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Rising Stars: Meet Dr. Antonio Banks

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Antonio Banks.

Hi Dr. Antonio, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I am a native of South Central Los Angeles – Watts, CA to be exact (my apartments used to be called the Blue Gates… not sure if they are still called that though)! I grew up enveloped in peace, love, and protection, even though chaos was always around the corner. My first time realizing this was during the 1992 riots, I would realize in retrospect (I was five at the time) how monumental and wild that time was, but my mother kept us safe and sound… as though it was business as usual! While keeping my brother (What’s good Aaron?), my sister (I see you Champ!), and I secure in love, my mom always professed about the power of education. She would often tell us there was no quicker to change your situation than through education” a proverb that stuck with me for the rest of my life. Our initial schooling came by way of home schooling; maybe partly because of home dynamics at the time, but more so skepticism about the quality of public schooling. By the time I began formal schooling (start of second grade) there was a marked difference in between my ability to grasp education in relation to my peers; mom’s foresight paid off in spades. I had a few brief stints at 99th street elementary and 54th street school over in West LA somewhere (can’t exactly remember… I think View Park?) before fully enrolling at 102nd street school (now called Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School).

My first teacher here was Ms. Amis. I wouldn’t realize until later how much of a pillar she was in the community for two reasons. 1) She was a black woman (I would later in my education realize how… monotonous the teaching force actually is), and 2) we often saw her out and about (her babysitter lived right next door to my cousin) and not just in the teacher capacity. I didn’t have the understanding to appreciate this at the time, as many of my teachers later on informal education would not be members of the community. In Ms. Amis’ class, I quickly learned the importance of peer leadership/influence, as I was often called upon to assist my classmates in their studies and understanding of our content. My favorite memories from this time were during standardized testing time (weird… I know) but if you scored high enough, Ms. Amis would always make sure you received a donut per section. I usually aced all the sections (you would get two for a 100%), I remember being so pissed the first time I didn’t 100% a section. My mom assured me that as long as I gave it my all, that was enough (before she bought me an extra donut to make up for it – thanks mom 🙂 This first foray in to formalized, butt in seat (even though she kept us active and moving) education was only elevated upon going into 3rd grade where I met the incomparable Ms. Francine Battle! Ms. Battle was a transformative, intentional, grounded, and deliberate educator in every sense of the word. She often bucked the Eurocentric standard of teaching and had outcomes with her classes that would make her colleagues scratch their heads. Ms. Battle took students from every end of the behavior and academic performance spectrum and did her best to turn them into superstar students.

Although it was technically a GATE (gifted and talented education) classes, there were students who probably had not been assigned to that curriculum prior, but she often saw their potentiality and brought them into her class. Ms. Battle set high expectations for all her students, seeing the light in them that other educators probably hadn’t…. and more unfortunately wouldn’t in the future. But that year in her class would be memorable for everyone. Her dedication to her students came into full display for me when we ended up moving to Lynwood halfway through the year, with the intention of beginning school there. She believed disruption would be detrimental to our academic endeavors; and put her money where her mouth was. For the last half of the school year, she would pick my brother and I up every single day and drop us off at home. It is here where my commitment to education would be forever fortified. From here, my educational journey had many pits and peaks…namely skipping a grade (5th to 6th), running into my first black male teach that wasn’t for the people (I still made it Mr. Lindsey), a brief stint over at Crenshaw Jr. (or Audubon middle school) while living with my father), and a migration to the Inland Empire where I completed my high school education in San Bernardino (San Gorgonio High School, C/O 2004). These experiences, while developmental, never had the same impact that my foundational pieces of education had on me (closest probably being Ms. Stokes in 8th grade at Lynwood Middle School) What I did find, which probably heightened my passion for education, was the route into student leadership. In high school, I followed a girl that I liked at the time into ASB, where I would eventually go on to serve in various roles, summating in the position of Senior Class Vice President. This experience, coupled with involvement in Peer Leadership, would help bolster my status on campus (as I didn’t have an athletic bone in my body).

After high school, I would go on to enroll at CSU, San Bernardino, and experience a very…. eventful undergraduate career. I will spare you the details for now, but I would say that the most impactful parts of that journey came by way of 4 things: 1. The seemingly systematic phasing out of my (primarily black) friends after our first year. Black student retention was poor. I thought it was a phenomenon at my institution but would later go on to find out it was a nationwide issue. 2. My involvement with student leadership, namely joining Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated (Spring 05, Tre Club, 6/5/05, 6w5d4h20m32s, for the affiliated. s/o Chris, Toks, Chuck, and Gary) coupled with involvement in Black student union. My later involvement would find me more integrated with campus in terms of being a Resident Advisor and becoming a part of the ASI Finance committee (appreciate the plug J Bill) 3. A simultaneous revelation that K-12 teaching would not be for me after completing observations with current teachers and the Introduction to student affairs and higher education as a profession by my then supervisor Juan Regalado 4. Meeting Dr. Dawn Person at the end of my undergraduate career that would solidify that I was capable of participating in a graduate school program, even though my transcript might convey differently (forever indebted) Upon enrolling in graduate school, I studied the core content, but my eyes were always on trying to figure out the problem that plagued me since my first year: why were all the black students leaving after their first year of school? This would be central to my studies, as most assignments I did had some relation to this question I pondered over. I was blessed enough to engage in this topic with a great degree of intentionality by way of my Graduate Assistantship at the Center for Research on Educational Access and Leadership (I see you CREAL)

Upon graduating, I was fortunate enough to land a position as a Resident Director at the University of California, Riverside. Here, I was able to make good on the various skills I had learned through the years – leadership, supervision, programming, conflict mediation, crisis management, assessment and evaluation, collaboration to name a few. I was fortunate enough to have partnerships in the living learning communities I oversaw with campus entities such as Afrikan Student Programs, Chicano Student Programs, the LGBT Resource Center, the Honors Department, and more. While fortunate for that opportunity, I knew that I had aspirations to focus my attention more pointedly on the black student population. Opportunity met preparation and I was fortunate to land at Fullerton College as the Project Director for the Umoja Community Program. Here, the skillset and passion that I had for my students, along with an immense amount of institutional support (I see you Dr. Schulz) laid the groundwork for one of the most fulfilling experiences in my professional career to date. After transitioning from this opportunity, I returned serve the Center for Research on Educational Access and Leadership again with my mentor Dr. Person. Though brief in tenure, it aided in fortifying big picture thinking and how to transform entire systems in a way that I am forever appreciative of. It prepared me for my current roles as both the Regional Coordinator for the Umoja Community Education Foundation and the State Charter Coordinator for the African American Male Education and Network Development (formally known as A2MEND).

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Getting here was no smooth road at all. It still isn’t. The road doesn’t ever get smoother, but you just get stronger. Some of my own struggles really just came from having a lack of navigational capital as it pertained to higher education. I identify as a first-generation college student, and I had to fail forward — a lot. Some of these struggles included 1) being put on academic probation…. then 2) being put on subject to dismissal…..then 3) appealing based on extenuating life circumstances…then 4) returning to my undergraduate school (after already beginning graduate school) because of issues I am still not even certain of to this day. There were people along the way who helped, but much of it was figuring it out the hard way. In retrospect, I have found to be helpful in addressing challenges and obstacles is the utilization of a few tools. 1) Taking inventory of a situation and strategizing before going in based on my gut feeling. 2) Being transparent and vulnerable with those who may be able to assist you in overcoming your obstacles 3) Doing the work… the more you procrastinate, the more intense the issue becomes 4) Taking perspective; realizing that my challenges pale in comparison to what others may be facing 5) Practicing gratitude for the ability to access 1-4.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I work for the Umoja Community Education Foundation. We are an Educational Non-Profit Organization that acts as a hub for affiliated programs that we have throughout the State of California and Washington. Our core base is within the community college system, where we have programs at over 60 of the community colleges. We are in the process of cultivating partnerships that hopefully will see us with a home on even more campuses. Our organization believes in the innate brilliance that exists in the people from the African Diaspora that has been intentionally buried. We try to help our students make connection to their people and their history… which serves as motivation and inspiration to power through their educational/academic/professional journeys. This is done by way of “Umojafied” counseling, curriculum, and programming. Additionally, I work for the African American Male Education and Network Development organization. Our work is focused on the successful outcomes for African American Male students and other students of color, as well as Black Male Educators, namely in the community college system. The executive board is comprised of Black Male educators who decided early on in their professional endeavors to be a disruptive force to the systems that had casted out black men. As they have grown in their professional careers, they have been able to bear the A2MEND name and bring about change in a meaningful, impactful, and still relatable way for our students.

Lastly, I operate as 1/3 of 3BD Consulting, LLC. We serve as Educational Consultants, seeking to increase holistic institutional outcomes by way of our shared and varied expertise as it pertains to higher education. What I currently specialize in is trying to put together the pieces of the program in my region for a more seamless, collaborative, and efficient experience for all parties involved (Program Coordinators/faculty, students, the statewide entity) If you were to ask others what I am known for (I actually did an IG questions poll on this to get some clarity) as it pertains to my work, it would be the fact that I am a realtor, I am always trying to connect people to what they need to go to the next level. Often times this is a person, a resource, an organization, a website, or just a personal practice. I wholeheartedly believe in the potential we possess as a people, but believe the various systems at play (environmental, systemic, structural, educational inequities for black people other marginalized groups… as well as just good ol plain racism) have created barriers to quality of life that we might not even be cognizant of.

As many people as I can help free while continuing to get freed myself… I will always be down for. What I would be most proud of is the effort I see my campuses (all together, I work with approximately 35 across the state) put in on the daily. They do the work out of the passion and compassion that they have for our students. They serve as continuous motivation for me to go harder at every step of the way. What sets me apart from others… hmm… I will take this one from a good friend of mine’s Twitter bio, who took it from Albert Einstein. I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. Curious about the conditions of our people. Curious about the inner workings of the systems at play and how to dismantle and retool them for the betterment of our people. Curious about how much longer it will take until we understand the power of collectivist action on a grand scale and take what we are so deserving of. Curious about if I am making those who have invested so much in me proud. Curious about the future and how this next generation will be one of the most transformative generations ever (mark my words). Curious about how to better myself, for myself, and for those that I care so deeply about.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
By and far, it would have to be the diversity that exists in every part of the city. If you know your way around, you can find some real gems. You can experience most of what the entire world has to offer here… or close by. Want the beach? Want the snow? Want Thai food? Need to visit a Black book store? Want to see amazing views overlooking the city? It’s all here….there’s going to be some traffic… but it’s here. What I like least is the foundational pieces of systemic racism and capitalism that rear their heads in even the most subtle days. It’s not uncommon to see a 100k+ sportscar zoom down skid row. The fact that mental health workers in lieu of law enforcement have empirically deescalated crime in cities/states, yet it hasn’t been adopted as a practice here is infuriating. The disparity in healthy options between West LA and East LA will continue to perpetuate an issue in health that people don’t even realize. The city is a beautiful nightmare or a scary dream I guess…just depending on the day!

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