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Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune statue on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune statue on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University. 2C2K Photography, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Legacy as Resistance: Because of Her, I Am …

February 15, 2023

Legacy as Resistance: Because of Her, I Am …

This blog post is the third in a series celebrating this year’s Black History Month theme: Black Resistance.

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Have you ever been impacted by someone you have never met? Have you ever thought about all the things that could have occurred, but didn’t? This Black History Month and throughout the year, I honor and celebrate Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune for the platform created for a young girl like the me I used to be.

Picture this: The 1990s were challenging for many of us. Like today, teenagers had the world on their shoulders, including fast approaching adulthood, peer pressure and the inevitable “I just want to be me.” Adults often telling teenagers that they need to mature, act their age, take more responsibility and still be a kid all at the same time. I was no different; as a bright-eyed honor student lost in the next stages of life and living in a country I had just begun to adore, I packed my belongings in two suitcases, said goodbye to my friends and parents in Germany and headed to Florida. Daytona Beach to be exact. I traveled with my life savings of $1,700 and college on my mind. I found myself beyond the gates of Bethune-Cookman University (college at the time) seeking college entrance and a start to my bright future. As a first-generation college student, I was excited with the possibility of earning a degree. I forgot to inquire about a few important topics, such as tuition, room and board, costs of books, the rich history of the university and so much more. It seems that all of that would cost more than $1,700, not to mention out-of-state fees. However, the lessons I learned were priceless. But the story doesn’t end there. The journey toward adulthood and loving the skin I’m in was just beginning.

The diploma in hand from Bethune-Cookman College would represent not only my existence, but also the importance of appreciating my race and culture.

Entry into a historically Black college would provide me with a new perspective and sense of identity that would make my exit from my beloved institution that much more rewarding. The diploma in hand from Bethune-Cookman College would represent not only my existence, but also the importance of appreciating my race and culture.

I often share with students that I, too, knew everything at age 17—or so I thought. Being of Jamaican-born parents, I understood culture. I came from green bananas and saltfish, reggae music and soca, and dreadlocks and clear bodies of water. I understood patois like I understood primary colors. But I did not understand what it meant to be proud and Black in America. I would learn that with time well spent at the great Bethune-Cookman University; it would help me to understand my history and purpose. My professors encouraged me to learn the richness of our forefathers, the history of historically Black colleges and universities, and the climate of the world in which we lived.

“Enter to Learn. … Depart to Serve”
Mary McLeod Bethune

I can’t tell you that I knew that Bethune-Cookman was a historically Black college at the time. I didn’t even know what that meant. Google was not available then; and to be honest, I had not done my research. I was familiar with Daytona Beach and the beautiful campus. But it was not until my freshman year that I became aware of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s diligence and commitment to open a school with $1.50 on hand and five eager young girls ready to learn. She was a trailblazer before her time, often known for walking into rooms and leaving with results. This university was one of those results among many that would change the lives for generations to come. She would go on to lead voter registration drives and break barriers for people of color. She would insist on integration during a time that the topic alone was not always a friendly one; and she would hold the seat as the NAACP vice-president from 1940 on.

This institution created my first spark for not only enhancing this world for my son, but also for others I would come in contact with—for that, I am forever grateful. But it was the foundation set by Dr. Bethune that gave me my love of learning and my sense of belonging. Because of her … I am.

Enter to Learn. … Depart to Serve

Mary McLeod Bethune

Read the Other Blogs in the Series

Black History Lesson Plans and Resources

Within this collection, you will find a variety of resources designed to help you effectively celebrate Black history and inspire year-round discussions on the subject. From lesson plans and classroom activities to blogs and free professional development webinars, these resources are meant to support educators in bringing Black history to life in the classroom.

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Primrose Cameron

Primrose Cameron, Ed.D., is the professional development director of the Florida Education Association. She has more than 20 years’ experience working in education.

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