Monday, February 24, 2020

The Department Chair as Connector: Ebony Lumumba

You ever been a room with Tougaloo English department chair Ebony Lumumba? If you have, you already know that not long into the conversation, she's talking to you about ways that you might collaborate to make opportunities happen with one of her English majors.

About four years ago, Lumumba pulled me aside and told me about a student she had that she wanted to apply to our graduate program. Lumumba began offering a verbal recommendation for the student, Rae'Jean (Spears) Alford. It worked out. Rae'Jean completed her studies here in December and was the black graduation speaker.

One of the lessons that Lumumba provides is what it means for a department chair to serve as a connector, in this case, someone working to link students to various professionals and opportunities.
Connectors, explained Malcolm Gladwell in his book In The Tipping Point (2000), "manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches,” and “we rely on them to give us access to opportunities and worlds to which we don’t belong.” That's what Lumumba is for undergraduates, especially English majors, at Tougaloo.

Lumumba is part of a long line of Tougaloo College connectors that includes Candice Love Jackson and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. At different points, Ward and Jackson were department chairs as well. They all carried on practices of introducing English majors to scholars and other potential collaborators well beyond the college campus.

In my research on the successes of several former English majors at Tougaloo College, I realized that students flourished in part based on what they received from connectors like Lumumba.

A notebook on English majors from Tougaloo College

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