Every month I will highlight a Black artist, form of entertainment, business, or social media personality to help to spread awareness of Black Excellence. Be sure to check here on the 2nd of every month!
It's August, and you know what that means. Yep! School. For me it's a brand new adventure, because I'll (finally) be starting the journey to my doctorate degree at Clark Atlanta University. Funny enough, Clark wasn't even originally on my list of schools to apply to, but a number of friends from the school's amazing African American/Africana Women's Studies department convinced me to apply. One such friend is Mr. Kyle Fox, a third year PhD student at Clark whose research interests and profession intertwine in ways that make him both influential and revolutionary to those he mentors. Check out my interview with Mr. Fox and take note note of his views on academia and the importance of surrounding yourself with a strong community.
M Haynes: Hey Kyle! How are you?
Kyle Fox: I'm great, how are you Marcus.
MH: I'm fantastic thanks for asking. So how has the summer treated you? Are you ready for school?
KF: I am ready for school. I'm a nerd at heart so I'm ready for school to start back. I started my dissertation this summer so that plus working have kept me busy. I work at Georgia Perimeter and Herzing University teaching Public Speaking. You know someone has to pay the bills.
I know that's right. (laughs) So you mentioned that you were a nerd at heart, and seeing as how you dashed through schools* I can tell. So tell me, how did you get to CAU in the first place?
Clark was actually a safety school for me, but I was familiar with Dr. Daniel Black so once I got the acceptance that was it. (laughs) Plus my parents were praying that I didn't go too far from home.
Home is Alabama?
Yes. I'm from a small town in southern Alabama about an hour north of Mobile.
So you came from a small town to UA and then here; talk about how the transition was.
The transition to the University of Alabama was almost seamless for me because...(pauses) I lived almost in a white paradigm (laughs). Coming from such a small town I almost got used to being "the only". There were many classes at UA were I was the only Black person in the room. Now the transition from UA to Clark has been life changing, and I mean LIFE CHANGING (laughs). Coming from a world where you exist in a white space into one dominated by black, not just Clark but Atlanta itself, has been very shocking. I hated it when I first made it. H.A.T.E.D. it.
Why did you hate it?
It was just the environment itself, it was something to get used to. Also I felt I was under-prepared for an African American Studies program at an HBCU. At UA one of my undergrad majors was African American Studies, but on the first day here I came in not knowing some of the authors and people they talked about. I've never been one to have to bridge anything, so when my whole world changed I had to just jump right into it. I wouldn't trade it though. I love Clark and the AUC, the experience has been invaluable.
So after all that work to get used to this big change, is it any better now? Is the day to day life in Atlanta any easier?
Atlanta has grown on me. I'm still learning to like it (laughs). I only spend about two hours at work during the summer so its easy right now, but you know things get more hectic during the school year. I actually find more solace at school during the school year, which is crazy because I'm an introvert. The variety of people here is great, and I think that I'm longing for some sense of community that is here.
Talk to me a little more about community and it's impression on you.
I think that I pass on the community I experience here to the people I teach. I take a lot of direction from Dr. Black; he serves as my mentor, my academic adviser, my spiritual adviser, almost a father figure really (laughs). The way that he structures his classes is all about community. He even gave me the opportunity to teach two of his classes at Morehouse for an entire semester. We built a sense of community with those young men, I call them "my boys" because I've "adopted" about five or six of them, with a familial type of network where we learn from each other; our experiences, our lifestyles, and open up our little boxes and experience real diversity.
Ok a lot of what you've talked about is community and diversity; how does that relate to what your interests are? The reason(s) why you are here at Clark in the first place?
Well my research interests haven't really changed from since I was a child. I've always been interested in my people and why we operate in certain ways. I study black masculinity and the communication patterns of people in general. I want to talk about what it means to be a black masculine figure in today's time, especially in a European centered construct like America. On the communication side I want to talk about how we communicate** with the world and how our forms of communication are fed back to us, and how it usually gets communicated dangerously.
That's really great. Your work sounds so vital to today's time. With that in mind, do you think it is important for academics to move outside of spitting rhetoric and sitting on the inside of the Ivory Tower and make their work available to others?
Yes of course! In this space, especially HBCUs, it is important to encase that Ivory Tower in Ebony. Or Onyx, if you prefer. See, my work is so race and gender specific that I hope it will be tangible for someone's life. I want it to be. Now you may have to grab a dictionary and look up some of the words, but that's a good thing. The overall message that I want to put out there is that we need to take back our own sense of self. Our story has been told from other people's perspectives for what, thousands of years? It's time to take that back. It's all about Sankofa. Now at the same time, you also have to play the game. Let's just be real, we all want that professorship at the end, so I hope that my work inspires the people that read it to learn and do what needs to be done.
Wow. That is amazing. It seems like you have put so much thought into your academic journey; you know where you want to end up and how you want to get there. What advice do you want to give to the people who are still trying to figure out their journey, be it graduate school, teaching or both?
Well first I would tell them that you can teach anywhere. Life offers us teaching moments all the time. Now if you want to teach professionally and get a higher degree I would just say don't stop. Don't stop and don't let anyone stop you.
What about the people who feel they are not prepared? So many people want to go the distance and make a change but think they lack the tools to make it that far, what could those people do?
You must find a mentor. A good mentor. It all goes back to community; you can't do this thing on your own. You have to align yourself with people who can push you, who have your back and show you what you need to do. That may just be the rural, southern Alabama boy coming out of Kyle (laughs) but that's how I feel. I was raised in a very close community, like if an ambulance or a cop car came down the street people were on the phone like "What's going on?" (laughs). I feel like that small group that I grew up with and spent time with showed me the importance of community in everything. I've had to find mentors from middle school to now and it has helped me.
Oh trust, the southern Mississippi boy in Marcus understands (laughs). Is that something you could see yourself doing in the future? Helping to foster a community for others? What is your endgoal?
I do want to give back and not just through teaching. i think that the ages of 13-19 is such a critical time for the success of people, that I do want to do some real mentoring. Not just "Oh I'll come talk to you for an hour on Saturdays and go home". I want a program that will offer exposure to culture, people, environment, and real diversity***. Academic wise I do want a full professorship, and maybe the head of a department. I could see myself in that chair position (laughs).
I could too. So are there any last words you want to leave the readers with?
I am a real champion of people being their authentic selves. Be yourself, but still acknowledge and appreciate that other people have the right to be their authentic selves. That, and the same thing I end my classes with: "Take what I've given you, now go forth and be brilliant"
* = Kyle received his first two (BA and MA) degrees from the University of Alabama. He finished his undergraduate degree in three years instead of the normal four, and as he said, moved to Atlanta to start school at CAU a week after his MA graduation.
** = Kyle believes that communication isn't just in how we talk, but in how we dress, how we walk, who we hang with, all of these things are nonverbal communication and can tell who we are. So when he talks about how we communicate, he means all of these things that we as a people put out in the world.
*** = Diversity means more than just racial differences. Too many people fall into that trap and fail to recognize other differences like sex, sexuality, class, etc. To be in a diverse environment doesn't just mean being around people who are a different race than you, but it means being around people who are fundamentally different and allowing them to influence you for the better. That is a mark of real diversity.