Two JEP staff members on empowering Black student unity on campus, with an emphasis on vitality and wellness
Sharon Blount and Sable Manson are both passionate about elevating the USC Black student experience – hear from them about their contributions to this year’s Black History Month events.
As Black History Month comes to a close, two of JEP’s own staff members sat down to reflect on what this year’s theme means to them, how they helped to incorporate it in USC’s celebratory events, and their work with USC’s Black student community at large.
Sharon Blount, our Office Manager, and Sable Manson, our Assistant Director for Student Leadership and Development, are both involved in USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs (CBCSA), and work on the university’s Black History Month committee.
“Sharon has really kind of seen the progression of USC broadly, particularly in relation to the African-American community,” says Manson. A USC alumna, Blount earned her B.A. in broadcast and digital journalism from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and received her MFA in creative writing from Mount Saint Mary’s University in 2018. She affirmed Manson’s sentiment, sharing that she initially felt a dent in the community’s spirit when she returned.
“I was here in the early days of the campus before all of the beautifications that you see now… [In the 80s], the Black Student Union was very popular, and the unity of Black students was pretty strong… I just remember more color on campus,” she says.
She said that she and Manson wanted to take action to bring that spirit back. “When I came back in 2017, I was kind of shocked – [it felt like] the Black population was sort of at a ceiling… That was one thing that Sable and I wanted to understand – what was the situation that froze those numbers?”
“We were looking at the pockets of leadership on campus to try to understand like… where is everybody else?,” Manson said. The two began working with existing CBCSA leadership in order to figure out how to best elevate the Black student population.
Manson attended Loyola Marymount University, earning her B.A. in television production. Like Blount, she’s a fellow Trojan – she received her master’s in Post-Secondary Administration and Student Affairs at USC, and in 2015, she received her Ph.D. from our very own Rossier School of Education, where her dissertation focused on an interfaith service-learning program called ‘Souljourners.’ (The program was a collaboration between JEP and USC’s Office of Religious Life.)
“Although a lot of my research work looks at religious and spiritual identity, I’m invested in [exploring] cultural identities related to the things that I’m passionate about,” Manson says, “I’m very into strengthening the vibe of campus in general.”
When the opportunity to serve on this year’s Black History Month committee arose, the pair jumped on it. They said that before this year, there wasn’t enough visible promotion of the celebration on campus.
“[This year],” Blount praises, “everybody is really ‘right there.’ The flags are flying.”
Manson attributes much of this success to two of CBCSA’s leadership team, Greedley Harris III, (Manager of Strategic Partnerships), and Damarea Parker, (CBCSA Center Supervisor). She says the pair have worked hard at making the group operate “more like a family and a network.”
Describing the team’s operations, she likens it to a true community effort: “It’s like Cheryl, you always get the cups right? Sharon, you’re going to do your barbecue, right? Sable, you got this, right? There’s a support that’s indicative of people stepping up and people saying, ‘hey, this is what I can offer.’ It’s been great.”
The CBCSA harnessed the feeling of that support when it came to deciding on this year’s theme, which was health, wellness, and joy.
Manson says that the questions on the committee members’ minds included: “How can we recharge?,” and “How can we still have moments of joy in the face of everything?”
This month’s events included roundtable discussions like “Community Storytelling for Policy Change,”designed to discuss issues of healing and resistance, as well as a “Paint Night” at USC’s Fisher Museum, where USC alumna Keviette Mino led participants in creating works of art centered around the “Celebrating Black Joy” theme.
When it comes to their own self-care techniques, Manson and Blount both agree that it’s important to take time for themselves.
“[We on the committee] were kind of joking about how we also have to we have to practice what we preach. We also have to think about our own wellness… We can’t tell students these things when we’re also running ourselves ragged,” Manson says.
“I’m known as the ‘spa queen,’” laughs Blount. “I do a regular visit once a week, and I spend five to seven hours to take care of myself.” Gesturing to herself, she says “I need to take care of this temple here… I’m pretty seasoned, so I have to take care of these bones and flesh here.”
“Like a fine wine,” Manson chimes in.
When it comes to her self-care, Manson says she’s notorious for her love of Zumba and is looking forward to returning to in-person classes where she can get the full experience.
“A lot of dance is the team experience,” Manson says, “there’s something so spiritual about, not only the rhythms in the dance but also the collective energy. Being in a group takes that to the next level, and I’m excited to try and get back to some semblance of normalcy.”
On Friday, Feb. 25th, the campus got a taste of that coveted normalcy. The committee hosted their closing celebration event on McCarthy Quad, the first “SC Family Reunion,” where students, staff, faculty, and alumni gathered to celebrate Black joy. Attendees enjoyed live performances, music, dancing, food trucks, and a Black Excellence panel.
Manson says that she hopes the event is “a reminder that there are there are moments of joy, even as we continue progressing [through the pandemic].”
Blount echoed her sentiments, offering some parting advice to current students. “[Keep] the core, [stay] focused, [do] things that you enjoy, [and make] sure that you’re taking care of you.”
“I think that’s the beauty of the Trojan spirit,” she says. “[Let’s make] sure the next generation of students gets a full monty of what we had, and make sure the cycle continues of being mindful and caring for them as well.”