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What about us? Time to step up and support Black students in agriculture!

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By: Nevaeh Richards

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo awarded 70 Texas 4-H program members a grand total of $1.4 million in scholarships, but while that’s a great thing, you’ll notice a glaring similarity among the scholarship recipients – they are overwhelmingly WHITE! While there may be a few people of color (POC) dotted among the students who received the award, not one of them is a Black student, and as a Black student, that really ticks me off!

A Facebook post highlighting the “Where’s Waldo” missing Black students gained a lot of comments, and it first made me MAD, but then it made me THINK, and ask myself, “WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?”

The scholarship recipients were chosen from 51 counties across the state of Texas, and I have a hard time believing that there was not one Black student within these 51 counties that qualified for an award.

Your immediate thought might be to place blame on the majority white Executive Committee members of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and wonder if the lone African American member –  Warner Ervin – is speaking up for the people we hope he represents – US! I’m here to tell you, the exclusion of Black children from agriculture programs is, not only on the hands of the 11 HLSR Executive Committee members, but it’s on our school districts, business and political leaders, and the Black community as a whole.

I proudly went from being an honor roll student at Jack Yates High School to a current freshman at Howard University, and  I can honestly tell you, I have NO memories throughout my elementary, middle or high school years of being introduced to any agriculture courses, and upon research, I see they are CLEARLY available at many schools including Stephen F. Austin, Chavez, Bellaire and Madison and high schools, but not many students are participating (nor encouraged to participate) in the programs.

Worthing High School, in the historical Sunnyside area, has a Future Farmers of America (FFA) program, but has never won a livestock or agriculture competition. Are they not getting the resources or support they need? This high school exists in the middle of a food desert, which is even more of a reason for the need to encourage more Black students to learn the trade.

Why are we not thriving in agriculture? Is it because of inadequate teachers? Or is it due to lack of funding? Or is it simply because the educators, leaders and parents in our communities are not encouraging their Black sons and daughters to even consider this particular field of study?

We would like to see both the HLSR and Texas school districts do more to support agriculture programs for majority Black schools and help support underfunded existing programs so more Black students can compete. We’re not asking HLSR to hand out “participation” awards, because after all, these are competitions, but we do know that Black students can and will soar if the deck was not stacked against them. It takes a lot to raise an animal. The animal needs to be fed, groomed, housed, etc. and all of that takes funding. The money is out there, and the Black students need a chance.

It should be noted that the publishers of African-American News&Issues are in the agriculture industry. Mr. Roy Douglas and Shirley Ann Malonson not only own R&S Deer Ranch but are now the ONLY African American ranchers in Texas to sell white tail deer. They’ve seen firsthand how Black students are not getting what they deserve.

Livestock presented by Black students at auctions are often priced lower than their white counterparts. The Malonsons attend many FFA auctions and have witnessed Black students receiving the lowest bids for their animals, so they’ve made it their personal mission to bid HIGH to help those students because the money goes toward their education.

In my opinion, there is a very simple explanation as to why people are bidding lower on the animals presented by Black students. It’s not because their livestock fails to meet requirements, it’s simply because they are Black. So, what are we going to do about it?

For starters, the community and business leaders need to attend these events and bid on our youth’s livestock. Houston is flourishing with Black-owned businesses, and we all have a responsibility to support our children in agriculture. NO MATTER WHAT TYPE OF BUSINESS YOU HAVE – SUPPORT THE BLACK YOUTH AT LIVESTOCK AUCTIONS! If you just attend one, you will see the Black students who ARE in the agriculture programs are top performers who will make you proud. And on the flip side, when you see that there are NOT ENOUGH Black students in the programs, you will WANT to do your part to get more students involved.

There is a misconception that you must be in the agriculture field to participate in these auctions, or that you must take the animal with you once winning a bid on it. Once the animal is slaughtered, you can donate the food to whomever you want to have it – even giving it back to the student who raised it if you choose.

Agriculture education is not only about producing farmers, it is about producing tomorrow’s scientists, nutritionists, teachers, entrepreneurs, and so much more. One major way to end food deserts and promote health and wellness within Black communities is by diversifying and advocating for our youth, especially in agricultural spaces.

Give the students an opportunity to learn how to WORK the land, which could motivate us even more in our efforts to OWN the land. It’s not enough to want to see change, we have to continuously invest in the change that is to come. Never forget the $1.3 trillion worth of buying power and the Black dollar.

 

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