Black History Month: The First Female Black ASO President

Kirstyn Smith, the first female black Associated Student Organization president.
Kirstyn Smith, the first female black Associated Student Organization president.

Every February, we hear the stories of Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rosa Parks; Angela Davis; and other influential black people who have had a huge impact on African Americans in this country. While those stories are important and are rightfully celebrated, we hardly ever hear the stories of everyday black people who are living in their legacy.

This Black History Month I challenge all of us to listen to the stories of those black people who make an impact on others around them. When you listen to the stories of famous black people remember to listen to the stories of the people sitting next to you, too. I’ll start with my own story, the story of a 19-year-old black female student with a 4.0 attending Southwestern College.

I grew up in Bonita, an unincorporated suburb of San Diego, in a gated community with 17 homes. Since I’ve been born, there have only been three other black families who have lived in our community, but they have since come and gone. We’re currently the only black family on the block. I attended the local schools, which were predominately white and Hispanic. I was hardly ever exposed to people who I could relate to and to people who were the same color as me. That is until I got to Southwestern College.

When I joined UMOJA, I was nervous and scared because I wasn’t sure I would be accepted. In high school, everyone told me I was too “bougie” for black people, something I had heard since I was in middle school. Yet, I still wanted to figure out who I was so I decided to join. Joining an all African American learning community wasn’t easy. While I did feel welcomed and was able to discover more about what it meant to be a black person in this world, I often still felt like an outsider. I was again labeled too “bougie” because I was more privileged than my fellow classmates. Too “bougie” for black people and too “bougie” for white people. That was my life. I wondered, “Where do I fit in?”

That changed after many conversations with Abdimalik Buul, professor and coordinator of UMOJA. He didn’t mix words and gave me “straight talk.” He helped me feel comfortable in my own skin, to accept my privilege as it was and to embrace who I am. I felt empowered to be a part of this community and that my story belongs to it as much as everyone else’s.

Smith at Southwestern College’s 56th birthday celebration on Sept. 14.

In the spring of 2017, I was elected president of the Associated Student Organization. I knew that winning meant I would become the first African American female president and the youngest president in the ASO’s history. I felt that by me doing this and being involved on campus might open doors for other people and black students. I wanted to do this because most of the time people who looked like me are never in high positions, not in high school and not in college either.

I know that everyone doesn’t have the same background that I have. And not everyone has parents, especially my mom, that support them the way they support me. But, there is a group of African American employees here at Southwestern College that are behind you. They will support you as they have done me when I first walked onto this campus. With their support, you can achieve success on this campus. With their support and encouragement, I became the first black female ASO president. I hope I am not the last.

That’s my story, or at least a part of it. It’s up to every black student at Southwestern College to tell their story, too. To be a positive role model for other black students. To understand that if you want to make a change, you have to be the change. Other black people have opened the door for us, let’s not close it by standing in the way and not holding it open for others.