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Phenomenal Black Woman: Meronne Teklu

Phenomenal Black Woman: Meronne Teklu

Phenomenal Black Woman- A New Series

For the past couple of months, I've been brainstorming new concepts and topics to write about on this blog. Topics that I feel passionate about, and want to share with the world. Topics that need highlighting. One of these topics is phenomenal black women. 

The first person that came to mind was of course my superhuman cousin, Meronne Teklu. Meronne recently graduated from the College of William & Mary with a B.A. in Africana Studies and a Minor in Computer Science. Africana Studies is an interdisciplinary major with a global focus that explores the scholarship on the history and cultural traditions, and the political and economic circumstances which together define over 1.2 billion people of African descent. During her time at W&M, Meronne joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., became a Resident Advisor, freelanced photography, co-created the web-series The Real William & Mary, combated discrimination, practiced peaceful activism, and won all of the awards (see below).

The College of William & Mary is one of the original Public Ivy League schools, and the second-oldest institution of higher education in the United States after Harvard University. Located in colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, W&M was founded in 1693 and prides itself on many firsts. If you’ve ever visited a colonial town in the south, then you are already aware of the awkward and uncomfortable preservation of plantations, slave houses, Civil War battlefields, confederate emblems, pillories, etc. Navigating these spaces as a person of color is uncomfortable to say the least- but being fully immersed in it while attempting to earn your degree from one of the most demanding universities in the country within 4 years, while simultaneously balancing work and a social life? That’s phenomenal.

Meronne (bottom left corner) pictured with her Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. sisters at William & Mary.

2016-2017 Awards:

  • Black Student Organization Outstanding Service Award

  • W&M NAACP Service Image Award

  • Ewell Award April 2017

○      This award recognizes 40 individuals on the basis of their leadership in campus and/or community activities, and on the basis of their service and contribution to the school or community. This award honors well-rounded graduating students (both graduate and undergraduate) who best exemplify a liberal arts education through their activities as well as studies.  

  • Carol F.S. Hardy Trailblazer Award

○      The Carroll F.S. Hardy Trailblazer Award recognizes a graduating student who has used their academic and extracurricular pursuits to exhibit an appreciation and commitment to diversity. The recipient of this award is also an individual whose example has motivated other students to follow the model of achievement and service that they have set.

Meronne pictured receiving the C arol F.S. Hardy Trailblazer Award  with mother Nini Legesse.

Meronne pictured receiving the Carol F.S. Hardy Trailblazer Award with mother Nini Legesse.

  • Lisa Rose Middleton-IPAX Award for Performing Arts, Leadership, and Advocacy

○     This award is in honor of Lisa Rose Middleton and IPAX-International Performance Arts Exchange charter members, all alumni of William and Mary who created spaces, platforms and opportunities for diversity at William and Mary and the larger community.

○     Like Lisa Rose Middleton and the charter members of IPAX, Meronne Teklu is a trailblazer in paving the way for fellow students to gain agency in expressing their voice and enacting the change they envision not only for their University but also for the world in general. Meronne receives this award as a tribute to their impassioned and persevering approach to diversifying the creative and intellectual spaces on campus for their peers through their work as a film producer, director, cinematographer, editor, and writer of FOR THE GREEN AND GOLD as well as their very successful THE REAL W&M web series. Both projects allowed the community, especially students, an avenue to discuss in a deep way the complexities of diversifying William and Mary. These projects were integral in the work of the Task Force on Race and Race Relations in comprehending the thoughts and experiences of students as pertains race, identity, and diversity. Indeed Meronne has been indefatigable and deeply committed in participating and later growing to become a leader in a diversity of ventures but more so in the movement for the strengthening of programs such as Africana Studies and Asian Pacific Islander American Studies at William and Mary thus becoming an exemplar to their peers, and an inspiration to their mentors.

Interview with Meronne Teklu

Was your “college experience” at William & Mary what you expected it to be? Why or why not?

The things I expected were mostly things you see in the movies: new independence, fun parties, and hard classes. What I didn’t expect were friendship dramas, feelings of inferiority, blatant racism, prejudice, sexism, and crushing stress. I expected myself to become involved in clubs, organizations, and social life, but I didn’t expect myself to be unable to balance that, school, work, and self-care. My college experience at William & Mary taught me that what you see is definitely not reality, that people are complex, and that life can still be beautiful amidst the ugly- it’s really what you make of it.

 

What made you want to major in Africana Studies? Did the current political climate regarding race have any effect on your decision?

My decision to major in Africana Studies actually came as a surprise. When I entered W&M, I was interested in business marketing & engineering, with a possible pre-med concentration (LOL). Fast forward to the end of my sophomore year, I was a declared Computer Science major (the switch up was real). However, while taking those courses, I would also sign up for Africana Studies courses just because I thought they were interesting. It wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I had a professor tell me, “Meronne, you do realize you’re basically an undeclared Africana Studies major, right?”. I was shook. I had unknowingly taken an Africana Studies class each semester to balance my hard sciences, and ended up falling in love with it. The classes truly pushed my understanding of race, gender, class, and more. They also gave me a great appreciation of interdisciplinary approaches, which I have been able to apply with everything I am involved in.

 

Can you please explain exactly what “The Real William & Mary” is? How did you come up with the idea for it?

 The Real William & Mary is a web series that my friend, Julian Iriarte, and myself created in the fall of 2016. The Real W&M web series aims to highlight stories on diversity, identity, and everything in between. Our hope is that these episodes instill a real conversation on our campus, with respect to the corresponding weekly topics. These topics touch on many different aspects of diversity and identity, such as religious, racial, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, and much more. Julian & I were originally working on a film that highlighted the lack of diversity & inclusion at W&M, and targeted it towards the administration. However, we later decided that in order to create real change, we would have to change the campus climate first. We switched from a film, to a short web series comprised of 3-5 minute videos, that broke down diversity topics in a quick, concise fashion, so that our new student audience would easily consume it. We interviewed everyday students, and gave them a platform to voice their concerns, experiences, and insights. It ended up gaining a lot of traction on our campus, and to date we have over 55,000 views on our videos.

 

What were you goals for the web series? Do you feel that it had an impact on campus?

My goals for the web series were to 1) have real dialogue on my campus in regards to diversity & inclusion, 2) highlight minority voices that are often invisible and/or ignored, 3) give our audience tools and resources to understand the complex issues that we feature, and 4) empower our audience to enact change on our campus, in their respective communities, and in the world as a whole. I feel that specifically at W&M, it has definitely started a lot more conversations, and has gotten many of the topics we feature on people’s minds. The next steps would be to encourage action, and to spread from not just W&M, but to other communities as well.

 

What would you say was your biggest success or accomplishment in college?

Learning more about myself, my passions, my fears, and my shortcomings was definitely one of my biggest accomplishment in college. I think a lot of students, including myself, come into college with their life plans hashed out already, their majors picked out, and have an idea of who they are. Throughout college, a lot of those things were flipped upside down for me. It was a humbling experience to realize that not only do I not know everything, but there is also so much I still have to learn. It was a great environment to be around others who were on the same journey, and who pushed and inspired me to be better.

 

If you could choose to have any career you wanted, what would you be doing? Why?

 That’s tough, I want to do a lot of different things. I would love to get into film, and possibly work as a director and/or producer. I would also love to create my own business, either around online marketing consulting, website development, and/or brand development. I’m very passionate about nonprofit work, international development, technology, and education. I believe that film & media have such power to help others understand diverse perspectives and experience. So maybe, in the future, I can find a career that pulls all that together. Starting later this summer, I’ll be working for a small company called TechChange based in Washington, DC. They provide online professional development in technology and social change, and have a fun, innovative work environment. I’m excited to start this new, post-grad journey :)

 

Real W&M

Check out their last video, inspired by the new Netflix series “Dear White People”:

Inspired by the new Netflix series, Dear White People, we've dedicated our last episode of this year to some final remarks made by graduating POC students. Eboni Brown, Andrew Innis, Pallavi Rudraraju, Carlton Smith, Erica N. West, and Sam Yu share advice for their white peers.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
— Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/48985
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