Too many of our young black men are portrayed and viewed in negative images; unfortunately, by our own culture, media/social outlets, and peers. It’s disappointing the black community has twice as many positive success stories which are overshadowed by negative ones. The black community has been fighting to fit in, praying to overcome, hesitant to forgive, and thriving to survive.
Mr. Damien Beard, 24, an activist, and former resident of Peoria, graduated in 2013 from Manual High School, and 2016 from Illinois Central College. He left Peoria to start a new beginning with his mother in Searcy, Arkansas. Once settled, he continued to further his education at Harding University in Searcy, where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in General Studies with focus areas in Science/Humanities. During high school, he received pretty good grades, but on occasions, there were moments he was not focused. His relationships with his teachers kept him from falling into the trenches but he knew his negative actions had to change or he would ultimately become another statistic of failure.
After the emotional loss of his sister KeiAmber Beard in 2013, and being shot in 2015, Damien’s challenges prompted him to rely more on his faith and the support of his parents RiaShante White, and father, Marlon Beard. His grandmother Charlene White and paternal grandparents James and Nikki McKinsey also played a significant role in his support as well. Eventually, he faced those realities and understood it was time to make some changes in his life.
The beginning of his enrollment at Harding University, he faced a profound culture shock. Shortly thereafter, there was an issue with the length of his hair which was noted in the dress-code policy. The University’s Deans approached him, but Damien shared he was not provided the policy nor was he aware it. For two years he and the Deans went back and forth over the matter. This warranted him to speak with other students on campus who themselves were not aware of the policy. At that point, he felt he was being singled out and discriminated against. He then shared his feelings and concerns with one of his instructors, Dr. Westbook, whom Damien nicknamed “OG.” Dr. Westbrook, (a white Instructor) understood Damien’s frustration and supported him by speaking with the Deans personally, and the hair policy was eventually dropped. Damien did not cut his hair!
The victory of challenging the school inspired Damien to become a member of the Black Student Association (BSA). It should be noted that Dr. Westbrook was a sponsor of BSA. The school’s population consisted of only 4% African Americans and one of their goals was to educate a predominantly white population as well as other ethnicities about the African American culture. BSA encouraged all ethnicities to join in open forum discussions on various topics. In addition, BSA also hosted campus cookouts, games and musical events and had a choir which performed on and off campus.
Upon graduating from Harding, Damien’s activism and personal interests increased. He currently works with a group of friends in the area of professional photography. He is practicing African Spirituality and the Laws of Moat and is a mentor for youth members in the church. He works and supports areas of social awareness, human rights, education, and black history and continues to grow his social media base. With increasing recognition, Damien’s works encourage and ensures positive change within his community.
Before understanding and realizing his voice as an activist, he stated the situations he has gone through was preparing him for the journey he is on today. On his social media accounts, he shares his personal feelings, positive words his beliefs and show support to other media activists with like-minded enthusiasm spiritual consciousness. He shared he would like the youth growing up today to understand they have a voice to make a difference and a choice in the path they decide to take. To be educated and aware of the decisions they make now that will ultimately give meaning to their character as life’s challenges occur. It is important to try and remain focused and grounded through any circumstance, but most importantly opt for those who prove they love and support you rather than just act like it!
Damien’s story is an example of how a young man grew into his own through overcoming a number of obstacles and yet, still stands tall with ten toes down!