TVCC Professors Hope to Inspire Others
What started as a conversation among professors quickly became a symposium to inspire others.
Trinity Valley Community College Professor of History Rob Risko and Professor of Philosophy Matt Cleaver noticed the need to bring intriguing public speakers to TVCC and discussed how to make the idea happen.
“We used to have speakers on campus before COVID that would talk about relevant ideas that are going on,” Risko shared. “For us in history, government, social sciences, or civics division, it’s kind of our mission to create critical thinkers. We’ve gotten away from that so this [symposium] is us getting back to our roots and inviting people who are exciting and bring a lot of energy to talk about relevant things that are going on not only in the news, but around the world.”
After hearing the conversations between Risko and Cleaver, Professor of History Dr. Daniel “Cade” Allen was excited to help drive the idea into reality.
“This idea was born out of Matt and Rob’s conversations with each other.” Allen explained. “We see some trends that are moving away from one of the original missions of higher education which is to provide a space to have open, honest dialogue over relevant and important issues in a way that won’t end up in controversy.”
The discussion between Risko, Cleaver, and Allen began to grow into planning the symposium. Little did they know, while attending a conference, Risko would find the perfect guest speaker to feature.
“Rob was gone attending a conference in Mississippi, while he’s there my phone lights up,” Allen said. “He said I have this really interesting speaker that we just heard and we have got to include her. “
In October 2023, Risko was attending the Gulf South History & Humanities Conference. During the conference, he heard Indigenous educator and resistance artist Chiara Enriquez, known as Sunshine from the Karankawa Kadla Hawk Clan, speak on her experiences.
“I had always been told as a professional the Karankawa were extinct as an identifiable people and here we have somebody that is standing there,” Risko explained. “I have someone in front of me telling me something completely different than what I had been told and studied. She kickstarted it for me.”
Excitement began to grow in the Civics Department, the perfect speaker was found, and the symposium was one step closer to happening.
“They [Risko and Cleaver] began to build this idea up to include other people and other issues, but it’s all focused on that moment where he [Risko] knew we needed to do something like this,” Allen shared.
Risko, Cleaver and Allen began to collaborate on other stories and speakers they should feature.
“We thought is [Sunshine] enough or do we need more diverse voices to make things more interesting,” Cleaver explained. “We decided to go for a variety of stories. There are many stories of historically marginalized people that often get overlooked and aren’t heard.”
The idea of having a person who works with migrants and understands their struggles was thrown into discussion. Pastor Isabel Marquez name was brought up as a person to feature.
“Isabel’s name was one of the first names that came up,” Risko explained. “She’s passionate about what she does out of Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and working with Hispanic communities and migrants.”
Marquez, serves as the Associate Pastor at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church; the Lead Pastor of Gracia Viva church plant, a unique and inclusive Spanish congregation with a special focus on the LGBTQ community; and site coordinator at the Dallas Responds Welcoming Center, a center offering a smooth transition for individuals and families seeking asylum.
“She’ll be able to give a human face and tell stories about people that are often being treated as an object,” Risko expressed.
Cessilye R. Smith stood out as an obvious choice to both Cleaver and Risko. Both Cleaver and Risko knew Smith beforehand through church functions and her husband, Ramon Smith, Director of The Ark Campus Ministry.
“We knew her story and what she was doing with prenatal care, and she is sharp as a tack,” Risko shared. “You are going to see that come out when she speaks. She is very passionate in what she does.”
Founder and CEO of Abide Women's Health Services, Smith founded the organization to improve birth outcomes in communities with the lowest quality of care by offering healthcare and complimentary services, according to abidewomen.org. Cleaver explained that when creating Abide Women’s Health Services, Smith noticed concerns in maternal outcomes in the African American communities and felt compelled to help.
“She didn’t ask for anyone’s permission to do what she’s doing,” Cleaver said. “She saw problems in maternal outcomes in the African American community and decided she was going to start a birth center. She saw a problem and wanted to help.”
Cleaver hopes through Smith’s story, students will feel empower to help others.
“I want students to figure out they do not have to wait to get permission from somebody to solve a problem,” Cleaver said. “If you see something that is important, and you want to make a difference then start going after it.”
On Monday, Feb. 12, TVCC students, staff, faculty, and the public will get the opportunity to hear from Smith, Enriquez, and Marquez during Untold Stories: Experiences of Success Despite Struggle. The event will be held at 10 a.m. in the Pauline Knight Perkins Auditorium on the TVCC – Athens Campus. The event is free and open to the public.
“We kicked around what to call the event and it’s really a way to offer an alternative voice and an alternative story that often doesn’t get told,” Risko shared. “That’s really the point. A lot of students don’t encounter too many people that are just like them. It’s an opportunity to hear to an alternative story.”