State of the Black Union Address touches on improvement, innovation, unity

State of the Black Union Address touches on improvement, innovation, unity
Jake Howell / Alabama Crimson White

The Black Student Union hosted the State of the Black Union address on Thursday in the Ferguson Center Ballroom.

To the music of "Hold On (Change is Comin'), a slideshow played depicting peaceful protests held in support of Civil Rights that dated as far back to the 1960s, and as recently as last semester on The University of Alabama campus.

So started the night of the State of the Black Union Address on Thursday. Hosted by the Black Student Union and co-sponsored by University Programs, the event was held in the Ferguson Student Center Ballroom which was decorated with photographs of famous Black leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Vivian Malone, the first black woman to famously attend the University in 1963 alongside James Hood, ending Governor George Wallace’s inaugural promise of “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Brian Pleasant, a professor at Alabama State University and pastor, took the stage as the keynote speaker. He addressed change in the Black community, celebrating the improvement brought about by civil rights campaigns, but speaking on the need for further improvement.

“Pioneer something that does not exist,” Pleasant said, advocating that all Black students aim to be two steps ahead of the competition.“What you’ve got to do is set yourself apart from everybody else, it’s no longer okay for you to be average."

“I became the youngest, first black navigator on the ship I was on at the age of 24,” Pleasant said.

His advocacy for Black excellence was rooted in his short but trying past. Pleasant, not yet 40, spoke of the trials he faced that made him who he is today. In addition to being in prison in Montgomery for a year, his release from prison landed him in financial hot water.

Just nine years ago, Pleasant was homeless. During that time, he met his wife as a waiter in a local restaurant, and though living in poverty was able to attain a second graduate degree and then a doctorate.

“We have to have a certain tenacity so that we can take over and move forward,” Pleasant said. “Because of what you’ve been through, because of what you’re going to go through, you can have something called wisdom.”

Darnell Sharperson is a member of the Black Student Union and a freshman majoring in public relations. Sharperson said the address was a time for the Black Student Union and other minorities to reflect on gains made as well as to focus on new goals.

“I definitely think we have to start focusing more on intersectionality, and really look deeper into diversity," Sharperson said. "We have to figure out sexuality, background, ways of life, any type of things that make us different and that goes into diversity, not just our skin color."

Pleasant advocated that Black students be supportive of each other rather than create divisions. Claiming that he grew up in a time of more unity in the Black community, Pleasant said the most important thing for students to do was to help others.

“Use your position to affect change for somebody else,” Pleasant said. “If you don’t have that mindset that ‘I’m going to be in this position so I can help somebody else,’ you have a piss-poor mentality.”

The Black Student Union is also hosting more events during the remainder of Black History Month. On Saturday, University Programs will partner with the Black Student Union again for a civil rights trail excursion, exploring locations in Tuscaloosa with historic meaning to the struggle for civil rights in Alabama.

For more information on this and other Black Student Union events, readers can follow their twitter @UABSU.  

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