BHM Blog - Q & A with Erika Parrish and Cartavius Black
Each year during Black History Month, we like to turn our attention to our Black alumni and highlight the incredible work they do in our community.
February 28, 2022
Each year during Black History Month, we like to turn our attention to our Black alumni and highlight the incredible work they do in our community. It’s a chance for us to connect and capture some of their most salient reflections on what Black History Month means to them. We got the chance to catch up with Erika Parrish (Houston ’04) and Cartavius Black (Memphis ’17) to hear what’s particularly on their minds this month.
"This moment, every moment, calls me to stand boldly in the gap for Black children and declare their humanity to people who would relegate them to statistics and cells before they get to experience adolescence."
1. What is top of heart and mind for you this Black History Month? My normal state of being is pondering and plotting to improve the condition of Black folks in America, starting with kids. The little people that I taught and helped nurture over the course of my career were full of so much promise and brilliance, and the idea that they had to overcome conditions that other children could never imagine feels like the injustice I was born to fight. This February, like every month, I am asking myself the question that keeps me centered, motivated and unwavering in the work I do, a question that West African tribesmen asked to measure they health and promise of their kinsmen: “And how are the children?” If the children are well, so shall we all be. If the children are unwell, so shall we all be.
2. What is this moment calling you to be and do as a black educator? It is hard listening to parents across states like Tennessee call for an end to fact-based teaching out of fear that their children’s feelings will be damaged. After many phone calls that started with yelling and ended with tears, I developed so much empathy for parents. They bring these defenseless little beings into existence and are charged with tending to their physical health and emotional well-being. When protecting this precious life you made, every threat feels fatal. I understand where this energy to protect their children comes from, but even in that understanding, I am deeply injured at the implication that there are some parents powerful enough to elevate the protection of their children’s emotions over the humanity and practical day-to-day lives of Black people, many of whom are children just like their own. This moment, every moment, calls me to stand boldly in the gap for Black children and declare their humanity to people who would relegate them to statistics and cells before they get to experience adolescence. Martin Luther King came to Memphis to declare he was indeed a man; I am following in his footsteps to proclaim that his children, our children, are fully human, and their promise will not be snuffed out, not even for the sake of another child’s feelings.
3. How is what we are doing at this moment honoring our ancestors? Black folks are taking what belongs to us, what was stolen from them, by birthright. Rest. Creativity. Strategy. Wealth and wellness. Health and healing. The freedom to shed respectability and demand that we still be respected simply because we exist. Planting ourselves everywhere, from more inclusive retellings of the past to diverse imaginings of the future. There have always been Black people. There will be Black people in the future. We honor our ancestors every day that we live, because our springing forth from the pain they endured is nothing short of a miracle.
4. How would you describe the legacy you want to leave for those who come after you? “She made it possible for every Black child in Memphis to have big dreams and the means to attain them. Memphis is prepared for a bright and glorious future because she was here.”
5. Last question, what charge do you want to impress upon others as we celebrate Black History Month? Spend some time with a griot—an old Black storyteller. Find one if you don’t know one. Give them a bowl of good greens and cornbread with a glass of sweet tea, maybe some beans, if you have the time. Sit. Listen. Grow.
"By providing the youth with the tools necessary to be successful in our ever-changing world, we each do our part daily. Our ancestor’s frown when injustices happen. However, those frowns transform into smiles when they see us relentlessly holding those in power to account."
1. What is top of heart and mind for you this Black History Month? Hope. For the last two years, this has seemed like somewhat of a foreign concept. We're still in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed nearly 1 million American lives; countless people that look like me have been gunned down in the streets of our nation; half a decade of civil liberties such as voting rights and a woman's right to choose have been attacked. Nonetheless, HOPE is at the top of my heart and mind. But why? As a history teacher, one lesson that repeats throughout my course is the resilience of humanity. I remain hopeful because of justice being served in the case of Ahmad Aubrey. I remain hopeful because of countless young people refusing to allow their democracy to be taken from them. I remain hopeful because of the talented, insightful, and resilient students that I have the honor to stand in front of on a daily basis.
2. What is this moment calling you to be and do as a black educator? As a Black educator, I must be the primary advocate for my students' needs. I've had the pleasure in my 5th year of teaching to interact with a student from my first year in the classroom. The growth between him and I is absolutely astonishing. Every chance he gets, this young man proudly proclaims to anyone that will listen that "Mr. Black saved my life". In actuality, the novice teacher in front of him all those years ago was simply being an advocate for his needs at the time, which was to simply be an adult that listened to him. Every Black History Month, my sense of duty to my students and their families is renewed.
3. How is what we are doing at this moment honoring our ancestors? By providing the youth with the tools necessary to be successful in our ever-changing world, we each do our part daily. Our ancestor’s frown when injustices happen. However, those frowns transform into smiles when they see us relentlessly holding those in power to account. We honor our ancestors by civic participation, which can look like voting, advocating, protesting, and loving our neighbor.
4. How would you describe the legacy you want to leave for those who come after you? The best musical of all time defines a legacy as 'planting seeds in a garden you'll never see'. When my career is all said and done, I'd like people to look back and say Cartavius did things in a unique way, but gosh was he effective'. I want all to know that professionalism can be a 6'4", 290lbs, BLACK, southern man. That man can wear earrings, have tattoos, and still be the consummate professional.
5. Last question, what charge do you want to impress upon others as we celebrate Black History Month? I want my brethren across this city, state, nation and world to understand that we are indeed stronger together. In order to come together, we need to understand one another. To understand, we must communicate. And to communicate, we must be willing to listen. The only way to synthesize these is through hope. With hope, we can create a future that is more inclusive and prosperous for us all.