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February 10, 2023

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Black Students Create Change for LGBTQ Communities in the Heartland



February 10, 2023
teampoint

Black students have faced years of institutional racism, debt, and low rates of degree attainment. In response, Black students in America’s heartland have worked to increase opportunities on their college campuses and across the region. During Black History Month and year-round, Point celebrates Black LGBTQ leaders like scholars Niya Denise McAdoo (she/they) and Donnavan Dillon (he/him) who fight for equality and build community. 

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Point BIPOC Scholar Niya is a longtime advocate for the liberation of BIPOC students in Kansas. Niya was the child of a single parent growing up in a low-income household in Missouri. Niya was in the University of Kansas' Upward Bound program while a junior in high school. Through this program, they were able to access opportunities they did not think they would have.  

 Niya attended Highland Community College in Highland, Kansas, then transferred to the University of Kansas. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, they worked with other Black students at the university to form the KU Black Student Coalition. She also founded the Black Student Union 1968 Legacy Fund, the first endowment fund at KU dedicated to Black students' needs. In 2021, Niya became the second woman of color to serve as the University of Kansas' student body president.  

With the help of the Point BIPOC Scholarship, Niya now studies educational administration as a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She focuses on creating more opportunities for marginalized students in K-12 and higher education.

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Donnavan, a Point Flagship scholar and sophomore at the University of Kansas, benefits from and builds upon Niya's work. Born and raised in Lawrence, Kansas, Donnavan became involved in his student council and activism in high school. Donnavan helped create many changes in his school district. Changes included a fair dress code, mental health resources, a no-tolerance bullying policy, and campus-wide gender-neutral bathrooms. In preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, Donnavan increased access to voting education and materials on campus and across the state.  

"While voting infrastructure is being expanded on my campus, this is not enough," he said. "There needs to be statewide legislation and guidance that ensures college students across the state have access to a polling location. For too long students and young adults have been a disenfranchised piece of the electorate. It is time that be changed."

Kansas is part of the heartland of America where, according to the Williams Institute, more than 25% of LGBTQ Americans live, and about 35% live below the poverty line. In Kansas, LGBTQ adults are twice as likely as non-LGBTQ adults to be unemployed and three times more likely to be food insecure.   

LGBTQ people in the heartland have the lowest percentage of degrees and the highest rate of economic insecurity in the country. Niya and Donnavan's work on KU's campus helps Black and biracial leaders in Kansas create systemic change in their communities. The compounding work of school leaders can help the heartland change its statistics. 

As student body president, Niya drew strength from work done by her predecessor Tiara Floyd, who served as the University of Kansas' student body president from 2019-2020. Tiara was the first woman of color elected to this position. After the 2020 murder of George Floyd, Tiara created the hashtag #BlackatKU. The forum was for Black Students to express their grief and talk about racism on campus. Niya built upon Tiara's work to leave behind a better environment for other Black LGBTQ students in the American heartland.   

Niya and Tiara's leadership follows in the footsteps of historical leaders like biracial, bisexual drag king Stormé DeLarverie who was one possible catalyst for the Stonewall Riots. More heartland leaders include Phil Wilson, who founded the Black AIDS Institute, Lori Lightfoot, the first Black woman and the first openly LGBTQ person to serve as Chicago's mayor, and Andrea Jenkins, who made history in Minneapolis as the first openly transgender city council president in the country. These changemakers inspire today's Black LGBTQ students. 

Point makes it possible for Black LGBTQ leaders to access places of higher education nationwide. Of the more than 550 students Point awarded, 12% are from the heartland. Of these students, more than half are Black and biracial. The Point BIPOC Scholarship Program focuses on decreasing hurdles they face in higher education. caused by generations of racism and an education system born from discriminatory policies.   

Learn more about the financial support, community resources, and professional development available to LGBTQ Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students through the Point BIPOC Scholarship. This scholarship has already provided support to 415 LGBTQ BIPOC college students across the country. It was created to help address generations of racism and discriminatory policies in our education system. Those policies resulted in BIPOC students facing greater obstacles to educational achievement. With Point, Scholars like Niya and Donnavan can begin to address these inequities not just in their own education, but throughout their campus, local, and national communities.   



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