Katrina then COVID-19: First-gen graduate, Jason Williams, leaves SUNO Honore Center ready for urban classroom
New Orleans native Jamon Williams said his life’s calling is to teach and help others prosper by learning. In 2015, Williams answered that call by enrolling in Southern University New Orleans and joining the Honoré Center for Undergraduate Student Achievement, a program designed to guide Black male students through undergraduate studies through the College of Education. The Center and its staff lead scholars into urban classrooms as educators.
May 9, 2020, would have been the day of commencement for Williams who plans to teach middle school in New Orleans. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what would have been a time of celebration and interviews has become a time of lock-in for Williams and countless 2020 graduates around the globe who must celebrate the culmination of successful educational journeys in isolation.
“I imagined my commencement to be a groundbreaking final hurrah, but that isn’t the case. I won’t be walking across the stage to receive my degree anytime soon, so it feels like winning a marathon with no finish line,” said Williams, who is his family’s first college graduate. He is also a member of the Honore Center’s eighth cohort.
“I know that the impact of COVID-19 has affected everyone in the world in many ways and that this is a time for us to focus on how we as a world can overcome this pandemic together. That is most important to me. We must protect and educate ourselves, stay at home, help others when we can, adhere to social distancing, and remain hopeful,” said Williams.
He has seen the toll COVID-19 has taken on SUNO and his community and plans to do all he can to educate others to protect themselves. To date, according to the Louisiana Department of Health, 6753 cases and 481 deaths have been reported in Orleans Parish and its impact has created a new way of living, communicating, and surviving. It is a feeling of change and readjustment eerily familiar to Williams who relocated to Alabama with his mother and four siblings during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and returned to the Ninth Ward in 2009. Together they rebuilt their lives, but now he says he is greatly concerned about COVID-19′s impact on his family and community although he expects the best because his experiences at the Honoré Center have allowed him to stand tall and face our changing world.
“I know that the dedication and hard work that I have put in while at the Honoré Center will soon pay off and I will be able to continue to pursue my passion to educate others and to build knowledge,” he said.
As a scholar of the Honoré Center, Williams received academic and social support from fellow students of his cohort and from director Morkeith Phillips. That support did not stop when the university moved to distance learning in response to the coronavirus. “It was never a question if the Honoré Center would continue to ensure our students had the support they needed to complete this academic year. When they start the program, they all have stories that have impacted their lives. They are here because they are fighters and have made it through. We never doubted their fight for success – even during these times,” said Phillips.
Named after retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, the Center recruits male students into a highly structured campus living and learning environment designed to ensure their academic and personal success as college men and future leaders. Embedded on the SUNO campus in 2012, the Center addresses the important national challenge of increasing the number of male classroom teachers in urban settings while reversing the trend of fewer Black males graduating from college. All Honoré scholars commit to serving as classroom teachers in the New Orleans area for at least two years following graduation.
By Shonda Y. Wessinger
The Drum Contributing Writer