Students honored at award ceremony aim for proactivity

Joe Carlson

An imaginary wheel spins in the mind of University graduate student Ruby Jones, and motivates her to raise two children while working and completing her master’s degree in social work.
“Basically, (the wheel) is a motivational force that drives people to pursue their dreams and accomplish their tasks in life,” Jones said.
For her efforts at the University, Jones was recognized Wednesday night, along with about 300 other African-American students in the 19th annual Honors Program organized by the African American Learning Resource Center.
The honored students fell into three categories: graduating seniors, degree-earning graduates and professional students and special academic achievers. In a setting similar to traditional commencement, students received a medallion and a ceremonial African cloth in recognition of graduation or outstanding academic performance.
But unlike commencement, the Honors Program is a more cordial event that emphasizes the spirit of community, said Joel Brown, who is graduating in June with an undergraduate degree in political science. The annual event is not just a ceremony but a celebration, he said, which is what makes the event much less “starchy and stiff” than a graduation ceremony.
“You don’t get the sense that people are trying to put on pomp and circumstance,” Brown said.
He said the event was especially bittersweet for him because it marked the end of an important period of his life. “I’m not coming back next year, and I’m leaving this part of the (University) community behind,” Brown said.
For Jones, the event represented a transition between communities, as she moves from her friends and colleagues at the University to her family at home.
She said she wants to use everything she learned in her studies to improve the communities in the Twin Cities area — especially inner-city neighborhoods.
“The main thing is that I want to be able to help communities,” Jones said, “to contribute back some of the knowledge base I have gained through graduate school.
“I want to put my efforts into salvaging communities and making sure that they are strengthened and they are able to maintain that strength,” Jones said.
Brown echoed her sentiments, saying he wanted to pass on lessons about racism that he learned while attending the University of Minnesota. He has learned to see racism for what it really is — ignorance — and to not let that racism stand in the way of important accomplishments.
“The main reason is that (a racist) person, no matter what they say or what they do, cannot stop me from achieving what I need,” Brown said.
Although Brown hopes to pass on his knowledge to individuals in communities, Jones wants to educate communities as a whole.
To Jones, communities are not made up of buildings but people and families. When those families are affected by governmental policies and social trends, they need strong communities to fall back on for support.
But often, that support is not there.
“It doesn’t have to do with any systemic inequities,” Jones said but a basic lack of understanding of what things communities can do to lift themselves from impoverishment. To Jones, those things include education, employment and parenting skills.
Jones said her own parenting skills are often strained by work and school. The trick to Jones’ success, she said, is knowing how to prioritize things so that the most important needs are met first.
And although priorities, combined with a regimented daily routine, help her balance all the different aspects of her life, Jones said meeting every prioritized task is very demanding.
Often she said she finds the energy she needs through a supportive environment and group of peers, which Jones said she gets at the University.
Sometimes that social support can come in the form of a lack of resistance, especially when it comes to racism.
“I basically don’t see racism perpetuated or starting off at the University,” Jones said. “I am no different than any other student. I’ve had some misunderstandings … with instructors, but it has nothing to do with race.”
Another place that energy can come from, she said, is her internal wheel. Once the wheel is spinning with the energy of past accomplishments, that energy can be used to attain future goals.
“If a person is willing to do better or a person is willing to try to accomplish going to school and getting a degree, part of that has to do with self-motivation,” Jones said. “The wheel is basically self-motivation.”