Marshall University’s Black Alumni Association helping provide a voice for students, alumni in a challenging world
What does real change look like?
How does it begin?
Does it begin with a tweet? Can it be as simple as correcting a family member or friend after an inappropriate joke? Does change start with a march through the street or a fist raised in solidarity?
Real change begins with the realization that a problem exists. It begins when you pause to listen to the experiences of others. It begins with a simple keystroke or voices raised in unison. It begins with you.
“People who speak up and say something, they don’t understand their impact. They are showing people around them, people that might not think like they do, they are showing them that they stand with people who are going through hardships,” said Harold RaShad Sanders, president of Marshall University’s Black Alumni Association. “It is awesome that people are taking a stand. It shows that you have people that really do care. It shows that some people are willing to put themselves out there for the sake of others. Being silent is probably the worst thing that you can do. If you are silent, and you know better, that doesn’t help anyone.”
There are many important conversations happening in the world today, but one of the most important is the one taking place right now about race. Around the globe, people of all backgrounds are coming together to make their voices heard to combat the ugliness of racism.
Real change is occurring as millions challenge the narrative by taking to the streets in protest. It is taking place virtually through petitions, fundraising and social awareness. It is taking place in the hearts of millions who are waking up to the discrimination and hate that still exists in many parts of our world today.
It is that larger discussion about race that highlights why organizations like Marshall University’s Black Alumni Association (MUBA) is so important today.
MUBA has been a beacon for graduates and students of color for more than four decades. It was organized in 1978 with the sole purpose of bringing together African American graduates for a common goal. Today, MUBA connects students with alumni and provides a place to call home for alumni all across the country.
Having been at the forefront in the battle to end discrimination in the community, MUBA is an important voice on campus and its leadership has provided guidance through the years that has helped shape Marshall’s campus.
MUBA is accomplishing this by encouraging its members to get involved.
Today, MUBA hosts dozens of events throughout the year bringing alumni together to reminisce and enjoy time together. The organization is active with Homecoming, uniting with campus organizations such as the Black United Students, and hosts volunteer and community efforts throughout Huntington. Away from the region, Marshall’s Black Alumni Association has hubs across the country that get together for tailgates and social gatherings.
MUBA is also proud to award two scholarships to students on behalf of Nate Ruffin and Janis Winkfield, and is planning a third scholarship in the name of Fran Jackson.
Recently, the organization elected Harold RaShad Sanders as its 15th president, along with a new, youthful leadership team determined to continue the great work of the leaders of the past, while bringing change and excitement to the collective.
“MUBA is important to me because it gives everyone a sense of pride and heritage. It is encouraging knowing that so many people that have been members of MUBA and its leadership team have been very successful people,” Sanders said. “It gives you a sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself. And as long as MUBA exists, we will always have something to come home to. When it was founded, it was a big deal to have something they could call their own. Something they could have to cherish and look forward to and build up for their community. That was 40 years ago. Now we hope to carry that tradition forward into the future.”
Sanders is a 2007 graduate of Marshall University with a degree in business administration and a focus in management. During his time in Huntington, Sanders was extremely active in many aspects of campus and the community, serving with the Black United Students, acting as president of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and serving as a counselor working with outstanding black high school students. Away from Marshall, Sanders was also active with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, election initiatives and working with youth at local community centers.
After graduation, Sanders worked with underprivileged youth in the community at the Prestera Center before returning to Marshall in 2011. He spent nearly a decade as a purchasing agent, supporting business and research initiatives at the university, before later becoming a contract specialist. In 2019, Sanders left Marshall and took a position at Special Metals.
Sanders is joined by vice-president Shaunte Polk, a 2009 graduate from Beckley, West Virginia, who serves as the Sponsored Program Administrator for Intercultural Affairs overseeing the Center for African American Students and LGBTQ+ offices at Marshall. The leadership team also includes treasurer Christopher Taylor, a 2008 graduate from Keyser, West Virginia, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and works as a CISCO Network Architect for Bank of America, and secretary Deanna Bailey, a 2011 and 2013 graduate and former Marshall tennis player from Atlanta, Georgia, who returned to her home state where she is a buyer for an independent bookstore. The group is focused on expanding the breadth and depth of outreach and success of MUBA.
“Moving forward, we have lots of ideas and changes that we are excited to bring to the table. And we are glad to have the support of former officers. With the transition and the platform that I presented, we will have mentorship from previous leadership which will be key,” Sanders said. “We want to build that bridge and keep that door open. We want everyone to feel like we want them involved. We want to be more visible throughout the year with events on campus or community related. I don’t want it to seem like we are in our own little box over here. That is our goal.”
More than anything, Sanders said he hopes to keep the dialogue open between the alumni organization and current students.
Coming from a community that was largely African American, Sanders admits that Marshall University was very much a culture shock for himself and many others from similar backgrounds. That experience paved the way for Sanders to share his own insight into life on campus to students in similar situations.
“During my undergraduate years, individuals in the community, students from places like D.C. and Columbus, they were mentors to me and guys in my circle. Once those people who do so much work leave, somebody has to be there to pick up the mantle. So we decided to pick up the mantle,” Sanders said. “We felt that, the more involved we were, the more people saw our faces, the more people would be inclined to help in some of the things we do.
“Hanging out in the Center for African American Students, you meet a lot of students, some of which have never traveled more than 40 miles outside of where they lived. Change can be hard for them. Coming to a new place, you may not understand this area. It is different, people don’t look the same as you. You may come from a community where you don’t see people from another race, you don’t know how to interact with people. I always tried to keep myself involved in those areas so I could talk with those kids and mentor them. Believe it or not, being here in Huntington can be a huge culture shock.”
While much change has taken place at Marshall since MUBA was founded, and with a university senior staff currently in place that is open about their disdain for any form of discrimination or racism on campus, Sanders said that there is still work to be done, especially in this current climate.
“What I would like to see from Marshall in the future is an open discussion. Not a sugar-coated discussion, real discussion. I feel until people actually speak on the reality of certain things and how things really are, then we will continue to struggle,” Sanders said. “I feel that Marshall is a good place to open up those discussions. We have people coming here from all over the country, all over the world, and what we say and do can have a huge impact. Marshall’s voice can be so much louder than what we could ever imagine dealing with this. It is disturbing to watch (what has happened). It is all over television, the internet, social media, and I completely agree with President (Jerome) Gilbert and, as president of black alumni, I take a stand along with him against racism, discrimination and hate crimes.
“There are people whose lives are under attack. Until we recognize that as a country, as a world, the problem continues to exist. I encourage others to take a stand against these issues. I encourage people to make their voice be heard. The more people like Dr. Gilbert speak out, the more aware it will make other people that don’t believe the same way that he believes.”
Sanders said that one of the most important ways in which individuals can help in the cause is through education. He said that simply talking to family and friends about the experiences of others can help open a dialog about some of the prejudices that still exist in this country today.
“I think that it is our duty to educate others around us, and that includes friends, family, coworkers, and people that aren’t a part of the minority community,” Sanders said. “Education plays a huge role. Some people just don’t know. Being an African American male, I have experienced different forms of racism. When I moved to West Virginia, it was the first time I was called the n-word. With the platform that we have now, it is as important as ever to speak out. These kids are listening and they are our future.”
While MUBA has helped provide a platform for open dialogue for many years, now is as important a time as ever to stand up and speak out. And that is something Sanders said he has been very proud to see in recent weeks.
Students, faculty, staff and alumni of Marshall have participated in peaceful protests – both in Huntington and around the country – and been visible on social media about the need for change.
“I think that with Marshall’s sons and daughters speaking up, it shows a great deal about the character and the types of people that are employed at the university and the type of culture and environment that we present to our students, faculty and staff,” Sanders said. “It shows you the family aspect of our university that you might not see other places. People’s eyes are open and they are watching what we do, so it is important we do what is right.”
And Sanders said that there is no better place for that conversation to happen than at Marshall. He sees his alma mater as the perfect backdrop to make meaningful change that paves the way for a world without racism.
“People can’t do better until they know better,” Sanders said. “I am looking forward to Marshall being a trailblazer in that aspect on that platform here in our community, statewide, and nationally. With the type of people that we have here, anything is possible.”