Family Values

0102 - Family Values

Making what matters count and making it lasting, in the business of being in business. With Jerome Russell and Kelsey Russell.

Jerome and Kelsey Russell Interview


In March 2020, the documentary “Building Atlanta: The Story of Herman J. Russell” was produced, written, edited and directed, in coordination with the Russell family by Emmy Award-winning father and son co-directors, David and John Duke of Living Stories Film & Video.


Along with Alonzo Herndon, Herman Russell had a great impact as one of Atlanta’s first black millionaires. Russell sat at the helm of one of our nation’s leading African American-owned construction, real estate and concessions empires, leaving his footprint on landmark projects in Atlanta and throughout the nation. Russell was also a prominent philanthropist and a key behind-the-scenes figure during the civil rights movement, who provided bail money and other financial support to leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when they were arrested during protests and sit-ins.


Herman’s son H. Jerome Russell, Jr. was, and is, part of a big Westminster legacy. Jerome, his sister Donata and his brother Michael all attended Westminster. Jerome then saw his daughter Kelsey graduate from Westminster in Class of 2018.


Jerome and Kelsey each showed their ways forward in an early 2021 conversation with Westminster alum and WAM interviewer Janice Edwards.


Janice: It is my honor today to talk with someone that I like to call my homeboy because he's from Atlanta, but of course, his credentials are so much more impressive than that. He is president of H.J. Russell and Company, and also Russell New Urban Development, and is the developer and founder of the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. And that just encompasses a small part of all that Jerome Russell does. Jerome, how are you? And thank you for joining me today.


Jerome: I'm fine, Janice. Thank you for thinking of me.


Janice: I want to start with where we first met when you were at Westminster, your sister Donata was in my class and you and your brother, Michael and Donata all attended Westminster. So, what are your memories about that experience? And when did you first start there? In what grade were you?


Jerome: I started in seventh grade, so that was probably 1974. So, I didn't really want to go to Westminster. You know, you and I both grew up over in kind of the Collier Heights area of Atlanta. And I wanted to go to Frederick Douglas High School, ‘cause that's where all my friends attended school, but my parents had a different plan for us, and they sent us to Westminster. So, I was put into a position where I had to learn very early how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. I went there. Starting off, there was a summer program that I took along with one of my closest friends, John Reed, at the time. We both are still close friends today, and that's how I got going. It was an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life, because it's really provided a unique perspective on life and class and race and diversity etcetera.


Janice: Let's talk about a little bit of that, because like you said, certainly there were benefits, but the challenges are real. And this is for the Westminster magazine, the alumni magazine that this will be used for, is delving into the real issue. So, if you could elaborate a little bit about some of the challenges that you faced there, because it may not be unlike, sadly, what some students are even experiencing today.


Jerome: I mean, I was coming in; I was living in two different worlds. I was living in one world at Westminster and then, I was living in another world, you know, in Collier Heights. At the time, you know, I was just trying to get through, and Westminster was very difficult for me; the way they handled the academics, my preparation for it. So, I really struggled through it, but I got through. It was not easy. Going through that, I appreciate it more than ever now. I was in their world; I was coming into a world that was so foreign from what I was used to, and then, as I matriculated through and came up, I got a better perspective around it, but it was always a little awkward.


Janice: In terms of your background, your father, Herman Russell, was well known for his development, as well as his philanthropy. What kind of lessons did he impart to you, and how did that shape both what you learned going through Westminster and then beyond?


Jerome: He always said, “give your best.” You know, put forth 110% effort, whether it's athletics or academics. And he kept us busy. He didn't; he never said anything. He and my mother kept us grounded.


They kept us grounded as we went through Westminster. They never put us on a pedestal. They never prevented... they never drew lines around us. While on the other side, there were probably kids at Westminster where there were lines drawn. Okay, not everybody, but clearly that, that was going on. So, I had the unique experience in coming into their world and occasionally, casually, they may have come into our world, but it was clearly what I call uncomfortable coming into our world, which was black, and their world was white in Buckhead.


Janice: You mentioned the social awkwardness being at Westminster, can you explain exactly more about what you meant by awkwardness?


Jerome: A lot of it was trying to fit into a bad environment and trying to be able to fit in academically, fit in socially, but then having the other life in Collier Heights. So, you know, it's kind of synonymous with what's going on right now. It's what white people, a lot of them don't understand that black people have to assimilate into their world.


Janice: I know that was immersion every day, but had you felt some of that dichotomy before Westminster?


Jerome: No. No. I mean, Westminster was the absolute opposite. It wasn't until we started going to Westminster that I felt that. Before that we were at Margaret Mitchell, but Margaret Mitchell was a little different; it was a public school in Buckhead. Then we left Margaret Mitchell, which was in seventh grade. And there were no programs, nothing to say, “Hey, you're assimilating into this world.”


I think my parents, what they would tell us, is just do your best. You can make sure you put forth the effort, and if we were having trouble, they would get us tutors to help us with it. So it was probably heavy on them too, you know? And out of the three of us, I probably found it the most challenging academically.


Janice: And then what did you think you wanted to do in terms of a career at that time, and how did that evolve?


Jerome: When I graduated out of college, I started to get interested in my father’s business. And I found an interest in finance. I said, “Wow, I'm taking a class, and this is actually what my father's doing!” He would bring home the audited financial statements, and I would look at it like, wow, this is the same stuff that I'm studying! So, it really connected with me. Then he was very busy growing the business. When I graduated, he was looking at an opportunity in Chicago to take on with the beer distributorship up there, Coors, and I asked to come up there. So, I went up there at 22, 23 years old and got exposed to a startup acquisition business.


That was probably the best thing that could've happened to me, because in Chicago, I was in there in 1985. I was amazed at that city because it was so different from Atlanta. I was working and getting exposed to some real business stuff. The business didn't work out, but I learned so much that year, just about people in business. And then it just took off from there. I came back and got engaged. I was still a little socially awkward. When I say socially awkward, I mean I was just naive. I was real naive but was progressing up professionally.


LEGACIES


Janice: When you talk about some of the things that you learned about people and about business, what were some of the lessons that have continued to serve you throughout your life that you learned during that time?


Jerome: During Chicago… well, one is the dynamics of pulling together something and that a plan well-designed can go wrong. That there's always something that's going to happen that's unexpected and sometimes things you can't control.


I saw that manifest itself in Chicago. We were going to consolidate three distributors and there were people actively fighting against that to happen in Chicago. It was very... you didn't see it, but you felt it. So, then we decided, you know, I realized at the time, my father realized pretty quickly it wasn't going to work out, and he got out. What I learned is if you see a situation that you think is great and it doesn't work out, you know, always have an exit strategy. Always have a strategy. You can't predict all of the unknown, but the more you get into this, the more experience you have.


So, my father worked the exit strategy. If I had the chance to talk to him now, I would ask him what went wrong, and did you know Coors would end up buying it back from him, or did that just evolve out of the process?


I'm pretty sure Coors had asked him to go there. So, he went back to them and said, “Hey, this is not going to work. We've got to come up with something. And I've made this investment into this. So, I'm ready to get out. I need you all to buy back and whoever you sell it to, or wherever you get to it, they just have to pay it.” So, I saw how you get out of a deal.


And, I saw how lawyers are so important in a situation like that because Maynard Jackson (former Mayor of Atlanta) had just ended his term in Atlanta. He ended up working in Chicago for a law firm. That's who my father called. Maynard was the one. He was working for a pretty prestigious law firm up there. They were the ones that were our lawyers.


Janice: Oh, my goodness. That underscores the importance of relationships. I know we miss our parents so much after they've gone on. I'm sure he'd be very proud of you and you must feel that. What do you consider some of the gifts of growing up, working with your dad in the business as you did?


Jerome: Oh, man. He was the ultimate role model. He stressed integrity. He exhibited hard work. I mean, you know, you got to go get it. So, he was a go-getter; he followed up and he did what he said and he was going to be a man of his word. So that's what I saw. It was just by example. He was, he was tough on people, but he had compassion. He could be direct and people knew it was coming from, you know the right heart and spirit. He was humble. His humility transcended his stature, but he knew how to use his stature to get things done.


Janice: And that's a very deft skill that not everyone has. What do you feel is most important that you've imparted to your children in terms of both life lessons and business lessons?


Jerome: Overcoming I hope, the kind of adversity that they went through, particularly in my first divorce and some of the things that they, you know, had to go through. I think that has made them stronger. And sometimes, you would wonder if you were making the right decision, but I'm so proud of all of them right now and of where they are. They’ve all got different paths, but I always tell them, I think that the adversity you all went through was the greatest thing to happen because you bounced back; you came back. Once you can fall down, and you can get back up, you know, that's what it's all about. Because life is valleys... sends you up and down.


Janice: That's so true. What are they doing now?


Jerome: Russ, who's 33, he's engaged and he's kind of gravitating toward real estate. He's been a host at Airbnb for a while, and now he's looking to acquire properties. His fiancée is from South Africa. He wants to become a dual citizen, once they get married, and he wants to do real estate over in South Africa, particularly around the water. Sidney is married and has three kids; I have three granddaughters. She and her husband are going to be picking up, taking the big step and heading out to California. He has a position with the LA correctional facility. Mori started a new business, a fitness and wellness business called Holy Fit. She's into that, and she's passionate about it. She's kind of going down that path. So that's Mori. And then, Kelsey's a junior and she's a Westminster graduate, too. She's a junior at Boston University.



CLIMATE CHANGE


Janice: Okay. So, is that the only child of yours that went to Westminster? How was her experience there?


Jerome: She and I talked about that a lot, so I know that one. She said that it really changed when Trump got in, because it was, she grew up with Obama. She graduated in 2018. So, she was a sophomore when Trump got in and then all before that in primary school, middle school, eight years, she grew up with Obama. So, she just said that she just saw the racism, the impact that the kids and the parents had on them when Trump got in, because she said that was very uneasy and not a good situation. It changed her perspective, but she also got more engaged and became more of an advocate around, you know, diversity and inclusion and making people aware of the dynamics. So, she became more introspective around who she is and what she wanted to stand for during those last two years of Westminster.


Janice: I can only imagine the difference there. Of course, now she's in Boston, and I remember Cambridge and Boston from my years at Harvard back then. I imagine now she's probably seeing some of those same impacts there.


Jerome: Yes. She’s liking Boston better now that she has an apartment there. They're going through COVID-19. So, it's just weird that COVID-19 and college, and, you know, it's just a different dynamic.


Janice: Yes, definitely. And speaking of COVID-19, how has that impacted your business?


Jerome: It's impacted the concession business the most, because airports, you know, kind of pretty much shut down. It impacted our airport concession business drastically. It's coming back. We had a hotel impacted, but it has had minimal impact on our real estate or multifamily, and little on our commercial, but nothing material.


Janice: How about the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE)? How has COVID-19 impacted the dreams of young entrepreneurs coming in and planning to expand their business?


Jerome: We had to stop doing events, but our support and our advocacy and what we stand for has gotten stronger. Our support and collaborative partners have become exponential; our ability to bring in supporting money has grown. You remember, we were advocating equality, particularly income and wealth equality, and pointed that out back in 2016. So, you know, once everything happened, particularly after George Floyd and all of the equality movements, whether it's health equality, we were the economic equality microphone that was already there. We are that.


We have to take this moment in time and amplify it even further. So, we're about to really invest further into RCIE to make it something very special. That is more, that is very impactful, as we go into this next decade around inequality. So, it's actually allowed us to do a reset and become more committed and more focused around what we have to do.



BEING CENTERED


Janice: That is really great to know and great to hear. As you advise people in business, and you look at what's changed in Atlanta, what do you consider the most important things for people in business to keep in mind right now?


Jerome: Well, the world has changed. Our country is changing. We're going through a shift, a generational shift right now. So, a lot of politics is manifesting itself through that. But there are opportunities. I mean, the opportunities... are they going to be more challenges than opportunities?


Looking at the opportunities, Atlanta is one of the most diverse kind of metroplexes in the United States, particularly when it comes to African Americans, and you have a growing Hispanic and Asian population, too. So, it is diverse. It is economically diverse... from having the largest airport in the world, you know, one of the most accessible, but (also) accessible places you can go to.


We have... the economy has strong healthcare institutions, so you have Morehouse School of Medicine, you’ve got Emory, CDC. So, you have a prime portfolio of institutions to address health inequality.


And then we have you know; you have all the other stuff of educational institutions. So, we have the educational institutions, and the educational institutions are diverse. Georgia State has the largest of African American undergraduate students in the United States, more than Howard, more than Atlanta University Center. Then you’ve got the Atlanta University center on top of that. And then you have Kennesaw College out there in Cobb (county). It's close to 20% African American. There's no place in the United States that has the population of educated African Americans in Atlanta. You need to do a study on that too, but people know it.


The tech companies are coming to Atlanta. I think Atlanta is becoming the alternative for the tech companies. So, I think you're going to continue to see investments and the trillion-dollar companies are going to be coming into Atlanta. So, the tech companies are coming.


So, to answer your question, I think Atlanta is in for an unprecedented run the next 10 years. And my opinion, I think, is going to be this -- the urbanization, the metroplex I think, is going to continue to grow. And I think it will be diverse. We have to take the diversity and turn it into a strength.


Janice: Wow. That's exciting. Last question. What brings joy these days personally?


Jerome: Wow. For me joy comes in really helping others and being able to be a conduit to bring others along, to use this platform that I've been blessed with to help others. And that help can come in multiple ways. It could be just being an adviser or hearing someone that needs some advice or directing someone to someone else. I love that. I love connecting people and I'm not looking to get anything out of it. I think that stuff will come if you connect. If you're a connector; everything else kind of takes care of itself. I love that.


And then of course, my family, that my family's growing and happy. My wife is growing. And in that we all are, you know, progressing to pure joy. So, if you have pure joy, that’s who you become inside and out.


Janice: Absolutely. That is so true. And it sounds like there might be a spiritual component to that as well.


Jerome: Oh absolutely. I mean yeah, there is definitely a spiritual component to it.



GROUNDS FOR CHANGE


Jerome‘s daughter Kelsey Russell joined the interview.





Kelsey Russell: I was at Westminster; I believe I began in 2005. So that was from kindergarten to fifth grade. And then I left in middle school. I think I left in 2011, 2012, then went to Woodward for three years and then came back to Westminster in 2014 for high school. I was there from pre-K to fifth grade and then ninth grade to 12th grade.


Janice: Why did you wind up leaving and coming back?


Kelsey: I wanted to see more black and brown people in my classes. That is why I left Westminster, which I sometimes can't believe that I realized at such a young age, around fifth grade, I told my mom, ”It's like, I think I need to be around more diversity, more people that look like me.” I don’t remember what other schools we looked at, but I do remember I really liked Woodward. I headed to Woodward. I loved it there. However, I think that was the first time I ever got a C in the class.


And I headed back to Westminster.


Janice: So, when you went back to Westminster, what was it like making that transition? Having been at Woodward and being in classes with more black and brown students?


Kelsey: The transition was interesting. When I got back, I think I almost had an expectation that people would kind of remember me. I would be friends with the same people I was friends with when I left, and I didn't have too much trouble adjusting friendship wise.


However, what I did do was remain friends with a lot of white students. I was in a friend group with a lot of white and black students, especially girls. We were friends all the way up until the Trump election. And in 2016, a lot of them expressed their views, expressed their parents' views, and it caused a lot of tension. And we kind of all went our separate ways.


Janice: What kind of things were their parents saying?


Kelsey: I remember one time we had a discussion about Trayvon Martin, and one of their moms was like, “Well, you know, he shouldn't have been wearing what he was wearing. He shouldn't have been acting the way he was acting.” And I was questioning them about, well, “What was inappropriate about the way he was acting?” And they just couldn't really give me an answer. So those views with them actively supporting Trump those adults kind of just honestly supporting him and agreeing with him, not even saying why they agreed with them, was enough for me. And a lot of the black girls that were in the friend group [started] to just pull a little away from them.


Janice: And about how many were in this group of friends?


Kelsey: I want to say like 12, 14. It was a nice big friend group in ninth grade.


Janice: So how was it when Obama was President and then you were there?


Kelsey: It was fine. I don't even remember any issues when Obama was in office. I hadn't really expressed any; they hadn't expressed any concerns about social issues. And I don't even think that we talked a lot of times about social issues. We didn't talk about race. We didn't talk about class. We didn't talk about gender. And I think when Trump ran for election, it was the first time I was having a lot of conversations about these social issues.


Janice: How did you feel about that and how did you deal with the surprise of it? When we last spoke, you were talking about the contrast between what happened with friendships when Obama was President and then when Trump was elected and how, with some of your friends at Westminster things, changed. So, could you just pick up there with a little bit of how that happened? You mentioned that all of a sudden you were having conversations you'd never had before, and there were differences in just the way that you saw the world.


Kelsey: In ninth grade, I was in this huge friend group and it was, it was a group that was comprised of half white girls, half black girls. And I only say that to say it was kind of the first time in my life that I had had a lot of white female friends. And during that time we would all hang out, go over each other's houses. Then when the Trump election happened, a lot of them made comments that I just was like, ‘Wait, how could you make those comments when you have black friends?” And the comments were very slight like, “Oh, you know, my parents support Trump.” I remember one time we were having a conversation about Trayvon Martin, and my friend was really trying to encourage me, like, you know, “Well, you have to look at the other side of things”.


And I was like,” I don't really feel that there is another side, right? Like an unarmed black man has been killed, bottom line.” So, a lot of conversations about race, the election, their feelings about the election.


And I think at that time in my life, I was like, if you supported Trump then I really didn't want to be your friend, because I no longer felt safe going to their houses; I no longer felt comfortable. Just kind of me navigating, being a black woman, a young black woman around them. So that really put a shift in a lot of the relationships.


The friend group definitely made a divide. The divide was definitely based on race. And it was the first time that I really realized like, wow, I'm most comfortable being a young black woman around other black women. And it kind of changed my trajectory of friendships at school, because I didn't have any friends for a long time. I became a lot closer to older, like some of the upperclassmen, black, upperclassmen that were at Westminster. And it, it almost created a unity amongst a lot of the black students after the Trump election, because it, it felt like, an Us versus Them mentality. But within that, I grew a lot of friendships with black students at Westminster across all grades. And it ended up kind of improving my friendship experience within the school.


Janice: How was it academically? Did you notice any change with teachers, any remarks made in class or anything administratively, once Trump was in office?


Kelsey: So actually, the day that he got elected, I had a history test the next day. It was for a teacher who was known to have very hard history tests. And I had her for three years in a row. I knew how to study [for the test]... That night I was just in shock. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is really the trajectory that our country is going in?”


The next day at school, I had another black friend who was in the class, and he just told her, he was like, “Listen, I can't take this today. You know?” And she was like,” I completely understand.” That was when I saw a big shift in teachers really expressing their views about the election, especially a lot of the teachers in the history and English department. The day that Trump won, English teachers all wore black to the school. In terms of academically, a shift, I didn't really see too much of a change in curriculum or anything like that, but I will say that it did cause me to get a lot closer to teachers. I think, especially in the history or English department, because those are some of the departments where you have the most conversations in the classroom.


There was one teacher in specific, he was a history teacher. He had been teaching there I think since my dad was at Westminster and he was an avid fan of Trump. It was known; it caused a lot of issues for black students in the classroom.


So, I would say that you knew the teachers that weren't supporting Trump, and you did know the teachers that did support Trump. Definitely... you could tell which teachers were supporters of him and which ones weren’t, but overall, academically, I didn't really experience a change.


Janice: What problems did it cause in the classrooms with that history teacher?


Kelsey: My college counselor would tell me that a lot of times, black students would just ask to change out of the class because he would go on rants a lot of times, and it would just make black students uncomfortable.


I remember one time a conversation about kneeling, and the flag came up. And he kind of just dismissed it and said, “That's stupid. It's a stupid way to show your patriotism.” I don't know if those were his exact words, but a lot of black students just felt like he dismissed their issues in the classroom. Like they were secondhand issues, and they just tended to use words leaving us feeling uncomfortable in his classroom.



DIFFERENT STROKES


Janice: So, when these things were going on, did you chat with your dad about what you were experiencing in high school, and how was it different? Was it different from what he'd experienced, or did it seem very familiar to him? What I'm asking is, did you talk with your dad about the changes you experienced in high school after Trump was elected, and how did that compare to his high school experience at Westminster?


Kelsey: Because at the time I saw it more, I talked to him about my freshman year of college. I was able to look back and understand how the Trump election affected my friendships. So, we did talk about it. In terms of his experience, I don't know if he could relate so much to the fact that it was a moment in history that divided, that changed his world at Westminster.


But I think one thing on which we both related is that at Westminster, we really understood that “Oh, okay. People aren't too fond of like black people, you know, they're not, um, they're not too fond of us.” And I think we took two different approaches to that. We did talk about it at the time, but it was afterwards that I was able to look back and reflect on it.


Janice: So, how would you describe your approach and how would you describe his approach?


Kelsey: I think his approach was more complacent and my approach was more carefree. I don't care if you all don't like me, I'm going to succeed academically. I'm going to succeed socially, and I'm going to take the things that you all don't like and put them in your face consistently. So, I think those were our two different approaches.


Janice: Okay. And you have how many siblings?


Kelsey: I have three siblings, three siblings.


Janice: I know they're older. Did they ever talk about their high school experiences, and how would you compare theirs to yours, because you went to Westminster?


Kelsey: They did, well, we talk about more of their high school experiences now, because when they were in high school, I was basically in like from kindergarten to fourth grade, and they were in high school. So, when we talk about it now a little, two of them went to Grady, which is a public high school. And my other brother, he went to Riverside Military Academy. His experiences are more talking about how he broke the rules at military school. and then my sisters at Grady. I think they have more of a movie high school experience with more of the parties and like fighting and stuff like that. So, I think for them, I was the one that went to like the preppy school, very sheltered in my environment. Those are kind of the conversations we've had about high school.


Janice: If Westminster prepared you in any way, how did it do so? if not, it's fine.


Kelsey: It prepared me extremely... it prepared me very well. Academically, I think Westminster has one of the strongest writing programs ever. The way for me to be able to write a paper and get a good grade on it in a limited amount of time was something that Westminster taught me; it taught me study skills. It taught me how to make relationships with teachers and professors and see adults not as authority figures. They can be confidantes. They can be mentors. It taught me how to build those relationships organically. And it taught me great time management skills. In terms of socially, it taught me how to stand out in the classroom. It taught me to be confident, how to raise my hand in class and say, I'm completely confused. And at Westminster, it gave me confidence that it's okay to do that. Teachers wanted you to speak up in the classroom. So, it prepared me to learn how to stand out in a classroom and also to navigate different social worlds and, really know how to work with different people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. So, it definitely prepared me very well. I always say that Westminster was interesting, but I never regret going there.


Janice: If you could advise incoming black freshmen at Westminster, what would you advise him or her to do?


Kelsey: I would advise them to stay true to themselves, regardless of what your peers are saying.


And I would advise them to stay connected to the younger people at Westminster, you know, find programs where you can still talk to seventh graders, eighth graders, sixth graders, those lower schoolers. ‘Cause I think even if you're an incoming freshman, younger people always tend to have the better ideas than you. I think a lot of times by talking to people who are younger than you, you can sometimes find your values and yourself. So, stay true to yourself and find ways to still always be connected to the people who are younger than you.


THE NEXT NORMAL


Janice: So, after graduation from Boston University, what are your plans? What's your vision for your impact in the world?


Kelsey: I hope ... my lifetime goal would be to be a college president of a predominantly white institution. After graduation, I hope to pursue my Ph.D. in sociology. Hopefully out on the West coast, that's the goal right now. Actually, I really want to go to UCLA. That's my top school, and get my Ph.D. I want to always stay in academia. I love... I love education. It's my favorite. I always want to be connected to young people just because if I want to be a college president, I have to know what's going on with the younger generation to represent them well. So that's my hope, to go on the college professor track, move up to being a college president and I hope to continue to do research. I’d love to write my own curriculum one day.


I like to say a curriculum that starts as a seasoning, on top of all other curriculums, that incorporates race, gender, and class into every major. That's my hope and impact... also would somehow like to get involved in entertainment. I think that academia and entertainment are often intertwined, but they need to be more so. It's so easily accessible to watch women on TV gossip, but it's not as easily accessible to watch a college class, which will be great for people to see. So, I hope to combine the two, and I think that my goal, to make an impact, is just to help young people enjoy education, make it entertaining, and make it worthwhile.


Janice: Well, it's wonderful. And when you think about looking at the colleges, you said predominantly white, why is that important?


Kelsey: For me, it's important, because as a black person, I've seen there's not that many black female college presidents. I think if I knew that we had a black female president at our school, I would feel way more comfortable reaching out. And I realized, especially with what happened this summer in the midst of COVID-19 and in the midst of all of these race relation tensions that are finally at a boiling point, you need a person in charge who has an, has almost an instinct to think of the people who aren't in the room, to think of the people fully not thinking about coming back to our campus, who are going to be struggling the most to come back or to keep up with online classes.


And I think that black women tend to always think about who's not in the room because we're often not thought about, which is sad that we kind of have this like motherly instinct and that we have to carry that.


But I do think that after watching our country in turmoil and seeing how the president of Boston University reacted, he reacted from a standpoint of a white man, and it was very obvious. I think that a black woman would have delivered messages better than him. I think that a lot of the struggles that not only black students are going through right now in school, but international students who don't have that much money and are struggling to come back... some have been stuck there for almost a year and a half, because they can't go back; thinking about students who have learning disabilities, who were struggling.


And I feel like seeing him react to a crisis made me think “I will be better at this than you would.”


I think that’s why I would choose specifically, predominantly white institutions. And also, they tend to, a lot of times predominantly white institutions, they accept the students that are already on track to be the CEO of their dad's business. The ones that are already on that track already have generational wealth. And those are really the people that can make huge changes. So, I want to have direct contact with them. Not that those people aren't at our Howards or our Tuskegees, but they tend to be more at predominantly white institutions. That's the target audience that I hope to impact because they hold the most power and the most money in this country.


Janice: Were you politically involved with either the Black Lives Matter protests or the election?


Kelsey: Yes, I did go to one Black Lives Matter protest. I did go to one. I feel like I'm at this point where I'm like, okay, I do the posts on social media. And I've just been trying to figure out what's the best way to be an activist in terms of voting. I did both. I encouraged people to vote. I offered people rides to the polls if they needed them. And that is how I participated in all these movements.


Janice: Last question. What are your thoughts about the Capitol insurrection and the future of our country?


Kelsey: I think that we are just at the beginning of undoing 400 years of racism that has been baked into every single institution. I think that the Capitol insurrection was, I do not want to sound pessimistic when I say this, but I think it was just one instance of turmoil that we might see in the future.


‘Cause I think we're just starting to realize how many mistakes we've made and it took 400 years to make all these mistakes. I don't know how many years it's going to take to undo them, but I think that it was a great example of how there is a huge divide in our country. We're just at the beginning of bridging that divide. I think that's what that meant.


Janice Edwards: Great. Well, Jerome, and Kelsey, thank you so much.



Janice Edwards (Westminster Alum) Contributor