As part of a storytelling series celebrating Black History Month, we welcomed our community members to share their stories to inspire others and encourage open thought-provoking dialogue. Undergraduate student Isabel Bellard spoke with us about her background and educational journey. Isabel is from East Houston and is a sophomore youth and community studies major with an entrepreneurship minor, part of the Urban Teachers Program and preparing to teach 7th-12th grade social studies after graduation.
Do you feel your interest area has been shaped, changed or influenced by current events, now or when you were younger?
I believe my interests are highly dependent on the world around me, especially after graduating from high school. When you’re young, you don’t have much control of the world, and that basically changes overnight when you get to college. I feel like many of my passions and interests get validated with my daily experiences and being in university plays a huge role in influencing that. I think the cultures we experience throughout our lives shape the lens we see life as, as individuals.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month (BHM) is the time of year where Black history gets at least half the attention from everyone else as it gets from actual Black people year-round. The only reason we have BHM is to remind people of the actual Black narrative that’s in America, at least once a year, which usually loses its general popularity among the masses by mid-February. Black History Month is every day for Black people because we’re…Black. I can understand the gesture this month is intended to have, but with the current racial climate, I think it sometimes feels like a burden of responsibility to acknowledge BHM especially when it doesn’t seem like anyone else cares about Black people until something happens in the community or against them.
In the past few years, there have been many movements for change and changes made in the story of Black history. Are there any notable recent changes that you have noticed or really appreciated?
A notable appreciation I have for movements around change recently is UT’s own Black Student Alliance (BSA). Originally, the concept of a BSA stands behind the idea to support, uplift and advocate for fellow Black members, but even from an outsider’s point of view, our school’s organization fosters such a positive sense of community and belonging amongst one another that some students often refer to certain events as their personal HBCU. Representation matters and our BSA handles that very thoroughly.
What do you feel are some of the largest challenges you’ve faced in your academic or professional career, and what are some of your greatest accomplishments to date?
I had never experienced adversity as large as being a woman of color at a predominantly white institution. My whole life, I grew up around and was taught by people who looked like me. I came to UT and that feeling disappeared overnight. I remember my very first class, My UGS, which is an undergraduate studies course, and what it was like to be able to count the number of people that looked like me, using two hands and still having some fingers left over. I felt like I was in the wrong place, like the admissions office had made a mistake that someone was inevitably going to figure out. But, with the correct people planted around me and the support from the communities I was in, I eventually began thriving here. I was able to appreciate the small community here which was a reflection of what I had always been familiar with.
Now, I’m committed to pursuing opportunities that enable me to offer the same compassion and support that I received when I thought I wasn’t meant to be at UT. Some of these opportunities have been acting as an orientation advisor, being a mentor and working in student affairs. My biggest accomplishment to date is not only staying at this university but allowing myself to push past the growing pains that came with this transition. Being here is one thing, but being in a position where I am able to take advantage of the things at my disposal is a privilege that I hold in high respect and value.
Was there anyone or any program that helped give you confidence or mentorship along the way? If so, tell us a little bit about that experience and what it meant to you.
My UGS was titled “Cultural Intelligence in the Age of Trump” and was taught by Dr. Devin Walker. Though his RateMyProfessor reviews were good, as an incoming student with a singular worldview and a closed mind, I immediately envisioned an elderly Caucasian professor talking about their race and political opinions on Trump, and before I had my first day of class, I had already mentally checked out. This quickly changed when a six-foot, light skin, man with dreads (which was actually how he introduced himself and told us to remember him by) walk into the class and shared the plan he had for talking about race with 150 students three times a week. I didn’t know it when I sat in his class initially, but Dr. Walker would eventually open up my potential and plant the seeds of the dreams I am currently living today. To say he changed my life is an understatement, and to have the privilege of knowing and experiencing what he has to offer the world was everything.
Dr. Walker introduced me to the Fearless Leadership Institute (FLI) which is an organization that allows Black and Brown girls at UT to have a safe space to gather, provides professional opportunities and develops young ladies mentally with love, support and intentionality. While FLI is run by many amazing women, the founder Thais Moore has made an impact so significant that I can’t help but acknowledge her. Beyond the consistent love and support I’ve received firsthand and seen her give to others, she is a stellar example of what a true feminine role model for women is. Seeing strong Black men and women in their careers is important for other Black children, and Dr. Walker and Thais are the blueprints for what that looks like for me.
Lastly, my academic advisor and scholars program coordinator, Jessica Silva reminds me of why I ever committed to my dreams in the first place. She alludes to what it means to be a first-generation world changer and the support she has fostered for me has been mandatory in my success. These are just a few of the amazing people that are responsible for my achievements and growth up to this point and I look forward to seeing who else joins my story.