Chislom ’17 turns fellowship experience into community project

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Cassandra Chislom ’17 meets civil rights advocate and academic Dr. Roslyn Pope during her fellowship in Atlanta.

By LAUREN COTTA ’19

A Providence College student who participated in the 2016 Humanity in Action Fellowship program is taking that experience to the next level.

Cassandra M. Chislom ’17 (Boston, Mass.) is collecting books for high school students as a component of Humanity in Action. The monthlong summer program brings together international groups of college students and recent college graduates to explore national histories of injustice and how those histories — along with current political and economic situations — impact minority groups today.

As part of the program, fellows are asked to design an action project that will impact the community. Chislom plans to provide books on role models to 360 High School in Providence, a secondary school dedicated to immersing students in real-world learning experiences and civic involvement. She hopes the books will “tell the stories of marginalized voices” — people of color and women.

Chislom noted that she read many books written by black scholars during her summer fellowship and wants others to share in this transformative experience.

“I realized how important it is, as a student of color, to learn about other people of color’s lives and personal experiences as a way to be informed about my own history, and to seek a better understanding of who I am as a person,” said Chislom, who is a double major in political science and in public and community service studies.

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Humanity in Action Fellows from the Atlanta group

Chislom is currently in the book-collection stage of her project and is working toward finding space to store them in the school.

By giving students access to books about role models, Chislom wants teens of color to discover their potential by experiencing the same self-reflection and empowerment that she encountered during the fellowship.

“I seek to provide other students of color with the necessary resources for internal self-reflection, social awareness, and knowledge of the past,” she said.

Chosen from an applicant pool of 513, Chislom was one of 48 students and recent graduates to be selected a 2016 Humanity in Action Fellow. She joined students from more than a dozen nations, including Bosnia, Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland and the Ukraine. Fellows gathered in one of five cities nationally and abroad.

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Cassandra Chislom ’17 meets with renowned civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis as she holds a portrait of Lewis from his younger days as an activist.

Chislom’s fellowship took place in Atlanta, where she visited historical black universities and monuments to learn about the city’s civil rights history. She also attended lectures by academics and activists, and participated in intense conversations to reflect on her personal feelings and that of other students.

“I thought it was nice to have had the space where I felt intellectually, emotionally, and physically safe to talk about racism and the intolerance I experience throughout my day-to-day life,” said Chislom.

She said she was inspired to be both a scholar and an activist after meeting many notable people during the fellowship, including civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; civil rights leader and academic Dr. Roslyn Pope; author and motivational speaker Dr. IIyasah Shabazz, who is the daughter of Malcom X; and a great-grandson of Booker T. Washington, the late educator, author, and presidential adviser.

She also was greatly impacted by program directors Dr. Alvarado-Sims and Dr. Littleton, two women of color from whom Chislom “learned how to embody what it means to love yourself, your skin, and how to ‘take up space’ in order to do that, not only in (her) own life, but in the classroom.”

Chislom singled out a pair of PC faculty members who played key roles during the fellowship process. Dr. Darra D. Mulderry, visiting professor in history and coordinator of post-graduate fellowships, assisted her throughout the application process, and Dr. William P. Hogan, associate professor of English and director of the Center for Engaged Learning, helped her secure a travel stipend.

Chislom said she also is grateful to Humanity in Action for helping to expand her knowledge, to learn more about civil rights, and to meet individuals from around the world who contributed to her personal growth and well-being.

“I gained more than I could put into words from Humanity in Action. I learned not only about the civil rights movement, but the black intellectual tradition, historical black thinkers, and the organizing structures used in the civil rights movement and throughout time,” said Chislom.

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