They Were Students. Now They're Advocates, Too
Students at MLK Celebration describe how they became anti-racism advocates
Bentley’s 35th annual MLK Celebration was different this year. In most years, it features an on-campus event attended by hundreds as well as a prominent keynote speaker. The pandemic has made large gatherings impossible, so this year’s event featured a virtual, very candid discussion by four Bentley students who have used their voices to advocate for a more inclusive, equitable and just community.
“Given the activism we have seen from platforms like the @blackatbentley Instagram account and @sexism.at.bentley, we felt it was important to highlight the work that students, alumni, faculty and staff have been doing to make Bentley a better, more actively anti-racist and anti-oppressive community,” said Matt Banks, assistant director in Bentley’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion.
Panel members Hilary Yeboah ’21, Shaquille Moultrie MBA ’21, Evann Welty ’21 and Anjela Maravilla ’21 shared personal stories of experiences on campus and growing up that inspired their activism. The conversation was moderated by Lakeya Graves ’11, co-founder of the @blackatbentley Instagram account.
Hilary Yeboah ’21
Yeboah, a Corporate Finance and Accounting major, is from Ghana, where she says tight government control caused constant uncertainty, including access to basics like electricity, water and quality public education. Her father immigrated to America to provide access to education for Yeboah and her sister, but their mother had to stay behind.
“Although my life here in the States has been rocky with not being able to understand or speak English when I first came and being treated differently because of the color of my skin, my parents sacrificed a lot for me, which has always kept me going,” she said. “My experiences are what have pushed me to fight for the minority. I want to be the voice for those who have been pricked by various thorns in society and show them that those thorns are what build them up.”
Yeboah recalls how middle school teachers gave up on her and other Black students. She says she “felt stupid” at first but later realized why she had been treated differently than her white peers. “That was the point when I truly decided that I wanted to be the change that I wanted to be in my own life,” she said. “If I could show someone who feels lesser than others that they have a voice — I want to portray that we are all equal.”
Shaquille Moultrie MBA ’21
Moultrie grew up in North Charleston, South Carolina, in a neighborhood where he says violence and drugs were common and education was not a priority. Nevertheless, he has excelled in his pursuit of education and has been a leader both at Claflin University, where he completed his undergraduate degree, and at Bentley, where he is enrolled in the MBA program. But his accomplishments are a constant source of both pride and guilt.
“On a daily basis, I deal with survivor’s remorse,” he said. “Seventy percent of my friends are dead or in prison. I went to more funerals than weddings growing up. So I want to use my everyday life to show that you can achieve success through hard work.”
When Moultrie goes back home for the holidays, he volunteers at the community center where he grew up, helping students with their homework and reading and encouraging them to pursue a college education. At Bentley, he serves as a mentor to Black students. “At first I didn't believe I was an activist,” he said, “but six months ago, I learned that I’ve been doing this my entire life.”
Evann Welty ’21
Welty’s mother is first-generation Chinese, and her father is white. A Marketing major and Liberal Studies Major in Diversity and Society, Welty grew up in a predominantly white and wealthy neighborhood in Minnesota, where racism wasn’t talked about. At Bentley, she has participated in the ALANA Program (now called the MOSAIC Experience), which helped her realize that her experiences growing up were not like everyone else's.
“As a freshman in college, this was when I first began to educate myself on racism, which I knew very little about, and the Black experience in America,” she said. “It was less the experience that I personally had and more seeing the contrast between my life and my friends' lives that caused me to want to advocate for change.”
Welty is doing an internship as a social justice coordinator in Bentley’s Office of Sustainability, focusing on efforts addressing environmental racism -- the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. “I have always felt that I have been and will always need to be a just learner (and not an educator), and this (internship) was really the start of my realization that I can be both — that I can be a resource for others and share what I'm learning.”
Anjela Maravilla ’21
Maravilla’s parents and brother immigrated from the Philippines to the U.S. and settled in the Jersey City, N.J., area, a largely immigrant community. Maravilla, a Marketing major and Liberal Studies Major in Global Perspectives, says until she came to Bentley, she didn’t realize that the people she grew up with — mostly underprivileged first-generation and immigrant students — had to prove themselves “exceptional” as well as be lucky to achieve success in America.
“I didn't want life, work and success to be defined by where others believe you should belong,” she said.
Maravilla said the stories of racism she’s heard at Bentley have been eye-opening. She’s been inspired by the work of Bentley’s Racial Justice Task Force as well as activities hosted by multicultural student organizations on campus. “By applying things like this to the systems that are failing, we are able to build new successes and a better future,” she said, “and become the change that we wish to see in the world.”
Dr. Earl L. Avery MLK Leadership Award
During the event, the Dr. Earl L. Avery MLK Leadership Award was presented for the first time to a movement, not a person. The three organizers of the Black at Bentley movement — Lakeya Graves ‘11, Edith Joachimpillai ’12 and Stephanie Hartford ’12 — accepted the award on behalf of the movement.
“We are honoring the three organizers because of their strong contributions to the changes Bentley is seeking around racial justice,” Banks said. “We have no doubt that their contributions have led to the creation of the Racial Justice Task Force, the strategic initiatives the Bentley Cabinet has created, and the increased passion for change we are seeing from students, faculty and staff. They did this work to not only hold Bentley accountable for these changes, but also truly make Bentley a more equitable, anti-racist institution.”
The MLK Celebration continues on Feb. 2, from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m., with a virtual workshop featuring LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, Black Voters Matter Fund and Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute. She was instrumental in the voter turnout efforts in Georgia that resulted in the historic election results in that state. The workshop will help participants explore storytelling as a tool for political activism and organizing.