Living & Teaching Abroad: Xavier University (LA) Alumna Britney Francis Conquers Beijing


There has been a recent revelation in the past five years that African Americans need to get out and explore the world. The passport has become the new IT thing to have among African America’s young and educated. Adding to that reality is that more and more college students must set themselves apart in a more competitive global workforce. One sure way to do that is to show that you have the ability to go anywhere and be successful, especially if it means going some place out of your comfort zone. If adding tools to your tool chest is what sets you apart, then studying abroad during your undergraduate years gives you one mean hammer to swing. It also presents some amazing career opportunities upon graduation if you are willing to take the chance. HBCU Money caught up with Britney Francis, an alumna of Xavier University (LA), who is conquering the classroom in the capital of arguably the world’s number two superpower – China.

How did the opportunity arise for you to live and teach in Beijing, China?

By May 2016, I was unfulfilled, disillusioned and dissatisfied with life, particularly with my job. I had also been going through a health issue that had been going on for nearly 3 years at the time. Feeling like I needed real change, I was inspired by a friend from high school who had gotten a teaching job in Dubai. I had started to come around to the idea of teaching, and had started studying to test for an acceleration program that helps people become teachers — who had degrees in other specialties besides education. I had my sights set on becoming a high school history teacher in Houston. I had also been mentoring kids at the juvenile justice center and felt it was time to get into the classroom to find other ways to reach the youth. So I figured, “hey — maybe I can also teach abroad particularly next year or the following year”. I thought I would do myself a service by gaining experience in the States before taking the show abroad. I was interested in Japan and started to do research. For some reason, it seemed much harder to get to Japan (which wasn’t true but you don’t know what you don’t know). Then I started to see posts from China. After researching for a few weeks on various job boards, I came across a job ad for an education company called Education First, based in China. What made me pull the trigger was getting written up at my job for performance issues (and my health stuff, if you wanna keep it a buck. My manager had told me that all I had been going through was “impacting the business” – whatever that means). I was so bored and disgusted; the place was no doubt a dead-end job. My work and my health continued to suffer and I was listening to podcasts at my desk all day… anything to escape. I had applied at a charter school at the recommendation of a friend. I had written an elaborate essay but received a response almost immediately saying they would “keep my application on file”. Something inside me told me to change a few of the words around and apply to the same company I had seen in China days before. So I did, and by the end of that week I had the job and was set to arrive in Beijing by September. PERFECT timing!

How do you believe going to an HBCU and XULA in particular prepared you for being an expatriate?

One thing I always say is that being HBCU alum prepared me for life in a way I feel no other school could have. I learned so much about myself at my HBCU and my sense of Black pride strengthened. Being a Xavier student during the year Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city of New Orleans is what particularly made me strong. It made all of us strong. We had faith in our school and returned to the city five months after the storm hit. Houses were destroyed, there was mold everywhere. The city was crippled and the students/admin kept it pushing. Hell, all schools in the NOLA area did the same thing. Most of us that returned after the storm have graduated and have moved on to do great things in our lives.

Living in a place like China where most people you encounter are ignorant and inherently racist, I feel that what I’ve experienced prior to now gave me tough skin. But not to say it’s the all bad. For every ignorant person, there are a million more kind, giving, and helpful people here as well. The mindset, cultural and societal norms here are SOOO different.

As an educator, what are some differences and conversely similarities you have noticed between the education systems of China in comparison to the United States?

Being that my teaching experience is only limited to my time here in China I can’t speak too much on the American side as I haven’t seen it from the eyes of a teacher. But I will say that certain teaching methods I’ve tried to use on my older students were frowned upon, especially in instances where I tried to make my classes fun (for my high school students). Things that I know worked for me as a student or methods I’ve researched can sometimes be overridden as you’re expected to adapt to the “Chinese way” and not have much say-so in the matter.

Chinese students don’t have lives of your typical American teenager. They are groomed to study 7 days a week and get LOADS of homework. On weekends, they study, sleep and play on their computers. They don’t have social lives, and hardly date. Emphasis is placed on math and science more than other subject areas. And I’ve found that most parents here will pressure their kids to be successful, to the point where they are depressed and often unsure of themselves. I’ve even had parents ask me “how can my son/daughter be better?” with an overall class score of 99 and rated highest in the entire class. On the other side, there’s also a bit of denial when it comes to things like learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.

Do you have a favorite memory thus far in your time there?

Most of my favorite memories involve my students, present and old. Children are so amazing and smart and I’ve become emotionally attached to nearly all of my students. It’s very hard saying goodbye to students when new opportunities arise and it’s time to move on to a new school (or they move on to a new school). My other favorite memories involve all the friends I’ve made here and especially the trips I’ve taken. Living here has afforded me opportunities to travel that I didn’t have before and it’s been amazing. So far, I’ve been to Thailand, S. Korea, Hong Kong, and a few interesting cities around China. I have so many other places to see before I pack up and head back home.

Being African-American in China, what has that particular part of the experience been like for you?

Honestly, it can be a bit frustrating. It can go either two ways: either people are deathly afraid of you or WAY too curious/friendly/unable to respect boundaries. Being Black in China, you can expect people to take pictures of you without your permission. It’s cute at first – until after you’ve been here a few months, you had a long day at work and just trying to get home to your bed. Seeing someone sneaking a picture of you like you’re a zoo exhibit can be angering. Also, people don’t have concepts of boundaries and personal space. With there being 20+ million people in bigger cities, there’s not much room for you to breathe and people like to touch your hair or try to rub your skin to see if the black comes off. I try not to fault most people for it because they are conditioned and they simply don’t know much about the world outside of China. They also assume any black person they see is from Africa… and when you don’t know the language you can’t explain to them how the Diaspora works. It’s just a LOT of ignorance. For me personally, in work spaces and social spaces, I require respect from everybody I interact with, language barrier be damned. It’s the only way I can cope with what goes on around here.

We know you can not prepare for everything prior to living abroad, but is there something you wish you had known in particular prior to your move?

No. Besides bringing enough black hair care products and make-up that matches your tone to last you a while, there’s nothing I think I could have been told prior that would have made much of a difference. Everyone’s experience is different. You could ask another person to talk about their experiences and they may LOVE it here, or hate it with their entire being. I like that I was given the opportunity to come here and be out of my comfort zone. Everything I’ve learned about myself and the world thus far has only enhanced my personal growth. I am a different person than I was in September 2016 and I can only continue to soar from here. I’m still very happy about my decision to move here.

Tell us about one of your fondest HBCU memories while at XULA?

Graduation day. Enough said.

Britney Francis is an English teacher from southern Louisiana by way of Houston, TX. She has a bachelors degree in Communications from Xavier University of Louisiana, with a concentration in public relations and speech communication. She is currently working as a kindergarten teacher in Beijing, China. She is passionate about travel, sports, and children’s causes.

Follow her experiences via Twitter at @britneyisland

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An Untapped Opportunity: African American Women’s Absence In The Craft Beer Industry


By Della Fain

There was a time when you thought of beer, it was a beverage to accompany you to picnics and ballparks. No one was doing anything innovative or creative with beer. Fast forward to now and crafted beer makes up 98 percent of all breweries in the U.S. This in no small part is due to the support of craft beer lovers. But who are these craft beer lovers?

In an industry that nets 107.6 billion dollars annually a 2014 survey conducted by Neilsen found that African Americans rank a minute 3.7 percent of all craft beer. And of that 3.7 percent, how many are Black women? To quote 702’s song “Where my girls at?” Now do not get me wrong, we are not non- existent and there are Black women in the industry as brewers, bloggers, owners, culture and lifestyle branders, but the numbers are minute. With society and lifestyle brands like Dope & Dank co-founded by a Black woman Beny Ashburn, who advocates diversity in the dank world of craft beer.

But in a decade of sustained growth, the craft industry has largely ignored minorities and in the past, diversity meant white women. And even today it only in a small part means men of color. So, where do we (African American women) fit in?

In 2017, Craftbeer.com listed 8 women in craft beer who are making a mark, and none were Black. No mention of Celeste Beatty, founder of The Harlem Brewing Company, or the fact that her beers are available in 39 Wal-marts across New York. In April of this year The Brewers Association, an organization dedicated to small and independent American brewers, named a Black woman J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham their first diversity ambassador. I tried unsuccessfully to interview Dr. Beckham about what a diversity ambassador does. Hopefully future dialogue about what diversity means in craft beer and what’s missing.

While recently watching a video of Alisa Bowens-Mercado the first African American woman brewing beer in Connecticut canning her own unfiltered lager named Rhythm I noticed she was the only woman of color present in the video. She is quoted as saying she would like to “see more women in the industry, more brewing, more women canning.”

Since craft beer has mainly been a white man’s game and only recently included men of color and even more recently white women, black women have a few hurdles to leap before we can be acknowledged and respected. The predominately boys club has also made it clear that they are not interested in our taste or opinions on beer unless a pair of breasts accompany it. So first we have to overcome sexism seals then race.

A lot of breweries do not even consider African American women as their consumer because Black women are not being seen drinking or purchasing craft beer. When I am in line for a can release I’m one of few women and the only Black woman in line. We do not feel included so we do not show our love for it and our opinion isn’t largely sought after because we aren’t present.

And finally, an issue I’ve seen with my growing presence on social media is lack of support to one another. I see our white counterparts trade, share, follow, repost and support one another on their craft beer journeys, but a huge lack of support amongst each other. Women are often pitted against each other in every facet and culture of life and the craft beer community is no different. I especially see it among black women. I say this having experienced more support, follows, shares, trades and paid appearances through white men. I see black men get together and have a guys weekend of comradery, fellowship and mutual love of craft beer. I know there are Black women who love craft beer, so how about we show the industry what we have to offer it. Cheers Black Women and if you see me, next rounds on me.

Della Fain is an Chitown native Arizona resident. Married mother of 3. She’s also a contributor to Bourbon Zeppelin giving bourbon barrel aged beer reviews. You can follow her on Instagram at @sixfeetofdynamite. 

A Mother Of Three, Two Fathers, A Boyfriend, And 20 Dollars: The Harsh Reminder Of African America’s Financial Existence


Poverty is the worst form of violence. – Mahatma Gandhi

 

Warning: This story contains images with offensive language.

If you have not heard by now, there is a text conversation (pictured below) that went viral among #BlackTwitter concerning a (assumed African American) mother of three who asked her boyfriend for twenty dollars so her three kids who were not his could go on a field trip since their fathers supposedly did not have it to give her and she did not have it herself. Needless to say people were appalled from every angle. Many men could not believe she was asking her boyfriend to pay for kids that were not his and many women could not believe the boyfriend would not give his girlfriend the money since it was in many opinions – JUST twenty dollars. The two fathers were largely spared much critique aside, but according to the mother neither had it to give her, which is what made her turn to the boyfriend in a last resort. That four (assumed) African American adults could not come up with twenty dollars seems almost unbelievable, but there is a reality that this may have been exactly the case.

The addage that men lie, women lie, but numbers do not maybe quite fitting here. One in four of all Americans have no money in savings according to a recent study by Bankrate.com. Although the study does not break out race, it is often seen in every statistical category about wealth and income that whatever cold America has, African America tends to have pneumonia. It is fair to say that the likely percentage of African America with no savings is possibly well over 50 percent, but the numbers and story does not end there. A few other economic statistics to note:

  • African American poverty is almost three times the size of the national rate at 22 percent versus 9 percent, respectively.
  • African Americans are still the only racial group making less than they did in 2000.
  • African American median income is $39,490, while America’s median income is $59,039 and Asian America’s median income is $81,431.
  • Average savings account balance for African Americans is $1,000 versus white America’s $7,140 and Hispanics $1,500.

Now, put that last statistic against the average rent in the U.S. as of 2016, which is $1,050 and in essence African Americans exist in a perpetual negative financial existence. That none of those four individuals potentially had twenty dollars to spare is the harsh reality of most African Americans, a situation that becomes even more acute among low-income and working class African Americans whose education and job choices may leave them in a constant state of uncertainty financially. This is to say nothing of the impact that the children’s potential deficit of exposure and beneficial experience the field trip would have provided them, a serious issue worthy of its own exploration when it comes to the development aspect of African American children.

For many of us, the number could change to 50, 100, or 200 dollars and we would find ourselves in a similarly uncomfortable conversation. It also speaks to the lack of support system around this mother and her children from her own family who may also be facing financial angst. There are a lot of layers to this story that much we can be for certain. We can certainly explore the systemic issues and lack of financial aptitude that face our community and the like, but what we should not be is quick to judge any of the individuals in this situation without truly understanding the full breath of our community’s reality.

 

Locked Out: HBCUs Only Receive 3 Of The 460 Donations Of $1 Million Plus To Colleges In 2017


If charity is any economic indicator, then wealthy donors have retrenched their nervousness about the economy as a whole. Two years ago, $1 million dollar plus donations to colleges and universities were under 500 such charitable gifts for the first time since 2012. Last year, that was reversed to almost 600, but the reversal was not to be sustained in 2017 where once again less than 500 donations – only 460 to be exact were of the $1 million dollar plus variety to colleges and universities. The largest donation made its way to UC-San Francisco to the tune of $500 million by the Hellen Miller Foundation whose source of wealth stems from real estate. For perspective, this donation is an amount equal to twenty-five percent of all HBCU endowments combined.

For HBCUs, the trend has been a constant struggle to get back to 2014 when nine such donations were made to our institutions. Since that time, not more than five have occurred in a given year in the past three years and this year marks the lowest number with only three donations of $1 million plus. That HBCUs can not even garner three percent (the number that HBCUs represent as a total of all American colleges and universities) marks a continued challenge in the financial arms race that is happening among higher education institutions as the shifting landscape of the 21st century unfolds. Without the transformative donations, HBCUs remain reliant on tuition revenue and at risk in competing for talent both among faculty, students, research, and infrastructure. What is the solution to this philanthropic Rubik Cube? As with most problems, there is more than one solution, but there is no doubt those solutions need to come fast and soon.

If you need perspective on just how large the gap is between the largest donations to HWCU/PWIs and HBCUs is – the top three PWI donations totaled $969 million. In contrast, HBCUs top three donations totaled $3.7 million, an amount that is 262 times less.

1. Orlando L. Clark (pictured above) – $1.59 Million
Recipient: Tuskegee University
Source of Wealth: Health care

2. Antonio Clayton – $1.1 Million
Recipient: Southern U. System Foundation
Source of Wealth: Law

3. George & Jill Hamilton – $1 Million                                                        Recipient: North Carolina Central University
Source of Wealth: Chemicals

Source: The Center for Philanthropy

 

Alabama A&M University Students Standout At APA’s 2018 National Planning Conference In New Orleans


“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.” – Gloria Steinem

This year’s American Planning Association in New Orleans was a success for both the organization and for the exposure that a set of Alabama A&M University students (pictured above) received who were in attendance.

American Planning Association’s history dates back to 1978 when the American Institute of Planners and the American Society of Planning Officials merged and decided to move forward under a united banner with the aim of, “organized exclusively for charitable, educational, literary and scientific purposes to advance the art and science of planning and the activity of planning — physical, economic, and social — at the local, regional, state and national levels.” Today, the website states that the organization’s current vision revolves around, “provides leadership in the development of vital communities by advocating excellence in planning, promoting education and citizen empowerment, and providing our members with the tools and support necessary to meet the challenges of growth and change.” Something that is a vital exploration of HBCU towns and surrounding communities who are often highly undeveloped.

Alabama A&M, located in Huntsville, Alabama, like many rural HBCUs is a flagship institution in the halo geography of its location. Huntsville is home to almost 200 000 residents along with a strong NASA presence. affordable housing, the future for Huntsville could be extremely bright – and therefore Alabama A&M impact on the area could also be . However, who will ultimately play a role in shaping Huntsville’s future? Hopefully, with a strong planning program like the one being developed at AAMU, it will be their alumni who will sit in public office and private firms and shaping the future and influence of the city. Ultimately, a benefit to the institutional capital of Alabama A&M University.

The APA annual conferences and workshops provide intellectual discourse on what is shaping communities is often attended by the who is who among public and private interests looking to get a glimpse into the future of how to provide the assets that will allow them to continue to grow and flourish. Given that HBCUs and the towns they reside in, especially in rural areas, maybe the last bastion of fighting gentrification and building sustainable African American communities, it is vitally important for HBCUs, their professors, and students especially continue to be present.

We were able to catch up with Tayla Solomon, a rising junior at Alabama A&M and Urban Planning major with a minor in Political Science,  who was one of the Bulldogs in attendance at the conference and got her to share her thoughts on attending:

What made you decide to major in Urban Planning? I decided to major in urban planning when I visited spring ‘16. My college counselor, Paula Dofat, made it possible for me and another classmate to drive to AAMU from Baltimore. I knew I wanted to major in something that not only caught my attention but would be if a great impact to the world in many ways.

Was this your first time attending the APA conference? Yes, this was my first planning conference. I’m excited to start fundraising for the next one.

Was Alabama A&M University the only HBCU present that you are aware of? If so, do you think it is important for more HBCUs to be present in the organization and conference? If so, why? AAMU was not the only HBCU at the conference. But there are a limited amount of HBCU’s that are accredited in urban planning. HBCU’s make up a small number in most conferences and most do not have the funds to participate.

What was the most important take away for you from this conference? The most important thing I took away from the conference was to network. There are thousands of people who share the same interest in you and they are also willing to help you and work with you. Once you step out of your comfort zone you will become unstoppable in whatever you put your mind to.

Did you have a favorite workshop that you attended and what was it on? I cannot remember my favorite one exactly but it talked about making vacation area sustainable for long term housing.

Lastly, what is your dream pursuit within the field of planning? My dream is to ensure better living conditions in impoverished cities. I hope to get a chance to work in every field of planning, mainly housing, environmental, and transportation.

If you want to donate to Tayla Solomon and the other Urban Planning students to attend more conferences, please contact: Ms. Heidi Weaver, Secretary, Tel: 256-372-5426, heidi.weaver@aamu.edu