Creating for Community: Black Cultural Center Fellows Define SUCCESS


Current members of the Black Cultural Center’s second year of Operation SUCCESS. (Courtesy of Sara Cody, BCC program coordinator)

By Kayleigh Silverstein, Special Projects Managing Editor, News Writer


Powered by the George Floyd Memorial Fund, six fellows from the University of Utah will represent the Black Cultural Center’s second cohort of Operation SUCCESS throughout the 2022-23 school year. SUCCESS stands for Students United to Create Cultural and Educational Success Stories.

The program was created by Sara Cody, the BCC program coordinator, and Meligha Garfield, the director of the BCC.

“Generally, at a predominantly white institution and institutions in general, we have found that we haven’t been creating leadership opportunities and opportunities that are serving our Black students,” Cody said. “We’re creating leadership opportunities in general, but we’re not creating tailored opportunities that are teaching our Black students to create for their communities.”

Through skill-building sessions with experts, students will learn about race and power dynamics in the U.S. and discuss how to alleviate these issues through a program or business. They will then go on an alternative break, an experiential learning opportunity, to partner with a BCC at another school and create a capstone project addressing a need in the Black community.

“And we’re talking about it in the Black lens because not everything is created for the Black community,” Cody said. “And so that’s what this program is: it’s created for the Black community so that we can create for the Black community at a predominantly white institution.”

Defining SUCCESS

Jin Heo and Christee Hixson are two of three students comprising last year’s cohort.

For Heo, being a part of the first cohort was stressful because he felt if they didn’t accomplish what they set out to do, the future of the program would be in jeopardy.

Hixson echoed this feeling of pressure, saying they all wanted the program to succeed. However, they both found success and empowerment through their experience.

“I think the tools and the skills that we learned during the program itself were like a pivotal point in how I would see myself in the future and … how I want to carry myself in the future,” Hixson said. 

For her capstone project, Hixson proposed a Black wealth management program to be integrated into the BCC’s framework, since there is a disparity in student loan debt between Black and white borrowers.

She envisioned financial planners coming to the BCC and helping students fill out FAFSA. 

“So that was my project proposal to have that integrated … [and] to kind of get it at the root rather than like the repayment process to help all types of levels of financial wellness, and to help increase the rate of generational wealth that was not afforded to Black families in this country thus far,” she said. 

Heo hopes the current cohort’s projects will be noticed by the U — he said Hixson’s project was not given the attention it deserved.

Hixson hopes this year’s cohort will learn resilience and not be discouraged by the U’s lack of recognition of previous projects. 

“These types of projects and these types of programs are, I would say, that they tend to go against the grain of what an institution might want, even now,” she said. “Maybe in their words, they say that they want these types of things, these types of leadership, these types of innovation. But when these projects are brought to the forefront, they’re not always given the attention that they deserve, so I just hope that the next cohort doesn’t get discouraged by that.”

To Heo, the significance of Operation SUCCESS lies in its leaders and the work done by the BCC. 

“I don’t think there’s really a word that could describe the impact that they have on our campus community,” he said. 

As a non-Black student, Heo said this program fostered his learning about the struggles Black individuals face on and off campus. To him, the BCC is a place of education for the broader community about these real struggles that aren’t fully portrayed elsewhere. 

“I think other universities need to kind of follow the steps that Meligha and Sara are making on campus and try to initiate similar programs because it does make an impact,” he said. “I just learned so much from this program that I would have never learned just inside the classroom or just even outside the classroom, because these topics are not really discussed that heavily.”

For Hixson, the BCC was a place of refuge — the program itself also created a community and safe place for students to discuss their anxieties and fears.

“I think it is important to provide these types of skills to students who one, might not get that sort of attention and two … you need something in addition because it is a PWI, there’s not that sort of attention given to minority groups who might need it just for existing at a PWI,” she said.

Hixson said these difficult, but necessary conversations were made easier by being a part of this program.

“And it’s nice to have people who can navigate that or do those [conversations] in a safe and respectful and correct way and how to do that at an institution that might not be wanting to hear these problems,” Hixson said.

According to Heo, it is important for students to recognize how invaluable places like the BCC are and support their growth. 

“I think it’s important for the students to see it and to kind of make sure that the university is accountable for it, to make sure that the funding for Black Cultural Center and all these kinds of centers for marginalized groups stay funded to make sure that they don’t dry up and eventually disappear once the limelight goes away,” he said. 

SUCCESS Moving Forward

Students who make up this year’s cohort are Tony Shade, Arin Perkins, Isabel Cossa, Khadija Kele, Nia Brooks and Nnenna Eke-Ukoh.

Brooks, who is studying biology and African American studies, said Operation SUCCESS is more than learning about programming — it is also about creating a safe space for students to learn how to navigate a PWI.

Part of the program requires students to complete 10 hours a week of “office hours,” which could be done at the BCC’s front desk, tabling events or any BCC function.

“By being more involved, I’m more aware of what issues are going on on campus, what resources there are, so I’m also able to share that with other students I come across,” she said. 

Brooks said the capstone projects are not just hypothetical.

“If you wanted to put this into practice, you technically could,” she said.

The outreach component of the program also extends to supporting the fellows themselves — they are connected to graduate students and other leaders in the community. 

“And I feel like as the years go on, this program will grow,” she said. “We’ll have more participants and maybe have some of these plans come to action and just really show up for the Black community here in Utah, in Salt Lake City, at the U, and just create a more diverse, safer place.”

The fellows are expected to go to New Mexico for an alternative break during their fall break. There they will research programming and policy engagement. Hixson will join the group as a site leader.

According to Cody, the different parts of the program were intentionally designed with the six fellows in mind. 

“I hope that our fellows understand that although a lot of times in our everyday life, things aren’t tailored to us or created for us, there can be things out there for us,” Cody said.


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