Amberly keynoted Loyola University Chicago’s featured event, Beyond the Classroom: Honoring Mamie Till-Mobley’s Legacy on June 29, 2023, at the DuSable Black History Museum. Attendees celebrated Ms. Till-Mobley’s legacy of channeling her passion for justice and her love for children into a lifetime of advocacy and a 23-year career as a teacher in Chicago schools. Loyola University Chicago School of Education, Black Alumni Board, alumni, and Chicago community leaders honored the countless, transformative contributions Mamie Till-Mobley made to youth in Chicago and beyond.
Thursday, June 29, 2023 6-8:30 p.m. CT
The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center – 740 East 56th Place Chicago, IL 60637
6:00 p.m. Doors open
6:30 p.m. Guided tour of Emmett & Mamie Till-Mobley: Let the World See exhibit
7:20 p.m. Speaking Remarks
Welcome: Markeda Newell, Interim Dean of Loyola School of Education
Keynote Address: Amberly Carter, Till Family Member
Video Feature: The Legacy of Mamie Till-Mobley
Scholarship Note: Jay Yancy, Black Alumni Board Treasurer
7:45 p.m. Reception
8:30 p.m. Event ends
Assistant Director of Alumni Relations
About the Black Alumni Board’s Mamie Till-Mobley Scholarship: In honor of the contributions Mamie Till-Mobley, 1971 graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s School of Education, the Black Alumni Board established an endowed scholarship in her name. This scholarship will serve as a permanent recognition of Ms. Till-Mobley’s affiliation with Loyola and a fitting remembrance of her powerful role as a spokesperson for justice and education. Please consider making a gift to the Mamie Till-Mobley Scholarship which will support a worthy graduate of a Chicagoland high school who is engaged in the Black community through leadership or service, has a GPA of at least 2.75 and demonstrates financial need.
Video Feature: The Legacy of Mamie Till-Mobley
Amberly’s Keynote Speech Transcript
When I was a little girl, my father would bring me with him to the barber shop to see my cousin Mamie’s husband Gene. Gene would sit me up in his barber chair. He’d throw his cape over me, take some clippers and act as if he was cutting my hair. When he finished he’d brush away the imaginary hairs and hand me the mirror to admire myself. He would tell me you are such a beautiful little girl. Before I’d leave the shop he would always take out his wallet and hand me a 2-dollar bill. He’d say, buy yourself some milk at school and I’d remind him, “I can’t drink milk, I’m lactose intolerant” He’d laugh and say “What do you know about being lactose intolerant? You are too smart.” Everyone within earshot would laugh and he’d then say “Save that money for college.” We had this exchange every time I’d see him and that was the start of my college fund. Whenever I saw Mamie and Gene they made a point to reiterate that I was going to college. They planted seeds that made it possible for me to see myself as a scholar and then invested in me with positive affirmations and a little “milk money” from time to time. I contend that conversations and habits like these are how the value of education is instilled and passed down from generation to generation.
The women in our family were highly educated in a time when it was not common for women to attend college. According to the United States Department of Labor, in 1971 when Mamie graduated from Loyola University, only 11.2 percent of women were receiving a bachelor’s degree or higher. Since then, my aunt and my mother both have received multiple degrees and several of my relatives, including my 93-year-old cousin Thelma Edwards holds multiple degrees. I don’t say that to brag, but to add historical context as to why I get the chance to stand before you today. An homage to all the shoulders I stand on and acknowledgment that I hold a great deal of privilege as someone who is educated and now the responsibility to help create access for others to do the same.
I recently saw a TikTok that jokingly shared that Black women receive education when we get bored, get laid off or are looking for a way to heal from a bad breakup. If that’s true then we ought to research the correlation of gender and race-based trauma and degree earnings to discover why so many Black women are finding education to be the solution to transforming their lives.
Today, according to the American Association of University Women, among Black students, Black women earn 64.1% of bachelor’s degrees, 71.5% of master’s degrees and 65.9% of doctoral, medical, and dental degrees. Black women are the most educated people on the planet. We should be asking a few questions about these numbers 1.) What are the motivating factors behind Black women seeking higher education degrees? 2.) What’s holding Black Women back from being more successful in their careers? And 3.) What impact is education having on all of our lives?
Mamie saw education as a pathway to endless possibilities. I believe she chose a career of education as a platform to justice after it was denied to her in the courtroom. She knew that if she could develop the minds of young children she had an opportunity to change the future for us all.
You may know Mamie Till Mobley the Civil rights icon and the grieving mother but there is so much more to her story.
If you’re going to tell Mamie’s story you must talk about her in her entirety because she contained multitudes. Mamie was Emmett’s mother, but she was also a loving wife and bonus mom, a supportive and reliable family member. She made it possible for several women in our family to achieve their higher education goals. Before she was in international news headlines, she was already a torchbearer in our family and a pillar in her community. Mamie was a radical visionary, a devout Christian, a pioneering educator, an outstanding citizen and of course a fashion trendsetter…
She had a choice to be something different, but after Emmett was gone, she chose to turn her pain into purpose. She, like many other Black women today, looked at her life, and thought about what she was good at and who she could help. She thought about our world and how she got to this dark, dark place of despair. Which in itself took incredible bravery and determination. She looked inward and faced some hard ugly truths, that Emmett was not coming back, she had a man waiting in the wings about a marriage proposal, bills that needed to be paid, a house that needed to be tended to and a host of real-life situations that she needed to manage. She decided to pick up the pieces and do a courageous thing… start something new. She like many other Black women, used her own education as a way out of the darkness and into enlightenment. Education became a well-lit stepping stone towards her healing. For Mamie, education was the way forward.
I have a bachelor’s degree in English: Writing as well as a Master’s in Education: Curriculum and Instruction. One thing I’ve learned in my 20-year career in Higher Education is that no matter how much education I receive, there will be times when I come up against someone who will look at me and question what I know merely because I am a Black woman. Full transparency, that is one of my biggest pet peeves. I did not pay thousands of dollars and endure 6 years of 8 am collegiate-level classes, and endless hours of homework to be gaslighted and questioned by colleagues or senior leadership who don’t know the definition of diversity, equity and inclusion… As you can tell, it really grinds my gears.
Some time ago in my professional career, I learned of Harro’s cycle of socialization. It’s a theory that immediately upon our births we begin to be socialized by the people we love and trust the most, our families or the adults who are raising us. They shape our self-concepts and self-perceptions, the norms and rules we must follow, the roles we are taught to play, our expectations for the future, and our dreams. This is later reinforced with media, television, schools, churches and other influential systems with either punishment or reward. I use this theory in my personal life to understand my own intersectional lens for which I see the world and as an educator to help guide others in how they come to understand the world as well as ways to create new world views.
I understand that the messages people have received about themselves and Black women dictate how they interact with me. The same is true about how I interact with other Black women. Each of us has been socialized to treat people based on their identities and how they show up a certain way. This means racism and bias are learned behavior that can be unlearned with the help of education and the will to interrupt those learned inappropriate behaviors.
If you aren’t convinced of this theory or don’t believe that racism is a learned behavior then read the book, “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude Steele.
[“Whistling Vivaldi” is a summary of Steele’s groundbreaking research on group identity and the ways in which stereotypes can undermine the performance of the people they target. It takes its unusual name from a story told to the author by Brent Staples, an African-American journalist who writes for The New York Times.
As a graduate student walking at night in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Staples came to realize he was a source of distress for many of the white people he passed. “Couples locked arms or reached for each other’s hand when they saw me,” he wrote. “I did violence to them just by being.”
To countervail the stereotype of African-American males as prone to violence, Staples adopted an unusual strategy. He would whistle Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Beatles’ tunes as he walked at night.
In a single stroke, Steele writes, Staples successfully distanced himself from the stereotype of the violence-prone black man and relieved both his own discomfort and that of people he passed.
But such a strategy comes at a price. And Steele by no means suggests that the targets of negative stereotypes adopt the culture of those who stereotype them. What “Whistling Vivaldi’s” author finds instructive about Staples’ story is its illustration of the power of what Steele, in decades of research, has dubbed the “stereotype threat.”
The “stereotype threat” occurs when a person is in a situation that evokes negative stereotypes about the group to which he or she belongs.
In experiment after experiment, Steele has found that people’s fears of confirming a negative stereotype — that white men can’t jump, that African Americans are intellectually inferior or that females can’t do high-level math — cause stress. And that stress distracts them from the task at hand and, in turn, from completing the task to the best of their ability.]
If we understand Steele’s research on stereotype threat then we can begin to understand why higher education has been perceived as the way forward, out of the darkness for so many Black women and why their struggle for success still exists. Standardized testing and college degree attainment has historically been weighted as important to employers and therefore earning potential, however, when it comes to Black women, the bar seems to always be moving. Though Black women are more educated, they aren’t more successful because they aren’t being believed for their expertise and experiences. Black women aren’t being backed by stakeholders. Instead of being supported, their intellectual property is being stolen from underneath them, they are underpaid, and either taken advantage of or taken for granted. If Black women received more buy-in from everybody, everyone would be more successful. Black women as a collective are using our education to do what we can to move our communities and this country forward, but we need to be believed, backed and have buy-in for our ideas to reach greater success.
Like Staple’s, Mamie received messages that if she dressed a certain way, if she spoke a certain way, and if she behaved a certain way that her chances for success would be increased. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the message of “being the best of whatever you are” or “put your best foot forward”, but there is definitely something wrong with our society that we must socialize groups of people to assimilate to its dominant culture’s ideals of “best” in order to advance, receive financial stability or receive a high-quality education. What’s even more disheartening is that even with code-switching or covering (watering yourself down in dominant spaces in hopes that you’ll receive more privileges and rewards and less discrimination and punishment), it doesn’t always result in success. It often leaves one feeling isolated, confused, silenced, stressed, and dehumanized.
One of Mamie’s most quoted lines tells me that her choice to become an educator was likely an intentional one – for the purpose of interrupting and helping others reframe their trauma as well as her own. Mamie said, “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.
As an educator, she took on a role that would allow her to transform the lives of children and subsequently our future through education. She would be the teacher who taught through a lens of equity. She would teach others, in the classroom, in church and even from spaces much like this one, more than what could be found in books – a sense of compassion for others who think differently, look differently and don’t have similar understandings from shared experiences.
She was teaching people that a new world is possible… One where there is no need for justice because we have compassion and the capacity for all humans to coexist safely.
When I was young and I would visit Mamie, it hadn’t quite hit me just who this woman was and how influential her vision for our future would be in shifting the attitudes and systems of today into something greater. Now that I have a clear and vivid picture in my head of what that looks like, I’d like to gift that vision to you through a guided meditation.
I want you to take a moment to use your imagination with me. If you are comfortable, close your eyes and allow me to take your mind to a place Mamie envisioned for all of us.
Once the room is still and quiet imagine you are flying outside of yourself, imagine you are looking at your body right now. Take note of how you feel. Hold this image of yourself as a spirit in your head. Who do you resemble? How do you see yourself as a spirit? What traits, features, and behavioral mannerisms do you have? Imagine your spirit self flying beyond you, out of the Dusable Museum and overlooking the city of Chicago, overlooking Illinois, the Midwest region and into the great big starry sky tonight. As you float out into the universe and then amongst the stars take note again of how you are feeling. Fly deeper beyond the stars, deep, deep, deep until you reach complete darkness. Through your imagination, I want you to envision yourself sitting in a chair. Imagine all the people who’ve passed on before you. Who do you see? What messages are they giving you? Let them share with you, your purpose and your responsibility to people now. Imagine your ancestors have come to tell you they love you and that you matter. What you have been sent to accomplish on Earth has great impact on shaping the future. Imagine they are gifting you tools to accomplish your tasks on Earth. Imagine that behind them you are encircled by great leaders like Malcolm and Martin, Corretta and Maya Angelou. Take note of how you feel. Imagine that they all clear a path and motion for you to walk this newly lit path that takes you deeper into the sky, each of them hugging you as you begin to walk toward a bright white light. When you finally hit a place of total whiteness you see her. Mamie is there waiting to speak with you. She takes you into her arms and embraces you with a hug. She greets you with a smile and cups your hands in hers. She stares deep into your eyes and begins to share her vision of a world that no longer needs justice because in this world there is only love, abundance and compassion. Sit with her as she tells you how it will happen and the vital role you play in the creation of this new world. Take note of how you feel. Imagine she is telling you that you can come back to this place anytime you feel lost in about her vision but now it’s time for you to get to work. She hugs you and sends you back into the darkness, back into the big starry sky, back into the Midwest region, back into Illinois, back into this building and back into yourself. When you are ready, open your eyes.
Creating a world where there is no need for justice may seem like a radical idea, but I promise you, it only takes a little imagination for us to see the vision.
Education will transform us and Mamie’s vision will unite us all.
United States Department of Labor. https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/a-look-at-womens-education-and-earnings-since-the-1970s.htm (DECEMBER 27, 2017)
American Association of University Women (AAUW). https://www.aauw.org/resources/article/fast-facts-woc-higher-ed/
Whistling Vivaldi Story – https://www.northwestern.edu/onebook/whistling-vivaldi/about/about-the-book.html