ACC talks Black History Month: Yvette Crawford-Lee

Throughout Black History Month, Austin Community College District (ACC) asks influential and accomplished faculty, staff, and students to discuss what Black History Month means to them.

Yvette Crawford-LeePhillicia (Yvette) Crawford-Lee works at the ACC Bioscience Incubator as an administrative assistant III. She has worked at the college for four years.

Why do you work at ACC?

I work at ACC because it is a compassionate institution that values each and every student. It is committed to offering courses in which students not only excel but are prepared for the next level or phase in their life, whether that's transferring to a four-year institution or into a new career.

I am also an alumna. I attended ACC when I would return home from Texas Tech University in the summers to take some of my elective courses which I needed in order to receive my bachelor's degree. Both my son and daughter also attended ACC as dual-credit students.

Why do you believe it's important for the college to commemorate Black History Month?

We need to reflect, celebrate, and learn more about the significance of Black history not only in the month of February but 365 days of the year. Black History Month focuses on the past and present accomplishments and contributions of Blacks and African-Americans through history not only in this country but all over the world. It offers a window of opportunity for us to look at the past and gain a better understanding of what has plagued this nation for too many years. We overcame the struggle for justice and equality for African Americans with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. Today, as a people of different cultures and backgrounds, we are still facing the evils of racism, inequality, and unjust acts from others in this country. We must continue to move forward. By doing so, we have the power to overcome fear and embrace the challenges we encounter by focusing on the possibilities and staying positive. We can all use the past as an example to help recognize the changes needed for the future of American democracy to improve or prosper.

What are some personal or professional accomplishments you are most proud of?

Growing up in Austin, my parents always told me to give back to the community. For the past 20+ years, I have been a board member with the Austin Area Heritage Council, a nonprofit organization that plans and oversees Austin's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations. It has turned out to be a very self-rewarding journey where I am fulfilling my desire to give back. I am responsible for coordinating the MLK Oratory Competition for fourth- to sixth-grade Austin-area students. Each year, finalists are given a theme and required criteria and are encouraged to write their speeches as though they are having a conversation with Dr. King based on what is happening in the world today and how they would change things to create unity in America and the world. It amazes me how the students are so aware of current events.

What's the best lesson you've learned?

When I was in seventh grade, I was bused to an all-white junior high school. This was a major change for me and all of my friends that lived in my neighborhood because we were being bused from east Austin to north Austin. I had gone to an all-black elementary school. I had never experienced going to school with predominantly white students. It was a new experience. At the same time, it was an unforeseen need in my life that helped me grow into the person I am today. One of many lessons learned — to treat others the way you want to be treated. Regardless of a person's color of skin, we all need to treat each other with the utmost respect. We are all human, and we are all sisters and brothers. We are all God's children.

Why do you feel it is important to seek out and value diverse perspectives?

It is important to understand diversity and how to value the differences in other cultures and backgrounds. Since each person is unique in his/her own way, we need to pursue ways to bring people together. It is essential to think of different methods to bring diverse groups together to accomplish getting things done in a more effective manner. By taking the time to understand each other in a more meaningful sense, we can come to terms with many issues. Together, we can build a more productive and unified country.

How do you build bridges between communities?

We live in a country today with too much chaos and social unrest. Building bridges between communities may be difficult, but closing the gap can be done by having the determination that things can be worked out together for a better tomorrow; a better outcome. By communicating and being a good listener, there can be inspiration to make a change for the better. Sometimes we have to put ourselves in other peoples' shoes to understand what they are going through. It may be as simple as taking a step back and starting over again to define a true result for the future. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl, but whatever you do — you have to keep moving forward." We all need to move forward together.

What inspires you?

I have to respect myself first of all. By being true to myself, I can be fair by respecting others. When my father passed away in April 1996, a reporter from the Austin American-Statesman called and gave me her condolences and asked what it meant to me knowing about the accomplishments that my father had done. I told the reporter that he was my father, and I was very proud of him.

My father's successes were historical, and I was only a little girl when he achieved them. My father, attorney John Phillip Crawford, Sr., was the first African-American in the history of Texas to serve as the first assistant attorney general from 1963-1969 under Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr. With this appointment, he broke the color-line barrier. That same year on February 4, 1963, my father won a civil suit in U.S. Federal District Court in Austin against Southwest Texas State College (now, Texas State University) for his client, Ms. Dana Jean Smith. Academically qualified to apply for admission, Ms. Smith attempted to enroll at the college in 1962 and was told in a letter from Dr. John G. Flowers, president of Southwest Texas State College, her application had been rejected because of the whites-only provision in the charter which established the college in 1899 and did not allow him to admit someone of her "racial background." After the court ruled in favor of Ms. Smith, she was able to enroll at Southwest Texas State College that same afternoon for the spring semester.

My parents were always my greatest inspiration, and I always looked up to both of them. They inspired me to do the right thing by having the confidence that will make me true to myself in helping others.