am from pastors for generations on one side of my family, and Baptist Training Union and church congress every summer on the other side. I am from a distinguished Tuskegee Airman and hall of fame award winner, the Reverend Dr. Samuel Joseph Murray. I am from writers, artists, actors, entrepreneurs and healers. The list goes on for miles. My aunties were the guidance counselors, and my cousins were the teachers, as well as the janitors. I am from, what I could call, a privileged life of being in the military, attending good schools, having lots of opportunities, being grateful and then making the most of it. I am making it the best way we could. My success comes from a place that didn’t have an option.
I am from a place where success is non-negotiable. I am.
One thing I can say for sure, I'm proud of my success because … “it is intentional and it belongs to my people.”