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ETSU student leader talks Black History Month, student challenges

Brandon Paykamian • Feb 23, 2020 at 10:00 AM

For Khalia Sparks and others, Black History Month is about celebrating the accomplishments of those who have fought and continue to fight for social progress.

But in her position as president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council at East Tennessee State University, that’s a year-round endeavor not reserved for one month.

Last fall, the governing body for ETSU’s historically African-American fraternities and sororities opened its NPHC Plaza. The campus plaza honors the contributions of the “Divine Nine” fraternities and sororities that make up the NPHC.

On Friday, Sparks corresponded with the Press to tell us more about herself and discuss what she thinks Black History Month is all about. First, we started with some fast facts about her.

Sparks Briefly: 

Age: 20

Major: Social Work

Expected Graduation: May 2021

Favorite class: Developmental psychology

Big 2020 Presidential Election issues: Health care, student debt and gun violence 

What led you to your current position with the NPHC? 

What led to my leadership progression and success were the student leaders before me that encouraged me to get involved and became family to me freshman year. Suddenly, I had a community of involved, goal-oriented people around me at all times to help me navigate.

What is the significance of this new plaza at ETSU?

The Plaza has been something our council has been trying to work toward for many years. Our organizations mean so much to us, and that is why it was so exciting and powerful that we finally have our own space on campus that shines a light on the historic accomplishments of our organization's founders and their contributions to society and the black community.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing black students and other students of color in universities?

I believe that one of the hardest challenges that black students face is not having a support system while they are in college. For some, they are the first person in their family to attend a university. Although you have family back home, they may not understand the problems you are facing daily because they have not experienced college themselves.

They often feel like they do not belong or college is not a “normal routine” for people where they are from.

What’s Black History Month all about, in your opinion?

The significance of Black History Month to me is that we get a month to show how far we have come as a black community. I believe every year we get a chance to remember how hard the journey has been for people of color. Sometimes, I think people get used to how things are now and forget how they were.

We need to remember how hard our ancestors had to fight for us to have the things that we have now and how important it is for us to exercise our rights because, at one point in time, we had none. It is also very informational – the inventions and accomplishments of African-Americans commonly get overlooked, so it is nice to learn about all the things that black people have contributed to society and for them to get their recognition.

Which historical figures inspire you most?

I can not name just one inspirational historical figure. I find most women, especially women of color, to be inspirational. Black women have had to work 10 times as hard to get recognition for the things they have achieved in their lifetime. From the five triumphant women who, in 1920 founded the sorority I am now a part of, to women like Constance Baker Motley and Daisy Bates. The strong black women that broke down barriers in a time when women of color were not taken seriously paved the way for young black women like myself who are eager to make a difference.

I think the countless black women and men who may not be known, but participated in sit-ins, marched for miles and protested are my inspiration. They did all of the things to pave the way for me to be able to get a quality education and much more.

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