By Rebecca Aguilar
Texas Metro News
When Channing Hill graduates from Howard University in 2023, she knows she will leave the campus a better place for future students.
Hill, along with three other coeds, led #BlackburnTakeover, a 34-day sit-in in which more than 100 Howard students occupied the Washington, D.C. campus’ Blackburn University Center from Oct. 12 through Nov. 14, 2021.
The students complained that Howard’s dorms were unlivable, infested with rodents, prone to repeat flooding and were past due for remediation of mold.
During the protest, dozens of students abandoned their dorm rooms and camped outside in tents on the grounds of the Blackburn Center.
Channing said the students’ protest was born of necessity.
“Protests have a role and create change,” said Channing, 20, who is president of Howard’s NAACP student chapter. “Protests serve as something that shine a light in the dark; but to keep that light on, you have to continue the work.”
Channing’s work with the protest is being recognized later this month during the 53rd NAACP Image Awards, which will broadcast live at 6 p.m. Central time on BET.
She will be honored with the “Youth Activist of the Year” award.
The award recognizes all Howard University students who dared do something about their on-campus living conditions, Channing said.
“This is not just an award for me. This is an award for us. It’s our achievement, our sacrifice,” she said. “The 34 days that we went and struggled, and for all of us who took a failing grade last semester.”
Channing’s father, Clarence E. Hill, Jr., said his daughter is his hero.
“It’s humbling, inspiring and invigorating when your children can become your heroes,” he said. “I’m proud and thankful because I know the commitment she has to the cause and the work she put in.
“I’ve always admired Channing’s will and determination to fight for what she thinks is right and to speak her truth to power.”
The Howard University protest began last fall when a handful of students requested to meet with the university’s president, Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, regarding their concerns over mold growing in student dormitories.
The complaint was a decades-old one: Howard students had protested similar concerns in 2001 and again in 2017.
When Dr. Frederick agreed to meet with some campus leaders, whom protesters claimed he had hand-picked, but refused to meet with others, Hill and her peers staged the “Blackburn Takeover” sit-in, the longest student protest in Howard’s history.
The sit-in was a rallying call heard across the country and around the world: Daily updates on the sit-in went viral on social media under its own hashtag. The movement sparked similar protests for quality housing on other historically Black college and university campuses across the nation.
Meanwhile, national news media outlets covered the students’ concerns. Civil rights leaders visited the campus. Politicians on Capitol Hill joined the conversation.
Rapper Gucci Mane declined to perform during Howard’s storied homecoming week, in solidarity with the protesting students.
Initially, it did not appear that university administrators would address the students’ concerns, Channing said.
“Jesse Jackson came and went. Cory Booker came and went. Elizabeth Warren tweeted; and the news cycle came and went,” said Channing, a junior who graduated from Euless’ Trinity High School. “Still, the school was stagnant.”
On Day 34 of the protest, however, the school’s administrators signed an agreement effectively meeting the students’ demands – and promising them they would not be expelled from school or otherwise disciplined for their organization and participation in the sit-in.
Still, Channing, said she is unsatisfied that housing problems continue to arise at Howard, despite the students’ protest. On the day she spoke with Texas Metro News, she said a Howard dorm flooded.
“Did we get everything we wanted? Absolutely not. Are we satisfied with what we got? Absolutely not,” Channing said. “Do we feel that students are safer in the immediate meantime? Yes.”
Valerie Fields Hill, is not surprised by her daughter’s tenacity and courage to speak out on issues she feels are unfair.
Her mother remembers Channing finding her voice as a child when she was often among the few Black girls in her classroom – and was bullied.
“She became tired of having to explain herself,” her mother said. “She was tired of being called names.”
According to her mother, by the time Channing reached high school, she had found her purpose. “By then, she had well developed a strong sense of advocacy.”
Channing said she gained strength and determination from her mother, and she hopes to have the same inner peace someday.
“Even in really hard times, she has this unyielding faith that it will be okay,” Channing said. “I try to emulate that, but I have not mastered it.”
It was her father who she learned confidence from.
“My dad is the type of person that can talk to anybody. He walks into a room with confidence,” she said, adding that she got charisma from both her parents.
Channing plans to travel to Los Angeles to accept the NAACP Image Award later this month and she is glad her parents will be at her side.
When she accepts the award, she said she’ll make sure the world knows she and her peers are proud to be Howard students and for what they accomplished for future generations of coeds.
“This is us being recognized (and them) saying ‘You did a good job and you did the right thing’.”
After graduation, Channing plans to attend Howard University Law School. She wants to become a defense attorney for juvenile offenders.