More important than changing the names of roads and buildings is bringing change to people’s hearts, according to Jermaine Van Buren Jr., a sophomore theater major from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Almost 55 years after former governor George Wallace tried to stop four black students from enrolling in elementary schools in Huntsville, the street connecting Troy University to Highway 231 is still named after the former governor. The building that houses the Sorrell College of Business is named another former governor Bibb Graves, who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan during his run for office.
“As idealistic as it seems, I would want to change those names because when you put a name to something, you state that name in an identity of that building and the identity of that street,” Van Buren said. “And an identity that is so shrouded in racism shouldn’t have a place in a campus as diverse, as culture driven and as rich as Troy University’s campus, and that’s a big goal.
“But I believe that as long as we keep making strides in the heart of men and the heart of women, we can reverse engineer the goal of changing the name of a street or a building, and we can work together to get that goal.”
Van Buren, who is the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter at Troy, believes there is a stigma in America that organizations like the NAACP are only for African-Americans, which needs to change.
“NAACP is devoted to everybody along the color spectrum,” Van Buren said. “Your membership base and the people that you service should reflect what you are about.”
According to Van Buren, the larger mission of the NAACP is to establish harmony between the majority group, and the minority groups represented in Americas which requires society to reexamine the term “colored.”
“It starts with challenging the label ‘colored people,’” Van Buren said. “In originality, colored people, as it was used in segregation and slavery, was to describe people that were primarily black and mixed, but … we are all of a different color.
“Establishing harmony entails doing various activities, outreach programs and providing different things our minority communities need to establish, and we do everything to service our minority communities.”
According to Van Buren, the way forward in interracial relations is having conversations between the majority and minority groups which requires active participation from the majority.
“What would be the solution is bringing conversation to those in the majority,” Van Buren said. “When we have seminars … when we have events about things that affect our minority students, the reason only minority students come is those things affect only the minority — our minority students.
“So there has to be a fundamental change in the hearts and minds of the majority students to care about the events because at a larger view, they help humanity as a whole.”
Will Jackson, a Troy alumnus and former president of the NAACP chapter at Troy, pushed for conversations between groups and said the organization drove conversation during his tenure.
“We promoted different forms of activism — we had protests, but a lot of conversations, and we reached out to different groups like fraternities to invite them to participate in it, but we always had an open-door policy as far as engaging with different communities,” Jackson said. “I feel that discussions on race are in the open now, and they are happening, and I think we gave a platform for people to vocalize how they feel.”
Jackson said the ultimate success would be for Americans to realize African-American history is American history and to understand it in context.
“Ultimately, … hopefully, we will get to a point where African-American history is not just reduced to a month because black history is American history … and once we start including that in our history books properly and once we start saying this is what black people have done for American society and not just highlight the biases, then we can start moving forward,” Jackson said.