Fashion professor motivates students of color


Dr. Tameka Ellington speaks at the Soup and Substance event in the Student Multicultural Center on Feb. 6, 2020. Ellington is a Kent State alum and has been teaching as a fashion design professor at Kent State for 14 years.

Brady Warmbein Reporter

Students must learn to be courageous and unafraid to talk about their experiences and struggles, the interim dean for the College of the Arts told Black History event attendees Thursday. 

Ellington’s discussion, “Make Fear Your Superpower,” addressed challenges she encountered throughout her career as a fashion professional and professor. Through her difficulties, she created five strategies for others to overcome their fears of success:

  • be strong and believe in your worth
  • stand in your truth and protect your integrity
  • go graceful in everything you do
  • ooze excellence
  • trust in your creator

By following these points, people will be able to live their full life as a complete person, Ellington said.

“Every person in this room was put here for a particular reason,” Ellington said. “I charge you with trying to figure out: What is your purpose? Once you know your purpose, then excellence will come automatically.” 

As a first-generation college student herself, Ellington advocates for first-generation students through her company, Entirety Inc. Her current campaign, “1st Generation Revolutionaries,” was created to advance first-generation students and young professionals.

She began her career as a fashion designer working with large corporations such as Bath & Body Works, Kohls and Abercrombie & Fitch. After several years in the fashion industry, she said, she had a calling to teach. 

She became an adjunct fashion design professor for Kent State 14 years ago. She applied for a non-tenured position three times. After being rejected each time, she filed an affirmative action complaint against the Fashion School.

Although she eventually received a position, Ellington said she was afraid the department still would not welcome her. With assistance from J.R. Campbell, the former director of the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising, she earned a tenure-track job. She became the first African American professor in the School of Fashion.

Ellington expressed she became more productive and excelled once her “grief and fear were turned into glory.”

Students said they were inspired by how she changed fear into a motivating trait.

“Sometimes you might feel like an outsider and not good enough because there’s not as much representation of you, other students and faculty,” Tiana Rogers, a junior fashion merchandising major, said. “Hearing [Ellington’s] story and how she overcame that, even in her career outside of school, shows not being afraid to be afraid and start over.” 

Another student said she appreciated Ellington’s strategies and hopes to apply them later in her life.

“[Ellington gave] proactive steps into taking my fear and my anxieties by putting it into driving me to be better,” Bianca Gant,  senior fashion merchandising major said. “Her steps really helped me, gave me things to think about when I feel fear in my heart about something.”

Contact Brady Warmbein at [email protected].