Don’t You Just Want Me for Me? (2/1/2019)

We have a guest editorial this week. Breanna Holbert was the National FFA President for 2017-2018. The fact that she was the first Female African-American FFA president is historically significant. However, that is not what Bre wants to be known for. As you read this Footnote, you will understand.

Her column serves as a bridge for wrapping up our series of Friday Footnotes that have focused on the prolonged struggle for girls to gain membership in the FFA and our next set of Footnotes that will commemorate Black History Month as it relates to Agricultural Education and FFA.

So, now let’s hear from Breanna.

I would describe being a National FFA Officer as a Swiss army knife. Multiple tools under our belts, skillsets, and abilities to speak in various environments-one size fits all type of situation. Coming from a salad bowl of a state, different tastes and textures of life and people, I imagined myself being a perfect fit for the job of a National Officer without realizing the job would be dramatically different for myself compared to those before me.

Some days, my manager would pull me into her cube or call me on the phone asking me to speak or travel places. Many places I would be requested to go and speak was because of my African American heritage. This was hard for me at first, coming from a pretty diverse area of the country where I served all people. I was confused: “I do a good job everywhere. Don’t you just want me for me? Not for the color of my skin?”

When elected, I didn’t just become the First-Female African American National FFA President. In the eyes of others, I became a symbol. This symbol looked different everywhere I went. There was a different lesson to be learned.

Traveling to Georgia and meeting an advisor who pulls you in and whispers: “We have been waiting for someone like you.” as a class with only black students are eagerly waiting for you to answer their questions had hit my heart like a freight train. They had never seen someone like me in the position I’m in or believed they too can be more than their circumstances.

Traveling to Missouri and having a student, without the courage to look you in the eyes, say they don’t want to participate in your workshop because you are black, was terrifying. I couldn’t believe that we still lived in a time where people couldn’t see people for who they were innately. It set a fire in me to be a vehicle of love and true inclusivity to any and all regardless of what they looked like through the year and my life.

Meeting black students in South Carolina who couldn’t be more enthusiastic about getting involved and being the future of Agriculture, but hearing they combated issues with name calling at their state events- “monkeys in jackets”-by their fellow FFA member, helped me to understand how lucky I am to have grown up how/where I did; but also how our organization isn’t as inclusive as we preach. There is still more work to be done.

For the longest time, there was this heavy weight on my shoulders. I was a symbol to some as hope and progress. To others, I was a symbol of breaking tradition and extremism. All this, just by being black in the FFA.

This, until I met a state staff member in Louisiana. Through our conversation in his home, Dr. Smith would break down all of African American National FFA history to me. He shattered my heavy burden of who I was to many by saying: “Bre, negative or positive, people have been waiting for someone like you to get something going. You don’t even realize what you have started, but it is going to change so much.” That day, I wasn’t a symbol anymore. I was a missionary. My mission was clear. Be who I am, because who I am and what I represent is what I was called to share to students of color or Caucasian alike. I didn’t fight alone, and there is and soon will be others to share in the mission too.

I don’t regret anything I did or said because my work was footprints in the sand of our organization that another student of any color and background will use as a path to their own success; to inspire more people. Those steps will become fossils founded in growing understanding of what our organization can be, and hopefully, in the next decade the dust covering the path will become the symbol of what the organization will be: truly inclusive, embracing any, and understanding/accommodating to all people, and abilities.

I’m proud of the impact I have left, and hopefully, for the growth we have yet to come.