In honor of Black History Month, we’re running a series of profiles and Q&As with members of the African-American community at Haas. Follow the series throughout February here.
When Mia Character arrived at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate in 2016, she found the perfect community in the Afro Floor of Barbara Christian Hall. The hall, named for the professor who founded Berkeley’s African American Studies department, opened Character to a new world.
“There was something so special about living on a floor in Christian Hall with people who looked like me,” she said.
The students on the floor celebrated Black History Month, and every week attended a one-unit seminar class together with the African American Theme Program (AATP). A seminar with Blake Simons, a local community organizer and assistant director for the Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center and African American Student Development Office, taught her a lot, Character said.
“I was a college freshman still trying to figure out my identity and the amount of knowledge and perspective he had to share was truly transformative,” she said. “On top of that, I took African American studies classes, which I never really had a chance to do. Having the opportunity to learn about black history, art, and culture at UC Berkeley was something so special to me as a freshman.”
A precocious student
Character is a native of Gretna, Louisiana, just east of New Orleans. As a second-grader, before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, her family packed up their SUV and fled Gretna for her grandmother’s house in Georgia.
“I still have a vivid memory of us sitting in hours of traffic just to get past the toll gates because there were so many people leaving,” she said.
Character, who was always a precocious student, moved often throughout her childhood, until her family settled in Redlands, CA.
At Redlands High School, there were some black students, she recalled, “but a lack of black students in the AP system,” she said, so she stuck with her choir friends and took AP courses. She recalls her junior year in particular, in which she took AP history with her first black male teacher. “He would teach us about slavery and black history and I appreciated the authenticity that he brought and taught, but at times it felt like that he had to joke about it to lighten the mood and make sure the other students weren’t uncomfortable, which was always frustrating to me.”
At Berkeley, Character, a double major in Business Administration and Media Studies, joined the Haas Undergraduate Black Business Association (HUBBA), and is a member of RISE, an undergraduate admissions program that encourages underrepresented minorities at UC Berkeley to apply to Haas.
She’s also a former house manager of Afro House, an eleven-bedroom cooperative in the Berkeley Hills where she lived her sophomore year.
A tight-knit community
Being at Cal has finally allowed her to find pride in and embrace her blackness, she said. “I really appreciate all that I have learned and how it has made me proud to be me,” she said.
While the black community at Berkeley is small, about 3 percent, it is very tight knit, she said. “I’ll go to class and there won’t be anyone who looks like me, and as much as this bothers me, I know that I have a community I can go to at the end of the day,” she said. “Being at Haas with my best friend, Frances James, who is also a business major, has been amazing because I know that I will have someone who shares a similar experience to confide in both on a personal and academic level.”
Character says her experiences have allowed her to get comfortable with speaking her mind, too. “I will say what needs to be said, no matter how uncomfortable it may make others feel,” she said. “I feel comfortable with speaking my mind, so I’m going to speak up when I have the opportunity. We have to speak up and share our different perspectives in order to learn from one another.”