Thursday, December 5, 2019

From Tougaloo and UNCF-Mellon to SIUE

Rae'Jean Alford delivers student address at Black Graduation ceremony 

In October 2016, at a UNCF-Mellon meeting, two literature professors -- Ebony Lumumba and Miranda Freeman -- from Tougaloo College informed me that they had identified "the" student for our graduate program at SIUE to recruit. I'm always bugging Lumumba and Freeman about sending me one of their top students. Her name's "Rae'Jean Spears," I was told, and they'd put me in touch with her.

Two-and-a-half years later and Rae'Jean (Spears) Alford was delivering the student address at our black graduation ceremony. The time has flown by. Rae'Jean was just doing her visit in spring of 2017, at SIUE, and now, she's completed her master's thesis on novelist Jesmyn Ward.

As an undergraduate at Tougaloo, Rae'Jean was an English major and UNCF-Mellon Fellow. Many years ago, I had traveled a similar path as an English major and UNCF-Fellow at Tougaloo.

Rae'Jean is a wonderful multi-direction thinker. Over the last two years, she's engaged me in so many different conversations. African American literature. HBCUs. National politics. Mississippi and the South. Education. Memes on Twitter. In a single brief conversation, she'd move from laughing to getting really serious back to laughing to raising questions to changing her mind and coming back with more questions. Again, a wonderfully multi-directional thinker.

The UNCF-Mellon program bestowed me with many gifts over the years. But who knew that one of those gifts would come by way of Tougaloo's Lumumba and Freeman sending us this vibrant emergent scholar?

Rae’Jean Spears: Notes on the first semester
Rae'Jean Spears: the critical facilitator and conversationalist
A notebook of entries by Rae'Jean Spears

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