Lees-McRae hosts discussion panel to celebrate local African American history

Black History Month is all about celebrating, honoring, and learning more about African American history, especially the history that is often overlooked. This is the goal of the college’s upcoming discussion panel, “The Black Experience in the High Country and at Lees-McRae.”

The panel will take place on Friday, Feb. 25 from 7−9 p.m. in Evans Auditorium, and will feature three speakers closely connected to the area: senior Destiny Johnson, alumnus Lepreece Lynch ’18, and Junaluska community descendant Nicholas Byers.

“I wanted there to be different experiences represented,” Charles Gibson, chief diversity officer, said. “That’s how I ended up with the student experience, the alum experience to give historical perspective on the student experience, and the experience of someone whose family has been here for generations to provide the local experience.”

Although each panelist has spent time living in the High Country, they will all provide a unique perspective to the African American experience in the area.

Johnson is an Elementary Education major and basketball player who moved to the High Country to pursue her degree. Lynch, a passionate Bobcat, worked with the town and local law enforcement to organize the first formal protest against racial injustice in Banner Elk’s history in 2019. Byers grew up in Boone and hopes to one day make a documentary about Junaluska, a community that his ancestors settled more than 100 years ago.

Although each panelist comes from a different background, they all share a love of the High Country, a passion for discussing their experiences here, and a desire to strengthen their community.

“We are walking Black history every day, but I also believe that we must actively do our research, actively be a part of some type of community, and actively teach the youth,” Byers said. “Us as Black people have overcome horrendous things, and I just want the students, and anybody that comes, to really understand the importance of being active, not passive.”

Gibson says that this panel is one important step in the right direction toward actively highlighting and understanding the Black students on campus who have long called for change.

“The majority of the people here will never understand what it’s like to walk into a classroom and be the only person of a different race there,” Johnson said. “That stigma of not working hard, or being lazy, or being ghetto is already put on you as soon as you walk through the door. You haven’t opened your mouth or said a word, but people already think that about you.”

Gibson hopes the panel will provide an opportunity for stories like these to be shared, and be a space to reflect on local history and honor the sacrifices that past activists made in the name of progress.

“I really want to stress the importance of community, but also being okay with being out of place. Our ancestors felt it more than we did, but we are their descendants,” Byers said. “Their will, their joy is in us. That is in our blood and coursing through our veins, and I’m really grateful and really proud of where I come from and how it molded me into the man I am today.”

The event is being hosted by W.O.K.E. (Wearing Our Culture Eminently), a student-led club on campus that empowers, educates, and creates community among the college’s African American students, and will be sponsored by the college’s Office of Inclusive Excellence.

The panel is open to the public, and students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members are encouraged to attend and learn more about local Black history, and the African American experience in the High Country.

By Maya JarrellFebruary 16, 2022
Campus LifeCommunity