Dexter Forbes’ Unlikely BeginningsFive years ago Dexter Forbes would never have predicted that he would graduate with an African American Studies major. Before coming to UAB he “had no idea that there was such a thing as African American Studies.” Even attending college in a city with such a strong African American heritage was a coincidence. “I didn’t know how important Birmingham was [to the Civil Rights movement] before I came down here,” he says.
Forbes typically found himself in the minority in his home community in Maine, and UAB provided a new environment where he could explore his personal identity. “I hadn’t been around other black people a whole lot before I came down here.”
The Value of a Good AdvisorForbes became strongly involved with African American cultural groups on campus. Almost immediately he joined BMEN, a group dedicated to creating mentor relationships among the African American males on campus. This led his academic advisor to introduce Forbes to the African American Studies program.
He was encouraged to take Introduction to African American Studies. According to Forbes, it turned out to be a great suggestion. “I tried one class and I liked it ... and I just went for it!” He decided to double major in African American Studies and English Literature.
An Inclusive CurriculumForbes appreciates the unique learning opportunities available through the program, especially the variety of subject matter it covers — “We got to look at public health, literature, religion, culture, and music.” This allowed him to explore subjects that wouldn’t normally be taught in a single major.
The major presents students with a variety of learning techniques and, since they are exposed to theories and concepts from various disciplines, they also learn different research methods associated with those disciplines. Forbes says African American Studies “was a good way to get a variety of skills” because it involves a wide range of knowledge.
Combining His InterestsForbes’ got involved in more than cultural groups. He also joined organizations involving his other passion, the environment. In his junior year he became president of Green Initiative, a student club focused on building a community of sustainability at UAB. Forbes says he is especially interested in environmental justice, “which is pretty much a combination of civil rights [and] environmental stuff.”
He worked to use the skills he learned in his African American Studies courses in his student clubs. Often he would encourage other students within the major to take part in Green Initiative and other activities. Says Forbes, “I tried to integrate [environmental justice] into what I was doing with Green Initiative and any other extracurriculars I was involved in.”
Career SkillsForbes has recently applied to UAB’s School of Education graduate program and feels that African American Studies has given him skills that will be helpful in his future career. The classes exposed him to numerous black writers and historical figures he did not know before. He plans to share what he learned of these lesser-known individuals with his future students.
The knowledge he gained about implicit biases and various ways of community organizing will also assist him in his educational career. He believes that “students need to be their own advocates” in order to improve the educational system. He wants to teach the skills students need to create the changes they want in society. Forbes says that what he learned in the African American Studies program “will definitely help me when it comes to rallying ... the community to improve things in the school system.”
By Katie 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.