An Early Graduate Shares Her Wisdom"Exposure to information and exposure to people" — Michelle Craig says this is what she gained from UAB’s African American Studies Program, experiences that lead to a successful career. Craig was one of the first graduates of the program. She says that the universal skills she learned are helpful in all areas of life and are transferrable to almost any career.
The program focuses on the experiences of people descended from Africa and features the study of subjects from multiple disciplines. This flexibility and openness presents African American Studies students with unique learning options. According to Craig, the curriculum was “across the board — literature, science, everything.” She was exposed to ideas from academic departments as diverse as Communications, Government, and Sociology.
Unique Learning Leads to Unique OpportunitiesCraig entered UAB as an accounting major, but quickly changed her mind. When she took an African American Studies course as an elective, she became fascinated. “It was information I’d never heard before . . . that more [people] than just myself needed to hear,” she explains. That course, and the ones she took afterwards, helped Craig to realize her true passion: Ensuring that others have access to the same information that opened her mind.
Craig now serves as the Coordinator of Youth Programs at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It was her studies in the African American Studies Program that led her there. As part of her courses, Craig helped the Institute “edit some [material] for the oral history project and get credit for it.” Her continued volunteer work at the Institute ultimately resulted in her current full-time job.
Connecting the Community to Civil RightsAt the Civil Rights Institute Craig works with local youth by encouraging them to learn African American history within their communities. One of the biggest programs she supervises involves training high school students “to be tour guides at the museum.” Another popular program encourages children to become connected with the Birmingham community by introducing them to historic attractions in the area. Craig organizes these programs as a way to expose Birmingham youth to the knowledge she found so valuable.
In 2013, the Institute organized special events as part of 50 Years Forward, a commemoration of the events of 1963, the height of the Civil Rights Movement. “One of the major programs we did was a youth symposium to talk about the strength of children and the power of children.” This forum featured speakers from around the world, including Arab Spring revolutionaries and a former child soldier from Africa. By exposing Birmingham’s children to knowledge they normally wouldn’t encounter, Craig hoped to inspire them to embrace their own ability to change the world.
Words of AdviceCraig has this advice to offer students pursuing an African American Studies major: “Stick with it.” She found that students sometimes face skepticism about the value of the major. Craig suggests the best way to handle those situations is to be firm about your goals. “Frame whatever it is you want to do and when people ask you that question, answer it with conviction.”
By Kaitlyn Toles
Kaitlyn Toles is a senior majoring in English and International Studies. Outside of school, her interests include feminism, volunteering, and cooking. She is looking to enter the non-profit sector to work on improving the Birmingham community.