NAACP office next to Kent campus encourages collaboration, revival of student chapter

Tamra McMillion, Reporter

The Portage County NAACP opened its first office in Kent, and members are now encouraging a stronger connection between the branch and Black students of Kent State.

The location initially opened in January at the United Church of Christ, located less than a five-minute walk from the Center of Performing Arts on campus, though its dedication ceremony didn’t take place until May 22.

The last time Kent State had an NAACP student chapter was during the 2018-2019 academic year.

“One thing that is really important, even with our student groups, is making sure that you are transferring that power to the younger students that are coming up to make sure that the organization stays strong,” said Renee Romine, president of the Portage County NAACP. “The last leader [of NAACP KSU student chapter], she was amazing, but no one else stepped up to take over after her.”

Renee Romine sits at a desk in the NAACP office. (Tamra McMillion)

The president of Black United Students, Deanna Baccus, said students were interested in an NAACP student chapter in prior years.

“A student from two years ago was interested in [a student NAACP chapter], but he just instead was fine with being in BUS and communicating with them through BUS,” Baccus said.

Mwatabu Okantah, the faculty adviser of BUS, said the groups approach issues from different perspectives — BUS takes a Black nationalist viewpoint of how to interact with white culture and how to show pride in their culture, while the NAACP takes an integrationist one.

“This is the house that BUS built. Black United Students walked off this campus in 1968 and demanded a Black cultural center and a Black studies program,” Okantah said. “So, BUS was more Malcolm X than it was Martin Luther King, and we’re still that way.”

Black nationalism advocates for self-sufficiency, race pride for Black Americans and Black separatism. Malcolm X was a Black nationalist and civil rights leader who called for racial independence and revolution. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader who believed the opposite — that racial integration was necessary for equality for Black Americans.

“From our point of view, we have a center for Pan-African culture, and we have a cultural center director, and we have a student advisory council made up of representatives from the various Black student groups,” Okantah said. “We would want that NAACP chapter of students to be a part of that.”

Baccus said in previous years, there was communication between the two groups, but since the COVID-19 pandemic sent students home from school in the spring of 2020, communications ceased.

“When Tayjua Hines was president, which was two years ago, she was very much in close contact with the NAACP, and I know in previous years, there was a lot of communication between the two,” Baccus said. “The year of COVID, … and then the transitioning of presidents until now, we finally have just now met again.”

Both of the groups’ presidents are in the first year of their positions. They have similar goals, including addressing the safety of Black students and residents in Kent.

Romine said she would like to reach out to BUS soon to start communication again.

“We do need to communicate and stay connected just so that we’re abreast with what’s going on in the community, on campus and the external community,” she said. “We’re right here on campus, which is amazing. … We need young people in the organization to keep it going. It’s the young people that maintain the future.”

Tamra McMillion is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].