The University of Central Arkansas legacy is rich with black achievers who have paved the way on campus, in their communities and in their fields. In honor of Black History Month, we’re spotlighting members of the campus community who are living black history today. This week, we caught up with junior Jarrett Counts, a health administration major from Wichita, Kansas. Counts was crowned UCA’s first Homecoming King in October 2019.
Who is a black figure in your field of study that you admire?
A black figure that I truly admire is Mr. Kenneth Frazier, who was the first black man to lead a major pharmaceutical company. Mr. Frazier started as general counsel for Merck & Co., a major pharmaceutical company. He rose through the ranks, where he obtained a management position until he reached his current status of leading a major pharmaceutical company. My goal is doing just that, which is obtaining my degree, then pursuing a career in the field of sales as either a medical device sales representative or pharmaceutical sales representative, and taking that dream as far as I can.
Why do you celebrate black history, and how do you honor black history on campus?
My history, which is black history, has always been stressed as I was growing up. As a kid, I would listen but never truly fathom the value of my history. Time will truly give you a sense of understanding and clarity of why you should take a step back and not take Black History Month for granted.
Many milestones have happened within the last centuries within black history, and to highlight a few: In 1619, Africans were brought to Jamestown and sold into slavery; Juneteenth, which commemorates emancipation from slavery in Texas in 1865; in 1963, we had the March on Washington, in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, which focused on economic rights for African Americans; and one of our most recent moments took place in 2009 when Barack Obama was elected as our first black president of the United States.
Black history on campus should not be something we just think about during the month of February; it is a large part of American history that seems to take a backseat to other histories. I believe everyone should appreciate the diversity that makes up our campus at UCA. We have come a long way; however, we do have a ways to go in learning and appreciating our differences. I do believe that President Davis has done a great job, and he continues to close that gap.
What can UCA learn from its black student population?
First of all, I believe UCA could learn that African American students have the same goals and aspirations as all other students on campus. We want to obtain degrees and have successful careers. Also, they should understand that our journey to getting and staying in college is quite different than other students, whether it’s due to our educational foundation, financial circumstances or other issues.
How would you encourage others on campus to take part in honoring black history?
I believe that black history has historically not been covered in the school systems at the same magnitude as the history of other cultures. I would encourage everyone to research the contributions that African Americans have made that are being used today. African Americans’ plight over the centuries is quite amazing. We have endured so much and continue dealing with circumstances that are not always to our benefit.
What book, album, film or historical figure would you encourage others in the UCA community to learn more about during Black History Month?
A paramount figure that I believe everyone should read about is Richard Wright. Wright is a novelist who specialized in short stories, poems and nonfiction. He was one of the first African American writers to write on racial themes and protest white treatment of blacks. Some of his notable writings include “Native Son” and his autobiography, “Black Boy.” Wright gave us a perspective on life not only in his shoes but as an African American man within a society that wasn’t built for black success. Wright’s stark portrayal of racism, as well as his role in highlighting civil rights, makes for an eye-opening read.
How do you hope your Homecoming win is inspiring other students on campus?
Hopefully, it inspires other students that everything may not be perfect, but we (society) have made positive strides to decrease racism. African Americans and other minority groups can achieve success if everyone is willing to accept each other based on character and not based on what we’ve heard about another race, or based on a personal encounter we’ve had. My grandfather, who is from Arkansas, was so proud that I was selected as Homecoming King because he remembered a time when African Americans were not allowed on UCA’s campus.