Student Voices: A Black History Lecture and Discussion with Karyn Parsons at NKU

Yoshie Vinton, Democracy & Me Intern

Northern Kentucky University hosted a public event to commemorate Black History month, led by NKU’s African American Student Initiatives and Dr. David Childs, with a special guest from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—actress, producer, and author Karyn Parsons.

Dr. David Childs began with remarks on the importance of American history in relation to the history of African Americans, with a personal anecdote of his grandfather, a sharecropper who worked and lived in Georgia. The message in his words could not have rung truer: “…Black history is American history…” Childs said that we should acknowledge it during Black history month and every day.

The event then ventured into the beginnings of Karyn Parsons’ acting career, her love for the arts (acting, writing, etc.), and how she wound up on one of the most popular 90s sitcoms in America—The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. As someone who has never watched the show before, banking off the knowledge that Vines and TikTok have given me, the night was beginning to appear bleak. I had no idea who Hilary Banks—a main character from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—was or why her character was so integral to the storyline, but the mood in the air was tangible, and I could tell everyone in that room loved her. They nodded when she spoke and murmured in agreement with her remarks. The feeling of support and togetherness in the air made me feel as if I was back at my old church again on a Monday evening.

Dr. David Childs and Karyn Parsons

Miss Parsons’ story wandered from the Hollywood set to how her new-found success at a young age led her to write novels for children. Her new book, Clouds Over California, focuses on a young girl learning to fit into her new home during remarkable political changes like the rising Black Panther Party. She confidently addressed the politically controversial basis of the children’s book and asserted her fearlessness when facing critics—and potentially racist critiques. Though what struck me the most, as a small-time creative writer myself, was her strong moral truths on writing and life in general. She urged the audience to follow our creative endeavors, despite all opposition, despite all self-deprecations, because to be yourself is to follow your heart and act on it. Now!

So, when the rest of the event time was reserved for questions, and my mom kept encouraging me to ask a question, I very shakingly stood up and fidgeted in line until it was my turn. I asked her what advice she would give to younger self, a new aspiring writer, and she told me to read and write as much as I possibly could, and I tried to lock that into my mind and heart.

Yoshie asking a question

Parsons’ tone and wittiness were captivating, and I couldn’t help but trust every word she said. She spoke like she was reading from an essay with a slam poetry tone. It was equally cool, chilling, and heart-touching.

Karyn Parsons and Cincinnati Public Radio VP of Content, Jenell Walton

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