Equality embodied within administration
Students in search of empowered role models and symbols of equality in the United States today need not look further than the Contra Costa Community College District.
Two dedicated and hard-working African-American women, Chancellor Helen Benjamin and college President Denise Noldon, currently hold two of the highest positions within the college district.
Dr. Benjamin has made history twice, by becoming Contra Costa College's first African-American president, and again by becoming the first African-American to head the district in 2005.
Dr. Noldon is currently in her second year as president and is CCC's third African-American president, following former president McKinley Williams.
Having always had a strong interest in people, reading and history, Noldon said she is thankful for the opportunities life has afforded her. She contrasted her experiences growing up and in school with those of her mother, who was educated in a segregated school system in Texas.
Born in Oakland and raised in Berkeley, Noldon graduated from Berkeley High School in 1973. Though segregation still existed in some schools then, Noldon described Berkeley High as being "well-integrated," and said her elementary school experience was pleasant and just as assimilated.
However, such a fortunate experience was not common throughout the country, let alone the state during this time.
"I did not know then that the school I was attending was the exception and not the rule," she said.
Noldon's life experience and educational background in counseling has allotted her a profound understanding of how difficult, yet how valuable and truly rewarding, it is to pull one's self out of adversity and champion the education system.
"Education is the key, not only to enlightenment and empowerment, but it's also a good investment," she said, adding that educated, degree-holding members of the workforce earn higher wages. "(Being educated) was a transforming event in my life."
She also said that learned information cannot be stolen or devalued economically, no matter what happens in the future.
"You can't repossess an education," she said.
Melody Hanson, senior executive assistant to the president, said it is very important to have an eclectic staff and faculty so that they can better serve all students of all backgrounds.
Hanson has assisted college presidents for the past 24 years, working alongside Benjamin, Williams and Noldon, among others.
"(Benjamin, Williams and Noldon) are different in their own styles, but have all steered the college to where it needs to be within the community," she said.
CCC has a reputation of serving underrepresented minority groups, many of which are afflicted by financial hardship and which may give the college a large number of first generation college students.
African-American studies department Chairperson Carolyn Hodge said that CCC represents diversity overall with a wide variety of ages and ethnicities making up the faculty, staff and student body.
"The campus definitely represents diversity. It is why I love this place so much," Hodge said. "Not just race-wise, but the different religious and cultural backgrounds, and especially the difference between ages. Some of my classes have students as young as 16 up to students 70 years old."
Hodge said that Benjamin and Noldon, and President Obama on the national level, have opened doors by taking up roles of public presence and leadership, presenting the local community with images of hope.
"It's nice to see these changes. They allow (young people met with adversity) to picture themselves fitting in somewhere in America," she said. "Soon enough we will be seeing the first female president of the United States."
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