I recently read a beautiful, brief essay by Dr. Shayla Griffin, co-founder and facilitator in the Justice Leaders Collaborative, entitled “A reflection on the significance of Black History Month.” She confirms this is a time to recognize the significant impact African Americans have had across disciplines in the United States and the world, particularly as these stories and experiences were often absent from our learning in literature, math, science, law, political science, and every other area of our educational systems. She shares that “Black History Month provides the nation with an opportunity to hear the voices and experiences of people who have historically been oppressed, ignored, marginalized and overlooked in our country.” Beyond these aims, she contextualizes this reflection for us with actionable ways to create belonging and focus on purpose to honor this month of celebration in our daily lives:

Black History Month is not just a time to celebrate Black Americans who have paved the way for us all to thrive, it is also a time to consider how we can create more justice in our daily lives and institutions. How can we help schools become places in which all the students we serve, especially African American students, thrive? How can we make sure that all families, especially those from Black American backgrounds, feel welcome in our classrooms and buildings? How can we support educators from all racial backgrounds in developing their personal knowledge and awareness of the contributions of Black Americans so that they can teach the diverse students they serve more accurately? How can we create office environments in which the people sitting in the cubicle next to us from backgrounds that have historically been marginalized feel valued? 

Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926 initiated by Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian who helped establish the field of African American studies and formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH). Woodson’s goal was to inspire people to learn about the Black experience regardless of their ethnicity, race, or social background. He became known as the “father of Black history:”

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”

― Carter G. Woodson

Negro History Week expanded to become Black History Month in the 1960s as protests of racial injustice took place across America through “the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity.”  President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, fifty years after Carter G. Woodson’s vision was born. In his Message on the Observance of Black History Month, in February of 1976, President Ford urges all Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

In the World Economic Forum Article, “Black History Month: What is it and why do we need it?”Alem Tedeneke notes we not only celebrate Black achievement, but the month-long observance helps us “take stock of where systemic racism persists and gives visibility to the people and organizations creating change.”

Throughout our work in Purpose and Belonging, we have consistently seen research on the impact of these constructs on student success, and particularly for persons of color. Our speakers have highlighted the importance of creating a sense of belonging in our academic communities, but also the role ‘purpose’ plays in student persistence and completion.

One of our future Purpose and Belonging speakers Johnella Butler, Professor Emerita, Comparative Women’s Studies, Spelman College – Atlanta, Georgia; Former Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Spelman College; Founding Executive Leadership Academy Alumni, in the summer of 2021 wrote Teaching after the Insurrection -Belonging and othering in the classroom. She speaks about the roots of othering and belonging in the country’s legacies of slavery and ongoing systemic injustices and the importance of faculty development grounded in history and current social justice frameworks: 

Johnella Butler

“Despite our efforts to increase diversity, inclusion, and student success, we in higher education have not done enough to help our students understand our nation’s complex history and the ways democracy works for some and not others. Questions of belonging and othering simmer in discussions of slavery, the Trail of Tears, hate crimes, and police brutality. When we fail to study such topics in their historical context, students of color can feel angry, stereotyped, and othered. White students can feel misplaced guilt and also displaced, seeing themselves as victims of diversity. When, for example, we teach White privilege outside the context of systemic injustices, we obscure the classed historical experiences of poor Whites and the racialized historical experiences of Italian, Irish, Jewish, and other Americans.”

In our November 10, 2021 Purpose and Belonging (P&B) blog on “Tech and Distance Education toward Purpose and Belonging,” we shared an August 2021 article in Computer Weekly that noted, “around 75% of minority tech employees don’t feel a sense of belonging at work,” explaining the research highlights the disconnect between the perceptions of employees and leadership about this issue in tech firms.

In the October 1, 2021 P&B Blog, we also shared a Study International article, “Here’s why a sense of belonging in college matters more than you think,” to highlight that fostering a sense of belonging helps improve academic outcomes, health outcomes, and engagement with students. On the opposite spectrum, “Failing to feel a strong sense of belonging on campus can impact how underrepresented student populations integrate, perform and persist.”

Myra Laldin, a researcher for Research Schools International at Harvard Graduate School of Education, speaks to the psychology of belonging and why it matters. She shares the correlation between academic performance, dropout rates, and motivation to feelings of belonging:

“When we find ourselves in situations where we are the “out-group” or in an environment in which we feel like an outsider, we use our mental energy to monitor for threats, leaving fewer resources for higher cognitive processes. When students feel as if they don’t belong in a school setting, the cognitive energy that should be used on social engagement and learning is being used to scan for group barriers, discrimination and stereotypes.”

As this month of celebration, reflection, and honoring extraordinary black Americans who have shaped our past, present, and future comes to a close, we know that the ties to purpose and belonging in pathways to social justice are ongoing throughout the year. This is particularly important to ensure a diverse workforce and to support our students entering the workforce.

“The equality in political, industrial and social life which modern men must have in order to live is not to be confounded with sameness. On the contrary, in our case, it is rather insistence upon the right of diversity; – upon the right of a human being to be a man even if he does not wear the same cut of vest, the same curl of hair or the same color of skin. Human equality does not even entail, as it is sometimes said, absolute equality of opportunity; for certainly the natural inequalities of inherent genius and varying gift make this a dubious phrase. But there is more and more clearly recognized minimum of opportunity and maximum of freedom to be, to move and to think, which the modern world denies to no being which it recognizes as a real man.”

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Be the Change

In 2020, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a congressionally mandated report on the Condition of Education 2020 to help policymakers and the public monitor educational progress of all students from Pre-K through postsecondary education in the United States. A summary provided through the National School Boards Association focusing on the state of education for Black students highlighted significant ongoing challenges and noted that transformational change will require true commitment and deep-rooted purpose by all stakeholders to address:

  • The poverty rate is still the highest for Black students.
  • A lack of internet access at home has become a barrier for Black students to learn.
  • A high percentage of Black students attend high-poverty schools.
  • More Black students with disabilities receive services for emotional disturbances.
  • The disproportion between Black students and Black teachers has not been improved.
  • The achievement gap between Black and white students has not been closed.
  • School dropout rate keeps high among Black students.
  • Graduation rates and college enrollment rates remain low among Black students.

Graph: Percentage of 8th grade students who performed at or above  Proficient, by subjects, Black vs. white students

Source: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/?src=ft

The February 2022 Factsheet on Black Students in Higher Education from the Postsecondary National Policy Institute highlights the gains made by Black students in enrollment, but the degree attainment gap remains. Below are a few highlights, and more details can be found on the Factsheet Webpage.  


  • Between 2000 and 2010, total Black undergraduate enrollment increased by 73% (from 1.5 million students to 2.7 million). However, between 2009 and 2019, the number of Black undergraduates who enrolled right after high school decreased from 2.5 million students to 2.1 million students
  • Of the 16.6 million total undergraduate students enrolled in the Fall of 2019, Black students made up 2.1 million students of the undergraduate population (12.7%), but they were not equally represented at different institution types.



  • 72% of Black students received Pell Grants in 2015-16, compared with 34% of white students. The average award for Black students was $5,000.

Along with other institutions of higher education in the country, graduation and success rates for Black students attending Austin Community College (ACC) remain among the lowest of all ethnic groups according to the 2020-2021 Student Success Report.

Disparate outcomes have multiple causes. One factor to consider is differences in initial student intent with fewer Black students focusing on transfer.  

Room for improvement with large transfer rate gaps among Hispanic (34%) and Black (36%) students compared to overall (43%).

ACC Efforts Intended to Dismantle the Barriers  

Gains are being made through focused programs across ACC that support students and faculty in reaching equitable outcomes through inclusive programs and belonging. These efforts include Culturally Responsive Teaching, unique programs with wrap-around support and resources like BRASS, integration of disaggregated measures for areas across the College, and ensuring Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) are foundational to our mission, vision, values, and purpose at the institution. Examples of these programs and efforts are listed here:  

BRASS | Austin Community College District

To develop a strategy for change, the Black Student Success Committee was formed, and in the summer of 2020 the BRASS program was launched (Black Representation of Achievement Through Student Support). BRASS supports the unique needs and interests of students in higher education striving to create a family of learners by offering a safe place for students to share their experiences and ideas. The program provides students with an opportunity to participate in focused and relevant workshops and information sessions covering topics across the institution, work directly with college or career mentors, and take part in career development and job fairs.  Benefits of BRASS include:

  • Unique scholarship opportunities
  • Guided tours of four-year colleges
  • Personalized university-transfer support
  • Leadership and mentoring opportunities
  • Culturally relevant workshops, milestone celebrations, and more!

The BRASS Roland Hayes Inaugural Cohort supported approximately 250 students in its first year. New BRASS cohorts will be named after a phenomenal ACC student support advocate, past and present, each year.

The retention rate for the BRASS Roland Hayes Cohort from fall 2020 to spring 2021 was 90%.

ACC African-American Cultural Center 

The African-American Cultural Center at the Eastview Campus strives to increase understanding in the ACC and Central Texas communities of the culture, history, and contributions of African-Americans. The African-American Cultural Center offers many opportunities:

  • A comfortable academic environment as students pursue their educational goals
  • A respect for, knowledge of, and appreciation for their heritage
  • Opportunities for faculty members to increase their awareness of and sensitivity to cultural dynamics
  • Mentoring
  • Retention activities

African and African Diaspora Studies – Interdisciplinary Studies

The African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) program provides an opportunity for students to engage in focused studies across multiple academic disciplinary areas. This program focuses on the intellectual, historical, political, artistic, religious, scientific, economic, and sociocultural experiences of people of African descent. Within the program, students can enroll in a variety of specified general education course sections developed with an added emphasis on the people of Africa and/or the African diaspora. Additionally, the program draws on the theories and methodologies that will provide a foundation for students to continue their studies in a comparable AADS program at a four-year institution.

AADS focus examines the diversity, complexity, and interdependence of the world community. It also provides a broad knowledge base for understanding and analyzing various topics relative to the diverse communities in Africa and the African diaspora.

Corey Greathouse

Corey Greathouse is the Department Coordinator of American Studies and Associate Professor of English at ACC. He is currently completing his doctoral studies at the University of Texas, San Antonio.  Greathouse’s research interests are in American Literature with an emphasis on nineteenth-century African American Literature and Life Writing, College Rhetoric and Composition, and Diversity Studies. Greathouse also has a Master of Arts in literature from Texas State University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Huston-Tillotson University

A LibGuide available through ACC Libraries and managed by Faculty Librarian and Assistant Professor Jorge López-McKnight has been developed for African and African Diaspora Studies – Interdisciplinary Studies

Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Center (TRHT)

From the TRHT Website: The Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center (TRHT) at ACC is a partnership with our community to build cross-racial relationships that lead to racial healing and an exploration of ways to transform the College and community for greater inclusion and equity.

ACC is one of 10 colleges and universities nationwide, and the first community college, to be named a campus center in a multi-year initiative to educate, prepare, and inspire the next generation of leaders to break down racial hierarchies. Together, we are changing the racial narrative in Central Texas.

  • Truth: To create and distribute new complex and complete narratives that can influence people’s perspectives, perceptions, and behaviors about and toward one another.
  • Racial Healing: To heal a societal racial divide requires recognition of the need to acknowledge the wrongs of the past while addressing the consequences of those wrongs.
  • Transformation: To embrace racial healing and uproot the conscious and unconscious belief in a hierarchy of human value that limits equal access to education, employment, housing, and health care.

For each of the last five years in January, Austin Community College District (ACCD) has convened students, faculty, staff, and community partners for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Week. In 2022, TRHT Week 2022, which ran Monday, January 17 through Friday, January 21, included events such as workshops, film screenings, and racial healing circles. These events, and the relationships they seeded are meant to heal wounds the community may be feeling towards racial, gender, and equality issues. 

Events are held in more than a dozen locations around the region, including public libraries, public schools, community centers, city parks, recreation facilities, and ACC campuses.

ACC Celebrates Black History Month

From the Webpage: “February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of the accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans to culture, society, and community. Austin Community College District (ACC) welcomes students, employees, and the community to commemorate the month through a series of hybrid and virtual events.

This year’s theme is ‘Black Health and Wellness: To Infinity & Beyond.’ All events are sponsored by the College, the ACC Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Center, and the ACC African-American Cultural Center. They are free and open to the community.”

Juneteenth @ ACC 

From the ACC Juneteenth Website: “The event commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in America. For many years, the African American Cultural Center at ACC has been heading up the programming and logistics for the community-wide Juneteenth celebration. The work of ACC faculty and staff such as Professor Roland Hayes, Wanda Alexander, Phylis Clark, Loretta Edelen, and more have shown that not only this day is important but that Black people matter. Others like Darrell Merriweather in Advising have been helping in the planning and execution of Black cultural programming for 4+ years.

Juneteenth, before 2020 and Covid, was usually a large celebration that tore through the streets on the Eastside of Austin with vigor and grace. All community members were welcomed to the Eastview campus to partake in various activities like dunk tanks, musical performances, outdoor basketball, lawn games, cultural awareness talks, speeches, informational events, and more! Breaking the chains of slavery and breaking the narratives and stereotypes of Black people have always been the goal for the workers at the African American Cultural Center. And, this particular celebration was an annual culmination of that work and love for the culture.”

Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education (TABPHE)

From the TABPHE Website: “Since 1973, the Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education has been a dynamic organization which provides a statewide vehicle for a diverse, multicultural workforce to learn, share, direct, lead, and influence our educational system.

As rich as the organization is in resources, it is also rich in history. The founders of this great organization had a vision to formally organize an association to promote, maintain, and assure the development and growth of African Americans in the educational process.”

This year TABPHE will hold its 49th Annual State Conference, Feb. 28-March 2, 2022 in Austin, Texas, and Austin Community College will be a key supporter of this event in addition to the participation of several members from ACC.” 

ACC Articulation Agreements with Historically Black Colleges and Universities(HBCU)

ACC currently has articulation agreements for transfer degrees with HBCUs Huston-Tillotson University and Prairie View A&M. We are also collaborating to develop articulation agreements with Texas Southern University and Wiley College.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Office and Leadership

In 2020, ACC named Larry M. Davis as the College’s new Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CEDIO). Larry Davis serves on the President’s Cabinet and works hand-in-hand with the ACC Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centerto build and expand ACC initiatives with our internal and external community. 

From the ACC announcement in June 2020: “Mr. Davis has a rich history working with diverse student populations and most recently served dual roles as Chief Diversity Officer and Director of Student Success at Texas A&M University – Central Texas (TAMU-CT). He also has served as a guidance counselor, vocational rehabilitation counselor and caseworker, retention coordinator, and disability accommodations specialist. Davis has a bachelor’s degree in business education/physical education from Baylor University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Tarleton State University. He also holds licenses as a Certified Advanced Family Mediator and as a Certified Gallup Strengths Coach.”

“I feel humbled and honored to be entrusted with the opportunity to join the ACC family in their continued efforts to do what may have in the past appeared impossible to achieve — creating a culture of equity and inclusion where race, ethnicity, gender, and other human differences are no longer predictors of success. Nelson Mandela said, ‘It always seems impossible until it is done,'” says Davis. “I am excited to work collaboratively with and to labor intentionally alongside faculty, staff, students, and administrators to plan and develop the infrastructure for equity, diversity, and inclusion to meet the continued needs of the campus community.”

ACC Equity Council 

From the Equity Council Webpage: “The Equity Council collaborates with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as the Campus Center for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) to fulfill the district’s mission of building capacity to achieve equity in student enrollment, persistence, and completion as well as equity in the hiring and staffing of ACC employees. The Equity Council will work collaboratively with the ACC Employee Associations and serve as an advisory group to the Chancellor and the Chancellor’s Cabinet.”

EDI Mini-Grants

For innovative projects, workshops, and activities that promote excellence in equity, inclusion, and diversity not addressed or limited for consideration by other existing campus resources, the Equity Council will consider financial assistance for grant proposals in the amount of $500 – $2,500.

Examples, including but not limited to, purposes mini-grants can address:

  • Guest speakers on a diversity topic.
  • Special program(s) intended to increase respect for diversity and individual differences.
  • Equipment or other material items used to support under-represented or under-served groups.
  • Projects to enhance and support the recruitment, retention, and development of a diverse full-time faculty and staff.
  • Events that expand the inclusion of issues related to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs.

TLED Equity Certificate

This certification, developed by TLED’s Faculty Development team in collaboration with ACC’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, is focused on equity frameworks, practices, and strategies to support faculty in their teaching and learning. Each session is offered several times throughout the semester and both faculty and staff are invited to attend.

Voices Under Equity – Channel 19 ACCTV

From the Announcement Webpage: “Austin Community College District (ACC) has launched a new television show on ACCTV to highlight the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work happening at the college. Hosted by ACC Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Larry Davis, Voices Under Equity features interviews with ACC faculty and staff and testimonials from students.”

The concept for the show evolved from an idea Davis had to develop short videos that showcase the people and work happening at ACC that promote the College’s DEI initiatives. After consulting with the Office of College Relations & Marketing and the ACCTV team, it grew into a full series.

The Voices Under Equity series premiered on ACCTV in November 2021 and featured Dr. Samuel Echevarria-Cruz, ACC’s newly named Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Instruction. 

The Art Galleries at Austin Community College –  Art Department 

To find ways to function in contemporary society, many people of color feel compelled to alter, contort, or change their identities. This exhibition brings together the work of Bárbara Miñarro and Dave McClinton, two Central Texas artists with artistic practices that explore themes of race and equity in America. Through their artworks, they explore the body in space and how an awareness of physical stress on the human form can symbolize the challenges wrought by discrimination and injustice. This exhibition is a collaboration with the Truth, Racial Healing, & Transformation Center at ACC and the Arts and Digital Media Division.

Opportunities for Engagement, Learning, and/or Reflection in ATX and beyond

The Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce

Founded by 11 community, political, and business leaders within Austin, the organization was established to bring awareness to the enormous amount of dollars generated from Black consumers in the form of travel and tourism within the goal of providing economic prosperity for African American businesses and the general Greater Austin region.

Black-Owned Businesses to Support in Austin

If you’re looking to make a tangible impact in the local fight for justice and equality, consider supporting these Black-Owned Businesses in Austin.

List of 109 African American Museums Across the US – The African American museums in the United States focus mainly on the history and culture of the African American people. The museums were created with a mission of collecting and preserving African-derived culture and history. The Collage Museum was the first African American museum in the US, established in 1868 in Hampton, Virginia. Today, there are 109 such museums across the country.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

African American Museum of Dallas

Parks and Monuments across US with Significance to Black history

Texas African American History Memorial

America ReFramed: Fannie Lou Hamer’s America


An Austin-based CDFI, BigAustin has been at the intersection of economic and community development in Central Texas for nearly three decades. Focused on a combination of small business and workforce development efforts, they provide solutions and create financial strength for women, minorities, and clients facing systemic inequalities. They remain proudly committed to building healthy, sustainable communities and value efforts that lead to the creation of equitable economic participation.

Together We Can Make a Difference

In my research on Purpose closing out 2021, I found that Nia (Purpose) is the fifth principle of the Black Value System Nguzo Saba, the cornerstone of Kwanzaa. Nia focuses on the social purpose as the highest form of personal purpose that not only benefits the community, but also creates a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment to a person’s life. According to the Official Kwanzaa Website:

“…a commitment to the collective vocation of building, developing and defending our community, its culture and history in order to regain our historical initiative and greatness as a people and add to the good and beauty in the world. The assumption here is that our role in human history has been and remains a key one; that we as an African people share in the great human legacy Africa has given the world. That legacy is one of having not only been the fathers and mothers of humanity, but also the fathers and mothers of human civilization, i.e., having introduced in the Nile Valley civilizations some of the basic disciplines of human knowledge. It is this identity which gives us an overriding cultural purpose and suggests a direction.”

ACC has made a commitment to greater equity in our student success outcomes, and we must continue the critical work, courageous conversations, and focused efforts to address systemic bias in our curriculum, teaching and learning spaces, employment and workplace culture, support services for students and employees, and all other areas of higher education we touch.

As we reflect on Black History Month, we should continue to celebrate the contribution of Black Americans and also reflect on what we can do personally to address the effect of historical bias, racism, and marginalization of Black America and other people of color to create systems of belonging with purpose towards social justice.

“The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.”

W. E. B. Dubois


In shared purpose and belonging,

Dr. Susan Thomason, Associate Vice Chancellor of Teaching and Learning Excellence 

in collaboration with 

Terry Barksdale, Professor and Reference Librarian

Are you harnessing the power of purpose and belonging in your work at ACC?

We’d love to hear from you! Contact <TLEDcomms@austincc.edu for opportunities to be featured on our website and blog.