Clubhopper Zachary Hendrickson sits in on a new Columbia organization and reports back to Bwog. Men of Color alliance meets every Wednesday at 7:30—aka in an hour. Read and, if interested, head over!
Full-disclosure: I self-identify as a man of color. That said, I don’t always understand what it means for me to be a “man of color.” Yes I have a dark complexion, a certain structure to my face that causes people to sheepishly ask “where I’m from,” and I know well the savory wonder of a handmade tortilla hot off the stove. My genetics would say, however, that these things only account for 25% of who I am, and I would be hard-pressed to disagree. I don’t know Spanish. Most of my closest family members and friends are white. I’ve only been south of the border once—when I was 4. And I was born and raised in rural south-central Kansas. What gives me the right to say that I am a man of color?
Two weeks ago I started attending meetings with the Men of Color Alliance, and though I haven’t completely unraveled the mystery of who I am or what being a man of color means to me, I certainly feel much closer than I was before. I know now that there are other students like me who are willing to take this journey with me.
Men of Color Alliance, or MCA for short, started as the brainchild of graduate student of OMA. The man, Cliff, used the OMA listserv to attract those most interested in what was, at first, only a rough idea. By December of last year, a diverse group of student coordinators had assembled and put in the necessary time to define their vision of what MCA’s function would be on campus. According to student coordinator Lorenzo Gibson CC ’16, “MCA is a place that a man of color can come to and be himself, and to exist among other men of color who are being themselves in that space, and enjoying that camaraderie, that energy, and that support.” Gibson also views MCA as a possible “one-stop shop” for resources pertinent to all men of color. He and his fellow coordinators have stated that their hope for Men of Color Alliance is that it should expand beyond discussion and community building to include things like professional development, mentorship, and community engagement. Gibson frequently expressed his hope that many of the diverse and often unconnected student groups on campus that primarily contain men of color will reach out to MCA and use it as a tool for unification.
Unification—it is the structure, the process, and the goal according to Gibson. Men of Color Alliance is already attracting quite a large amount of student interest, with an average meeting attendance of about 20 members. Gibson says that this is due in no small part to the open nature of MCA. During the initial shaping of MCA happening late last semester, comparisons were often made to the now-disbanded student group known as The Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was an all-black all-male organization that existed for about eight years before there simply wasn’t enough interest from members to continue operating. This is no surprise to Gibson, who believes that although Brotherhood had great intentions, it might have been unnecessarily divisive. “I personally wouldn’t have joined that group. No one wants to be identified simply as ‘that black kid in that black group,’” said Gibson. This cardinal desire to be all-inclusive informs every decision that MCA makes. “The phrase ‘man of color’ often lends itself to one very narrow idea… But we want to make sure that on this campus it is very clear that we invite anyone who self-identifies as a man of color… So even if that means as a Caucasian male that your background and life experiences have lent themselves to being a man of color, then you are welcome here.”
During our interview, I immediately questioned Lorenzo as to how his membership might feel about his statement that even a Caucasian male could be a self-identified man of color and someone who had a right to share space during MCA meetings. His response was a perfect illustration of what MCA wants to do at Columbia. “It would be an incredible opportunity,” said Gibson, “It would enrich our space – the more perspectives the better.” For the students involved with The Men of Color Alliance the goal is not just to blur the lines between us but to break the lines entirely.
All self-identified men of color (black, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, or otherwise) are welcome to like the group on Facebook, contact the listserv (firstname.lastname@example.org) to receive information on all things MCA, and attend their Wednesday meetings at 7:30pm on the second floor of the IRC. There will be workshops, discussion, free food, and good music—guaranteed.