Robin Muhammad (left) presented Najee E. Muhammad Memorial Student Award to Alexis Apparicio (right)

Robin Muhammad (left) presented the Najee E. Muhammad Memorial Student Award for Social Justice in Education to senior Alexis Apparicio (right)

Photographer: George E. Mauzy Jr.

Christa Preston Agiro talked about white privilege during her keynote talk on March 1

Christa Preston Agiro talked about white privilege during her keynote talk on March 1 in Galbreath Chapel

Photographer: George E. Mauzy Jr.

Jeffrey Billingslea sings

Senior Jeffrey Billingslea sings "If You're Out There" by John Legend during the event

Photographer: George E. Mauzy Jr.

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Alumna Christa Preston Agiro discusses her white privilege during 2017 Najee Muhammad Memorial Lecture

White privilege was the topic of choice for Ohio University alumna Christa Preston Agiro at the second Najee E. Muhammad Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, March 1, in Galbreath Chapel.

The lecture was organized by Theo Hutchinson, an associate professor in critical studies in education, and Muhammad's widow, Robin Muhammad, chair of the Department of African American Studies.

Hutchinson said the lecture was created to honor the educational commitment to diversity, social justice and human rights that Muhammad taught and displayed.

Preston Agiro, who earned her doctorate in cultural studies in education from Ohio University and is one of Muhammad’s former students, is an associate professor of adolescent/young adult integrated language arts and the English Language and Literature departments at Wright State University.

During her talk, titled “Recovering from Overwhelming Whiteness: Learning and Unlearning Rules about Race,” she discussed the many times during her life where she unfortunately benefitted from white privilege.

Many of her examples came from instances where she was treated better than her black husband by strangers who didn’t know they were a couple. She also reminisced about her atypical childhood that saw her grow up in a nearly all-white nursing home near Dayton, Ohio.

She said that after 25 years of not changing who she is and not asking many questions, she met Najee Muhammad. She said she came to Ohio University as a visiting high school teacher after teaching English for five years.

“One of my friends said there’s this guy Doc Muhammad, he’s really good, let’s take one of his courses,” Preston Agiro said. “He was both an agent and a witness of transition for me. One where I began to ask questions and seek things I haven’t seen before and began a forever journey in my re-education.”

Preston Agiro said she wasn’t exposed to very much diversity growing up and only had one black classmate while growing up. She said the white story is the only one she heard.

“Doc told me stories that taught me about race. I never had interest in diversity and race until it affected my life,” she said. “Now my job is to prepare other educators.”

Preston Agiro said Najee Muhammad gave her a lens to see racism for what it is and prepared her for the many racist moments she experiences as a white woman with black kids and a black husband. She said Muhammad told her to use her white privilege to help those people who don’t get to use their power in our society.

“Doc put that kind of humility in me. He led me toward cultural humility,” Preston Agiro said. “We live in a world that legitimizes the white voice. We can’t isolate those who we think are getting it wrong. We have to welcome new allies because we can learn from anybody.”

Preston Agiro said she remembers Najee Muhammad as a transformational leader.

“Doc planted seeds in me and believed they would grow and they’re still growing,” she concluded.

Before the keynote talk, Mike Hess, an assistant professor in critical studies in education, provided a short reflection on Najee Muhammad’s life. The crowd also was treated to senior Jeffrey Billingslea’s performance of John Legend’s hit song, “If You’re Out There.”

Senior student Alexis Apparicio was presented the Najee E. Muhammad Student Award for Social Justice in Education by Robin Muhammad.

The award was created to honor a student who demonstrates a commitment to diversity and social justice in education and exemplifies Najee Muhammad's charge to be "serious, sincere, and committed" in their academic studies, commitment to diversity, and their activism to bring about a more socially just world for all of us.

Apparicio was recognized for helping re-establish the NAACP student chapter at Ohio University, serving as a Multicultural Leadership Ambassador for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion and her work as a senator-at-large in Student Senate. After graduating this spring, she plans on earning both a law degree and a master’s degree in public policy.

Muhammad said one of the reason’s Apparicio’s application for the award was impressive was her use of the word “Ubuntu.”

“Ubuntu translates to being bound to one’s essential humanity,” Robin Muhammad said. “I think that’s a wonderful message, not just for the purposes of the meaning of this award, but certainly with the times we are living in. We need to continue to embrace Ubuntu and concepts like that... this was something that was near and dear to Najee’s heart.”

Najee Muhammad died on March 8, 2014, at the age of 69 after a long illness. He joined the Patton College's Cultural Studies in Education faculty in 1996 and served one year as the interim chair of the Department of African American Studies.

This year’s event was sponsored by: Critical Studies in Education; Office for Diversity and Inclusion; the Diversity Studies Certificate; Patton College of Education; Educational Studies; African American Studies; Multicultural Center; and the Black Student Cultural Programming Board.