Black History Month

Celebrating Black History Month


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February is Black History Month, and it is a time to celebrate the achievements African-Americans have made throughout history. As an institution of higher learning, Hodges University promotes diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural competency, and to celebrate Black History Month, we are highlighting one student, faculty, staff and alumni, who will discuss the challenges each have overcome as well as the importance of Black History Month.


Gail Williams
Chief Diversity Officer

Gail Williams

Gail Williams

Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Gail Williams, at 5 years old, remembers her family moving into a home on the west side of Baltimore. Experiencing some discrimination as one of the first African-American families in a predominantly white neighborhood, the family stayed close and offered their home to family, friends and neighbors needing a place to stay. Williams’ father emphasized the importance of learning a trade, so Williams attended a vocational high school where she learned dressmaking and design. Working in the field for several years, it wasn’t until she attended International College as an adult learner that she earned her associate and bachelor’s degree, as well as her MBA. She is a certified diversity executive and emotional intelligence coach.

What struggles, if any, have you faced (personally or professionally) as an African-American that you have overcome?
As a woman and a woman of color, I face misconceptions about my abilities and whether or not I fit in. There is ongoing pressure to conform, make fewer mistakes, be socially and professionally visible, and have credibility, which can be difficult when there is a reality of exclusion and limited power. How I am perceived due to bias both conscious and unconscious has played a key role in the pace of my progress and whether or not doors of opportunity will continue to be opened to me.

I am an advocate for change and I believe it begins with me. Therefore, I must represent all people with an emphasis on women and be a role model leading by example, paving the way and making a difference that will lessen the struggles others might face. This sense of responsibility enables me to stay focused and grounded.

Why is your role as chief diversity officer (CDO) so important to you?
It is an honor and privilege to serve as the CDO of Hodges University. As an agent of change and a strategist, I am in a position that affords me the opportunity to make a positive impact on our students, faculty, staff and administration and to build bridges to our community. It is a tough and challenging job; yet, it is very rewarding to know I am making a difference. I want improvement; I want to be a part of executing positive and progressive change.

Is there anyone of African-American descent you view as an inspiration? Explain.
The women in my family are an inspiration to me. My mother had very high standards and was dedicated to her family. She taught me how to be a homemaker, a lady and a strong woman. My paternal grandmother was an amazing woman, an entrepreneur. My grandfather was away at war, therefore, she had to raise her seven children alone. This involved working various jobs: seamstress, beautician and laundress. She drove an ice delivery truck and had her own catering business. She invested in real estate and owned several rental properties. My grandmother and my father inspire my work ethic. My father taught me to stand my ground, to never be cruel but never tolerate mistreatment of others or myself.

Dr. Harold Russell, a faculty member of Hodges University, inspired me to pursue the field of diversity when we launched our diversity initiatives 12 years ago as International College.

Throughout history, many other African-Americans have inspired me as leaders in their professional fields such as Donna Auguste, Mark Dean, Gerald Lawson, Ursula Burns, Gen. Hugh G. Robinson, Katherine Johnson, J. Ernest Wilkins Jr., Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mae Jemison, Shirley Jackson, Robert l. Johnson and Maggie Lena Walker. And of course, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou and Oprah, who are like a breath of fresh, revitalizing air when I feel like throwing in the towel; a voice in my ear saying don’t give up, don’t give in, hang in there, you can, you will, you must.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black history is important to me every day. Things that were not in the history books when I was a child, I now celebrate because I have access to accurate and detailed information about my people. I celebrate that the truth about black history is being taught in the school system. I celebrate that the Smithsonian’s new black museum has become the nation’s top temple to blackness. There is a lot of pain and suffering, shame, embarrassment and hate recorded in black history, but there is also outstanding accomplishment, endurance, love, kindness, forgiveness and perseverance made by black people to preserve their race and culture that should be remembered and celebrated every day. To plan your future, you must know and understand the past.

Explain why it is important that colleges and universities embrace diversity and cultural awareness, not only at Hodges but nationwide.
Institutions for higher education are becoming increasingly diverse, not just in the terms of racial and ethnic identity, but also in age, cultural identity, religious and spiritual identity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, physical and mental ability, nationality, social and economic status and political and ideological perspectives. It is a fact there is a link between diversity experiences and a wide range of individual, institutional, and societal benefits, including critical thinking, intellectual engagement, interactional diversity, vocational preparation and civic engagement.

In order for colleges and universities to take full advantage of the potential benefits of diversity, they must have in place structures that embed diversity both symbolically and procedurally through executive-level CDO positions and units. This involves more than counting heads but making heads count by practicing intentional inclusion and seeing the role of a CDO as a business imperative and not as a figurehead.

Do you believe minorities are proportionally represented within the field of academia?
No, I do not believe minorities are proportionally represented within the field of academia. Underrepresentation continues to be a concern in academia even though various educational data systems show there is an improvement. For example, there is a report in the September 22, 2017, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education – Diversity in Academe that provides faculty diversity data at more than 1,600 institutions across the United States, which indicates minorities are underrepresented in the field.

Even though I believe it makes sense to have faculty who represent the students they teach, I believe it is most important that no matter the race, gender, etc. of the faculty member, they should come highly qualified to teach, passionate about their fields, culturally competent, and committed to intentional inclusion. They also need to understand and respect diversity of thought, recognize their own biases, and understand and appreciate that diversity and inclusion are essential to the institution’s success.

How can educational institutions better serve diverse student populations?
To better serve your customer, you must know them, their history, cultural needs and wants, likes and dislikes. To stereotype or pigeonhole the student population and not address their unique differences can have a negative impact on enrollment and retention. In every area of the institution, there is a need for the appreciation of diversity, equity, emotional intelligence, inclusion and cultural competency training with the purpose of providing better customer service for the student population.

Part of the curriculum may be used to advance the diversity mission of educational institutions.

There are multiple sources of delivery methods to reach a diverse and complex audience within a campus community to enhance the diversity mission of an institution. These methods include but are not limited to presentations, workshops, seminars, conferences, lunch and learns, focus groups and community outreach. Diversity, cultural competency, equity, and intentional inclusion must be embedded in the core of the institution and be part of the overall strategic planning process.


Jimmy Rodriguez
Hodges Alumnus and Assistant Director of Auxiliary Services

Jimmy Rodriguez

Jimmy Rodriguez

Moving from New York to Florida at the age of 16, Jimmy Rodriguez went from a predominantly African American neighborhood to being one of only a handful of African American students in his school. Interested in learning about individuals from other backgrounds, this change didn’t faze him; however, as a student in high school, his experience dissuaded him from pursuing college. Only when he was 28 years old did he decided to pursue higher education.

What struggles, if any, have you faced (personally or professionally) as an African-American that you have overcome?
To be honest I never wanted to admit that any struggles I have encountered came because of being African American. However, when I was in high school, I basically fell through the cracks. Teachers and guidance counselors took no interest in me or my future. I came from a school system in New York where everyone cared and tried to get the best out of me to a system where I was labeled and constantly thrown out of classrooms for reasons I do not know. I always thought I did something wrong but looking back on it, I can honestly say it might have been for those reasons I never wanted to admit. At one point, it looked like I wasn’t going to graduate high school because of some major mistakes they made with my records and the courses I took in New York. This was something they decided to not bring to my attention until it was almost too late. I didn’t care. I didn’t complain, and I did everything I needed to graduate on time.

As a former student, how important was it that you attend a university that was culturally diverse?
Attending a university that is culturally diverse was important, because I want to see that everyone, despite his or her background, has the same opportunity to get an education and be in better positions to succeed in the future. It does help to know that you have classmates who may have experienced some of the same things you have. Having the opportunity to form relationships with classmates from other backgrounds will serve as a learning tool to help foster relationships in your career.

Is there anyone of African-American descent you view as an inspiration? Explain.
Something I think we as African Americans take for granted are the serious circumstances of those who came before us had to endure. Yes, we still have major issues today but think about the past and the risks people like Rosa Parks, Medgar Evans and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took; two of them paid with their lives. To go back even further and look at someone like Sojourner Truth, who fought for women’s rights as well as against slavery, these are just a few of the great people who inspire me to remember how far we have come but also how much further we have to go.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
To answer this question, I really have to remember what it was like growing up in New York. If I am being honest, I feel our school system here in Florida does not do half as good of a job informing young students of the importance of Black History Month. It really was a celebration. We would have assemblies and put on performances that also served as lessons. We really dedicated an entire month to remembering and learning about Black history. Black History Month, to me, means to respect the past while looking towards the future.

Explain why it is important that colleges and universities embrace diversity and cultural awareness, not only at Hodges but nationwide.
Our nation is the greatest melting pot. No matter how things seem politically, we must remember that the United States was built on the backs of immigrants, people from different cultures and backgrounds. It’s what makes the United States so unique compared to other countries. It is important that colleges and universities embrace diversity and cultural awareness, because we need to encourage people from all walks of life to continue to grow through education. We should embrace it so we can all have a better understanding of each other and realize that even though we are different in many ways, if you look close enough, you will see how similar we are.

How can educational institutions better serve diverse student populations?
In order to better serve diverse student populations, institutions must feature a diverse staff. This is needed from top to bottom. Leadership and staff should be able to understand their student population, and the best way to do that is to have more people in leadership positions who remember and understand what the student population is dealing with on a daily basis.


Anita Gee
M.S. Clinical Mental Health Counseling student

Anita Gee

Anita Gee

Currently pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Hodges University, Anita Gee was told by her high school counselor that she should not consider attending college because “children like me couldn’t make it in that environment.” Growing up in a family of 11 and living in a three-bedroom home in Kansas City, Kansas, Gee took the devastating words used by her counselor and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in public health, saying, “Those words have actually served me positively throughout my adult life by helping push me forward, reminding me not to give up when times get tough.”

What struggles, if any, have you faced (personally or professionally) as an African-American that you have overcome?
Some of the primary struggles I have had to overcome include feelings of not being good enough and not being accepted for being an African American. I was actually selected to attend a summer camp for gifted children during the summer of the fifth grade. I remember seeing how everyone else was dressed and noticed the new cars their parents drove. I didn’t know how unimportant this stuff was at the time, but as a young, insecure adolescent, it was a bit overwhelming. I remember being pointed at and feeling alone. I made it through and eventually made some friends, even though I was the only African American child in the group of about 100 students. This would be a pattern throughout my life after high school, especially on a professional level. Things were different many years ago. I was expected to straighten or perm my naturally kinky hair, wear clothes to fit in, and act and look like others. I felt lost for a while until I decided to not pretend to be someone or something I was not. I found myself and my freedom again at around the age of 35.

As a student, how important is it that you attend a university that embraces culturally diverse populations?
It was extremely important for me to attend a university that embraces cultural diversity. I was excited after researching Hodges’ history and commitment to the encouragement of a culturally diverse student population. I actually enjoy learning about other cultures and ethnic traditions, and I have learned that people are basically the same. I am grateful for the positive and supportive environment at Hodges. I have found it to be very inspiring.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
I am grateful for Black History Month. However, I believe learning about one’s history should be an ongoing occurrence.

Explain why it is important that colleges and universities embrace diversity and cultural awareness, not only at Hodges but nationwide.
This is important because student populations are highly representative of our global society and smaller communities. In my opinion, the age that individuals enter college is a very crucial time for learning and expanding perspectives and attitudes, and dispelling myths and unfair judgments about people or cultures they may not have been exposed to.

How can educational institutions better serve diverse student populations?
I believe the best way to serve a diverse student population is to employ administrative staff, educators and a student population that represent various cultural backgrounds. I also think that educational institutions should encourage culturally specific programs and events.


Terry Zamor
Adjunct Faculty, School of Liberal Studies

Terry Zamor

Terry Zamor

Growing up in Haiti, Zamor and his family considered education to be a priority, saying, “We were expected to strive for success.” Immigrating to New York when he was 14 years old, he attended private school in Brooklyn before earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from City College of New York. He later attended Nova Southeastern University where he earned a master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics.

What struggles, if any, have you faced (personally or professionally) as an African-American that you have overcome?
I have always been blessed by the Lord. Success was often obtained in everything I attempted. My biggest challenge was adapting in high school. I had to learn and master English while taking a full load of honors classes such as English, religion, math, biology, physics etc. Next, I am a father of two wonderful children, and it wasn’t easy raising two kids while going to school and climbing the ladder of success. Luckily, I had a great partner in my wife, and together we raised two successful young adults. Our daughter is a physician assistant working at Moffitt Hospital, and our son is currently attending the University of Florida.

As a faculty member, how important is it that you work for a university that embraces culturally diverse populations?
As an immigrant, I am pleased to work for a university that embraces culturally diverse populations. I couldn’t work for a university that doesn’t, since I believe the world is better when we embrace diversity. I truly believe that our diversity makes us stronger and better; without it, life would be average.

Is there anyone of African-American descent you view as an inspiration?
I have great respect and admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all his accomplishments. Without him, the world would be a little worse. Dr. King stood for all regardless of color, background or economic status.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is our chance to celebrate all the great accomplishments that African-Americans have achieved and contributed to this nation. Without those accomplishments, we wouldn’t have the pacemaker, guided missiles, typewriter etc. I look forward to Black History Month every year; however, I celebrate my beauty and our accomplishments daily through my actions and my speech.

Explain why it is important that colleges and universities embrace diversity and cultural awareness, not only at Hodges but nationwide.
We do not know where or who the next invention will come from. It is important that we continue to embrace all for a better tomorrow. The United States wouldn’t be the greatest country on Earth without the contributions of immigrants and diverse cultures around the globe. Immigrants come to the United States for a better tomorrow; as a result, there are more Ethiopian doctors in the United States than there are in Ethiopia. The majorities of Haitian immigrants in the United States are professionals or own a business. You will find Haitians who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors and more.

How can educational institutions better serve diverse student populations?
Our educational institutions such as colleges and universities are doing their best with the different programs that are implemented, such as math labs, tutoring, office hours, etc. I am concerned with our elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. We cannot continue to cut programs and expect to develop responsible and well-rounded citizens. We need to refocus our attention on these levels and re-introduce civic lessons; otherwise, we will continue to grow citizens who do not value their liberties or understand what they truly mean. As a former Supreme Court Justice once said, “Our greatest threat will come from within because the uneducated mass will not understand its liberty and its duties.”