Why this EMU senior created The BlackBook, a campus and community resource for students of color

Honoré Washington, a senior at Eastern Michigan University, knows that she's lucky to have a parent working on EMU's campus who can help her navigate college life. Her mother is Caroline Sanders, interim assistant director of community relations and engagement in the office of Engage @ EMU

But she also understands that other students aren't so fortunate. That's why she created The BlackBook, a guide for EMU students of color to resources on campus and in the greater Ypsilanti community.

"I'm blessed with a mom who works for Eastern and helps guide me through things, but I know a lot of people who do not have the same (access to help)," Washington says. "I want this book to be that helping hand for those students who don't know where to go and who are unfamiliar with resources. I want them to feel more at home as well as highlight the amazing black businesses in our area."

Origins of The BlackBook

Washington was inspired to put The BlackBook together after talking to Shayler Barnes, Jr., the founder of the Black Media Association (BMA), and another friend who was active in campus activities. Both suggested the idea of a phone book of resources for new students on campus.

The book is broken down into several sections, including Health & Fitness, Food & Dining, Beauty & Personal Care, Clothing & Apparel, Media Arts & Services, Campus Resources, and Spiritual Sanctuaries.

Washington especially wanted to highlight black-led businesses and organization.

John Ward, executive chef at Brookie's Cafe, agreed to be listed in the book partly as a favor to Washington, who is a friend, but also to promote Brookie's to EMU students and to build community.

"I'm big on black businesses," Ward says. "I hope a lot of networking will come about because of it. I control the catering here, and a lot of times, other businesses don't know we cater or maybe have never heard of us. So, I'm also hoping to gain some business."

Washington says that an unexpected bonus of The BlackBook was discovering many young, black entrepreneurs on EMU's campus.

"I found a lot of students who had their own business that I didn't know about," Washington says. "I want to support these people who have made their own brand. I was finding all these student photographers and hair stylists and nail techs. Instead of driving 45 minutes to Detroit to get my hair done, I could go right up the street and support a fellow student."

Barnes has lived in the Ypsilanti area since high school but still found new resources in The BlackBook that he hadn't known about.

"Some of the resources were off-campus, some on campus, and I didn't realize we had that many (black) faculty," he says.

Washington originally hoped for The BlackBook to be a group effort, but, not wanting to wait any longer after asking a few people for help, researched, compiled, and designed the book on her own. 

But Washington, who is a senior at EMU, can't update and revise The BlackBook forever. To ensure it lives on after she graduates, she has gifted her book to the BMA. 

Looking to the future

Barnes started the BMA in October of 2017 with a mission to "enhance Black excellence in all media-related fields." The organization does this through development opportunities, networking, promoting diversity and equal representation of black issues, and more.

In less than a year, the group has grown to about 30 members.

"It's the hub for all media professionals on EMU's campus," Barnes says. "It's a place where students, or people already in the field, can network, developing with one another in order to continue progress in the field."

Washington says the group has already hosted a few events, including a "Success Summit" in March, but it plans to host more in the future so that members can gain hands-on experience in graphic design, event planning, marketing, and other media-related skills.

The BMA will host an open house Oct. 30 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the organization's founding, officially launch The BlackBook, and recruit new members, since many of the current members are seniors who will graduate soon.

Washington's goals for the future of The BlackBook include updating it every semester with new entries, possibly expanding entries with short descriptions, and networking with students at Washtenaw Community College who could also benefit from resources listed in the book.

The Black Media Association may be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Anyone interested in obtaining an electronic version of The BlackBook can do so by emailing emu.bma@gmail.com.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the interim project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She has served as innovation and jobs/development news writer for Concentrate since early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to Driven. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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