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The Unheard Word

About The Unheard Word

By Riva Brown, Ph.D., ’93, ’98, ’13

What legacy are you leaving through your words and actions? 

In summer 2020, I scribbled this question on a whiteboard in my new office. These words are the first things I see when I enter and the last ones I see when I exit.

In fall 1990, when I was a 19-year-old Southern Miss sophomore, I began a life-long mission to answer this question each day without realizing it.

In fall 1990, when I was a 19-year-old Southern Miss sophomore, I began a life-long mission to answer this question each day without realizing it.

I created The Unheard Word, an unapologetically Black, independent publication distributed on this predominantly white campus. It offered an alternative voice to the university's student-run newspaper.

The Unheard Word praised Black students, faculty and staff. It published pieces by Black writers and artists. It profiled Black-owned businesses. It printed little-known historical facts for Blacks. Sometimes it even pricked the conscience of the campus.

Creating a newsletter came to me in a vision after a peer challenged me to do more for Black students. Challenge accepted. Keep in mind that I had never produced a publication. I had never even completed a journalism class. But none of that deterred me.

Most folks chuckled when I presented my plans, but not Ulysses Milton and Tom Boss. Milton was a fellow student who came up with the name The Unheard Word. He also helped me distribute the first three issues. Mr. Boss oversaw the adult literacy center where I volunteered. He taught me how to use desktop publishing software and charged me a penny a page to make copies.

Over time, the number of pages nearly quintupled, and the number of copies grew from 100 to over 1,000 for each issue. The free publication began with me spending my scholarship and summer internship savings to produce it. It evolved into individuals, organizations and businesses donating so I could pay a professional printer. It ended with Vrita Delaine, a retired Southern Miss administrator, paving the way for premium paper and a color cover.

For years, I’ve repeatedly ignored suggestions to revive The Unheard Word. But this pandemic and period of racial reckoning made me reconsider. After reflecting on that question in my office --

What legacy are you leaving through your words and actions? -- I decided the time was right.

I hope this two-part, web-based, 30th-anniversary edition will accomplish two objectives:

  1. Connect Black alumni to Black students to support their academic endeavors.
  2. Create awareness about the Center for Black Studies (like it did for the story of Clyde Kennard in the 1990s).

In December 1990, thanks to writer Charlie Braxton, The Unheard Word began publishing articles about Kennard, an Army veteran and activist who attempted to become the first Black student to enroll at what is now Southern Miss.

In February 1993, the university officially acknowledged Kennard in a special celebration that included putting his name on the Student Services Building. Years later, Dr. Eddie Holloway, an alum and retired administrator, created the Kennard Scholars Program. Shortly thereafter, the Center for Black Studies developed a Kennard documentary to keep his story alive.

Perhaps by learning about the Center, you will feel compelled to support its work during this tumultuous time in history.

Perhaps by introducing the work of students -- members and friends of the Southern Miss Association of Black Journalists -- especially Black alumni will feel convicted to give to the Kennard Scholars Program.

Perhaps by including articles written by Black alumni, Black students will feel connected enough to the campus to reach back after they graduate. 

And perhaps by reading this 30th-anniversary issue of The Unheard Word, you will discover your own way to leave a legacy through your words and actions. 

➤ To comment on this fall 2020 article, visit the Center for Black Studies on Facebook.
➤ To give, visit the USM Foundation.

 

Photo of Dr. Riva Brown

Riva Brown, Ph.D., ’93, ’98, ’13, a former journalist, is an associate professor of public relations at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. 

 

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SMABJ President Reflects on Project

By Keisha Green, ’20

When Dr. Cheryl Jenkins approached me with the idea of creating an anniversary issue in honor of The Unheard Word, I was super excited that the Southern Miss Association of Black Journalists was offered the opportunity. After meeting Dr. Riva Brown and Dr. Sherita Johnson and hearing about why Dr. Brown created The Unheard Word, I was even more intrigued that she did this as a young Black woman when the number of Black students on campus was slim.

If I had to choose a few words to describe my experience on this project, I would call it an “eye-opening extravaganza.” I admit, in the beginning, I accepted this project without truly thinking about the logistics of what it would take to create the finished product. However, I believe that this project came at the perfect time.

Being an African American young woman coming from a predominantly white city, we only scratched the surface of Black history and oppression in this country. We never talked about complications that we as Black people still face each and every day in our society. Not only was I more educated on the social injustice and systemic obstacles we have and are facing as Black people, but because of this project, I’ve found myself going down a rabbit hole of wanting to know and learn more each and every day. We have to push and hold ourselves to the highest standard to even be considered as “equals.”

I also learned the true meaning behind the famous phrase “time is of the essence.” There was one point in the semester when I was becoming really discouraged. Between being in my last semester of undergrad, work, trying to maintain a social life, being president of SMABJ, and other obligations, completing this project appeared to be really “hard.”  As a result, tasks weren’t being executed for this project. I had to learn to hold others accountable, lead by example and hold myself accountable for my own actions. It’s OK to fall down. What’s not OK is settling to be in that position.

Not only has this experience educated me about the legacy of The Unheard Word, but it has also given me life lessons that I will cherish forever. It is truly an honor to have the privilege of knowing and working alongside Dr. Brown, Dr. Jenkins and Dr. Johnson. I have always been inspired by learning and being in the presence of strong, educated, beautiful, resilient Black women. Their courage and ambition have truly inspired me to want to continue my aspirations after undergrad. I will forever be grateful for them, and for this project.

➤ To comment on this fall 2020 article, visit the Center for Black Studies on Facebook.
➤ To give, visit the USM Foundation.

 

Photo of Keisha Green

Keisha Green is president of the Southern Miss Association of Black Journalists. She is a senior broadcast journalism major from Pearl, Mississippi. She's expected to graduate in December 2020. She plans to attend law school to focus on entertainment law.

 

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A Message from the President

In recognition of The Unheard Word’s 30th anniversary, I want to thank each student – past, present, and future – who has worked to provide all voices with an opportunity to be heard.

My vision is for The University of Southern Mississippi to become the model for public higher education across the country in all that we do, but especially in areas which require bold leadership. I am proud of the ways in which this institution continues to work toward inclusivity in the broadest sense, advancing the engagement of individuals from all types of backgrounds and perspectives.

When events challenge this progress, each of us must be able to leverage those experiences to learn, to grow, and to discover new ways to connect to others in the pursuit of meaningful change. The only future worth shaping is one that is free of discrimination – and one in which we work together to ensure all individuals are offered equal opportunities to succeed.

Sincerely,

Rodney D. Bennett
President

➤ To comment on this fall 2020 article, visit the Center for Black Studies on Facebook.
➤ To give, visit the USM Foundation.

 

University President Rodney Bennett

 

Rodney D. Bennett, Ed.D., is the first Black president of a predominantly white institution of higher education in Mississippi.

 

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A Message to Black Greeks 

By Robert P. Taylor, Ed.D., ’90

My message to Black Greeks is very simple: All of your organizations embody leadership and responsibility as core values. Black Greeks provide a tremendous amount of leadership for Black students, which is something they must take very seriously. 

Usually, the first leadership at newly integrated southern white universities were the Black Greeks. Research shows that most Black Greek organizations on southern white campuses were chartered beginning in the early to mid-1970s. With that being said, they have a huge responsibility in supporting the growth and leadership of members and non-members. 

Black Greeks serve as the social safety net for Black university students. As a result, they MUST provide quality and non-judgmental social opportunities for Black students. And beyond this, all of the “Divine 9” must continue to work towards the same performance goals.

Black Greeks must also continue to demand the university support the singular and joint causes as organizations but also articulate the needs and desires of their Black student body. Not often will a singular voice rise to be heard, but established organizations already have a relationship with the university, and they can and should use their collective voices to serve their Black student body.

I would urge them to hold monthly or quarterly meetings where they have a forum to discuss these issues, and use the forum to invite non-Greeks to the table and discuss how they all can work for the collective good. I always loved a good Greek party, but I also knew the need to, as Tom Joyner would say, “party with a purpose!”

 

➤ To comment on this fall 2020 article, visit the Center for Black Studies on Facebook.
➤ To give, visit the USM Foundation.

 

Photo of Robert Taylor


Robert P. Taylor, Ed.D. is a ’90 USM Alum and a member of the Omega Psi Phi, Incorporated fraternity.

 

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