28 Aug The Catalyst Behind UAB’s Football Team Return
The Catalyst Behind UAB’s Football Team Return
Who is Garrett Stephens?
Whenever people ask me who I am or what I am passionate about, I start with how I got involved at UAB. I had a mentor and former staff member that approached me during freshman orientation and asked me about LBGT rights and being an advocate in the community. Being from a small town, Opelika, Alabama, (outside of Auburn), I had never been approached about anything like that. That experience changed everything. During my freshman year, I was able to help create the Multicultural Council through what would later become the Office of Student Multicultural and Diversity Programs. This group focused on historically marginalized communities including LGBTQ people, Black people, Women, Asian people, and any other historically oppressed groups. Our office served as a safe space for them.
Also during my freshmen year, I was involved in BMEN – the Blazer Male Excellence Network. We help Black men on campus ultimately graduate from UAB. I was blessed enough to be named lead mentor my senior year. At the end of my junior year, I was approached by another student who stated they watched me work with the Multicultural Council and intern with the Office of the Federal Public Defender, and they thought I would be good to run for president of UAB’s Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA). So I ran and eventually won. Before my senior year, I took an internship with Congresswoman Terri Sewell on The Hill in Washington, D.C.
Now, I am currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration, and I am also the intern coordinator for Mentorship Programs within the Office of Student Multicultural and Diversity Programs at UAB. I oversee the Black Student Awareness Committee, International Mentors, and the BMEN program.
–Why is student advocacy so important to you?
Historically, a lot of change in our country has started with young people and students speaking out against injustices. Students protested segregation and Vietnam before, whereas today, students are speaking out against similar issues, like the longest war in our history and sexual assault and racial bias on college campuses.
Right before I was elected president of the USGA, the UAB football team was taken away. My administration picked up the fight and moved it from activism to policy and advocacy. So we were not only marching, but we were also at the table making decisions and voting. Real change happens when students go from marching to being behind closed doors; real change happens when its policy and legislation behind the marching, when its actually law. MLK said “The law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me.” Protests can’t end wars nor can laws force love, but the creation of laws can force people to act in humane ways, which slowly changes the culture over time.
History shows us that students have been in the forefront of change. Being a student is a beautiful place because we are learning, meeting new people, and growing. Students who speak out against institutions while in school also can’t be fired because they aren’t in the “real world” beholden to these institutions, which gives them immensely more power. Students realize they are in a special place and even more so when we move from activism into policy.
–What has been the highlight of your college and post college career?
I have a few; I was always a history buff and in love with government, so having the opportunity to work in D.C. and create policy alongside State Rep. Terri Sewell was huge for me.
The second highlight was getting football back for UAB and getting that legislation passed in the summer. What put the icing on the cake was students coming out to actually vote “yes,” saying that they would support the team. Mind you, the USGA felt that it should have been enough to speak for the student body, but the students were still asked by UAB administration to vote. Fortunately, the students came out and the numbers in support were overwhelming.
The third highlight would be presenting a TED Talk at UAB. UAB’s TEDX gave me an opportunity to address student activism from the historical perspective to now. We looked at today’s and yesterday’s protests and how they differ and are similar. There were many differences, but also major correlations with students legitimizing themselves as the next generation and the burden carriers of the world. Students speak out for change in hopes of being greeted by an inclusive world and in hopes that the leaders are making the proper changes for the next generation.
–Any advice for African-American college students?
Stick together! As a group, we cannot advocate for our race if we don’t advocate for the entire spectrum of our race. We have to lift up all identities (men, women, LGBTQ) in the Black community. It’s important to eliminate division. We must remain inclusive to all Black students. Most Black students are first generation college students, so we need to create a community that will assist students in maneuvering through the college experience. If we don’t feel like a community, that may determine if we remain in college or not. We have to take care of one another.
–How can readers keep up with you?
Garrett Stephens on Facebook, @_roryg on Twitter, and @roryg_ on IG.
This article was written by Justin Sims, (IAMMRMENTOR), In hopes of not only inspiring entrepreneurs, but young black males to be the best and the truest version of themselves.
If you like this article and find yourself interested in more positive stories about black millennial age males, please visit WWW.IAMMRMENTOR.CO and follow him on his social media pages IAMMRMENTOR on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Editing By: Ciara Dawson