Interview by Will Rende & Brian Nelson
This year, the Gilman News staff had the opportunity to interview our MLK convocation guest speaker, Anthony Ferguson (‘10). Anthony attended Gilman through high school and graduated to attend the University of Iowa. Although initially playing football, Ferguson soon decided to leave the team to create the Young, Black, and Educated Organization, which allows members of the community to gather and discuss topics relating to Diversity. Currently, he works as a college admissions officer.
The News: As you spent time on campus today, how has the school changed or not changed since your time here a few years ago as far as community and diversity goes?
Ferguson: Everything for the most part I think has seemed to be the same. Gilman really doesn’t change, but the kind of students and the bond that I see students have when I come back, it’s always impressive to see that passed down. I’m seeing a little bit more of giving back to the younger generation, like seniors taking care of juniors, sophomores taking care of freshman and so on.
The News: Going back to your time here, would you speak about any difficulties you faced at school, and the best ways we as a community can address such difficulties?
Ferguson: I think, like I said in my speech, like “the recruit” or kind of looking at students differently because they’re being recruited. Typically a lot of the athletes or art students are all on scholarship and you know that kind of puts them in a bubble. So I think that was the biggest issue and I’ve even heard that there are still some issues in that area as well. But again, like I mentioned in the speech, that unconditional love. I had friends that, no matter what, they were always there and that let me know that they supported me and I let them know that I supported them as well, so definitely showing that love to all students here. I think that that will help the problem a whole lot.
The News: So when you were at Gilman, you were able to branch out and break down those barriers, how did you manage to do this?
Ferguson: When I came here on the first day I really wanted to buy into Gilman and what that meant, and former headmaster, Mr. Schmick, you know, he always said “Be Gilman.” That was kind of his tagline and the thing that I really kept inside of myself; I wanted to “be Gilman”. And then it was all about being accepted, which was really huge for me.
The News: At University of Iowa, you lead a program called Young, Black, and Educated. The program holds open group discussions about some topics relating to African-American history that are still loaded, tense, and sometimes emotional. How are you able to get people to see through these difficulties and participate in meaningful, important discussions about the past?
Ferguson: Definitely just inviting everyone. You want the room to be as diverse as possible because you really do want to get as many perspectives as possible and inside knowledge on how people are coming to that conversation. We invite everyone, but these issues are hard. These issues make people feel uncomfortable, but we allow people to sit in that uncomfortability for a little bit and really start to love them and say “hey, you know, if this is how you’re feeling we can help you work through that.” So, we’ve addressed issues like Trayvon Martin, we’ve addressed Barack Obama and some of his policies, we really go into some hard hitting issues; race, religion, everything that’s going on in this country that really deals with diversity or deals with race and we really try to tackle those issues and in a loving way at the same time.
The News: We read that you were hoping to start a mentoring program for high school children last fall. Did you ever end up starting the program?
Ferguson: Yes, we did. We really started it as a pen pal program as well and then when I first got there there was a program that I was really involved in where you go back you mentor high school students, you talk to them about college prep, and that’s really what led me into my current role as an admission counselor.
The News: What inspired you to start this program?
Ferguson: Gilman. Like I said, its always that culture of giving back. So, coming in as a freshman and all of the sudden not knowing much, having sophomores reach out and even some seniors reach out to me, it really starts that culture of “what can I do for the people that are coming after me?” So, Gilman definitely inspired to me to want to always reach back and do something else.
The News: You used to lead a roundtable discussion here at Gilman about the use of the n-word. What was the overall message you wanted to get across through these discussions?
Ferguson: The n-word is a word that has always been used in history to really destroy a people and to really tear people down and there are some misconceptions that that word has “changed” its meaning or has somehow been adopted to something else. That’s just not true, so we wanted to get the message out. We wanted to make people aware of where that word came from, how that word was used. It really came down to that word is really not ours to try to change. That kind of belongs to history at this point. So, we did that a few times here, and we just really made a pact my sophomore year, and then we did it again my senior year where students just came and said “Hey we’re not gonna say this.” And that’s something that I even spread to University of Iowa where we made a pact as well with a small group of us.
The News: We see a lot of pessimism in the news today regarding race issues. Are you optimistic about the future of race relations, and why?
Ferguson: Yeah, I am because I believe that we all are supposed to love each other and I believe that that’s a message that’s definitely spreadable. It’s hard. It’s gonna be an uphill battle, it’s gonna be a tough fight, but I do think that we are capable of doing it as the human race. I talked about that in my speech as well; I’m not looking at black and white, but I’m looking at how can we advance as a human race, and I think if we were able to spread that message, that’s what all the mentoring is about: I’m going back to high school students, high school students going back to middle school students. Really, passing that message along, that’s how we change. So, I’m optimistic that will continue to happen.
The News: You mentioned in your speech that Coach Ferentz is the one who said that you would be helping bring diversity into the football program at the University of Iowa. Have you seen changes in the diversity at Iowa or on the football team?
Ferguson: Well, yeah. I think athletics is one where its super touchy. That’s where I believe that the University of Iowa gets most of the diversity when you start dealing with athletics. But, when we talk about real life change, the kind of change from the top down from the bottom up, real change, real diversity, it means not only seeing those students of color on the athletic teams, but also in the classrooms, apart from “hey, these are the athletes over here”, but just in the student body. Iowa is about 99% white, the University of Iowa is probably the same, I think its about 4% African Americans, and less than 10% minorities. If we want to see diversity, if we want to see change, we need to start there. I could say that the diversity on the football team is ok, but thats kind of looking at a smaller scale.
The News: Thank you so much for your time. Do you have anything else to add or any last advice to offer?
Ferguson: Definitely just that unconditional love piece. That’s what’s really important and I think that’s what gets you through Gilman and that’s what makes you successful afterwards, especially dealing with diversity and diverse people.