Former Kentucky State Juvenile
How do you think Berea’s commitment to interracial education works to serve the Appalachian community or region?
At Berea, I learned there’s no limitation on who I can be useful to. Graduates walk away with this subtle message, believing that we can go to people and ask them, “Do you need some help? Is there something we can do for you?” That response is just natural after you have the Berea experience. I think this happens because the commitments are very intentional and they are strongly related.
When I was a student working with the Upward Bound program, I would go out to student homes. Once, the first time I visited to ask a family to send their kid to a program for high school students, the student was like “well, I don’t know if dad likes black people.” And I said, “Well, that is really good to know going in.” I met the father at the trailer and we sat on the porch. He was distant but I talked to him and told him, “we are here to ask you if you would let your son come and spend the summer with us, because we can really support him and help him to become successful in whatever he wants to do.” He wasn’t sure about it, so I told him I would come back and follow up with him. The next time I came back, he came out on the porch and said “Why don’t you come inside?” I went in, he offered me some lemonade, we talked and did the paperwork and he said that his son could come to the program. When the program started he said, “Hasan, do you know that was the first time that a black person had ever been in my house?” It was because there was a sense that here was this person who had no reason to trust, but I just told him, “my job is the same as yours. I want to make sure that your son, the person you love most in the world, has the ability to do whatever he wants to do.” I think that one thing Berea college does well is we have the ability to change people one heart at a time and I think that is where interracial education and service come together so uniquely here and it becomes the olive branch that we give into the community that creates this sense that there is more to it.
People who are new to the college ask about its mission: Is it serving Appalachia, or is it interracial education or is it service to the community or is it faith, is it labor? And the reason I think Berea is so unique and so powerful in what it potentially produces in young people is that it has had the ability, at least until now, to say “no, the Great Commitments are all equally important. We don’t put one above the other because they weave together.” This makes a strong fabric, one strand doesn’t do it. You have to have all of them. This situation creates this perfect storm of opportunity for young people who are not supposed to have it. That accelerates the ability for our students to walk out of here and into the bigger world and not just to survive, but to thrive, and to be impactful. We have a history of that.