We want to thank our alumna member Bianca L. Spriggs, Ph.D., Tau Omega (Transylvania U), for her insightful op-ed on Black History Month, which we are honored to share with you all below.
BIANCA’S ROSES: An Open Letter to Alpha Omicron Pi During Black History Month (2023)
By Bianca L. Spriggs, Ph.D., Tau Omega (Transylvania U)
If someone had told me twenty years ago, that in my forties, I would be sitting in my mother’s apartment starting a production company from scratch, I would have probably made immediate course corrections such as changing my major to something more financially sustainable than becoming a teaching artist. But if I had gone that route, I would have never pledged AOII my freshmen year. I would never have met lifelong friends who I continue to keep in touch with, who to this day, are encouraging me not to give up on my dream of becoming the next Jim Henson or Hayao Miyazaki or Tim Burton—what I’ve been training for most of my life in all but name. These AOII sisters, with children and careers of their own, still believe in me and my life’s work no matter how much time has passed between us. They still take me seriously. They still think what I have to contribute to the tapestry of humanity is of value.
You can’t buy that kind of fidelity, and you can’t know what it means to be on the receiving end, unless you too have been taught by family, mentors, and colleagues, to play the position you’ve been assigned. But those who risk nothing have nothing. I learned that lesson back in college from my sisters that as long as you can continue to be yourself, someone out there will back you up.
As a young Black woman attending an historically Anglo university in Kentucky, I didn’t know what to expect. Transy isn’t a large school. It’s a private, liberal arts institution, but I couldn’t afford to live on campus. So when a girl I’d met during orientation, Rachel, asked me to come to a recruitment event, I had no idea what to expect. So far, college was supposed to be about classes and work-study. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the women I met my freshmen year and happily pledged AOII. Rachel and I even went on to be roommates during a study abroad semester in England, got our noses pierced together, and I later read a poem at her wedding.
My sisters in undergrad helped me finish what I started despite unfortunate racist events on that campus. They attended my poetry readings, came to my performances around the city, and a few dance-booty-shake parties I may have hosted off-campus. They modeled the kind of acceptance and inclusivity and loyalty I’d never experienced before between my peers, and taught me much about friendship that I continue to value today—so much so, I’ve written several pieces in recent years that include characters just like us.
It’s Black History Month, and while I admire AOII’s dedication to inclusivity and diversity engagement, I would like to add my testimony this month as I am on the precipice of a breakthrough with my new company, in which I’ve invested everything. I’m about to expand my ranks, and right now, I’m thinking of how lonely a process spearheading an initiative like this can be for anybody. It’s reminding me of being a freshman all over again, and how we all face the Pressure-To-Deliver Monster when trying something new.
I spent sixteen years teaching in higher-ed as faculty, but after a diagnosis of neurodivergence in my late thirties during the pandemic, I decided to retire early to pursue my true calling, what I’d already been doing all along—storytelling. It’s what I was put here to do—create alternative medicine via stories and administer those stories to people who look and think just like me who could use acceptance in their own lives but may not be finding it in the mainstream. I love making art. I love taking command of a stage. My characters feel as close as family, but without anyone to share the experiences with the way I did back in undergrad—there are days where the pressure to deliver can feel insurmountable.
So, I’m turning to you now, Sisters of Alpha Omicron Pi, wherever you are in the country to remind you that Black women are capable of extraordinary achievements and making history. For instance, take Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s biracial slave who ran away when she learned they were about to send her back to the South. Ona converted to Christianity, taught herself how to read, and started a family of her own as a free woman. Or Mary Fields, aka ‘Stagecoach Mary,’ who was born a slave in Tennessee, stood six feet tall, weighed over two-hundred pounds, carried a shotgun, and became the first Black American woman star route carrier for the United States Postal Service—at sixty years old! And of course, Toni Morrison, who was the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and once reminded us, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”
Let us not forget the Black women making history in real time. Whatever your politics, you cannot deny that Kamala Harris has accomplished something that no one on this planet can claim in becoming the first woman Vice President of our nation. What a coup for women everywhere! Whatever your stance on the royal family, you cannot deny the significance of Meghan Markle taking on a centuries old patriarchal dynamic in Buckingham Palace along with the vestigial limbs of imperialism that the United States freed itself from. And you certainly can’t deny Brittney Griner survived a year being detained by a bully in Russia. She’s a war hero.
So, I implore you, my sisters, do not give up on the Black women in your chapters. Please reach out to them, and if you’re also an alum, check in on the Black women you went to school with. This fraternity never gave up on me no matter what I weighed, what I wore, who I dated, or what grades I brought in. They always helped me push through. A few sisters from my home chapter have even reached out since I started my company to encourage me to keep going. That gift is priceless.
I’ve enjoyed a lot of success for the last dozen years as a career poet and performance artist, including this poem, “To The Woman I Saw Today Who Wept In Her Car,” that was one of the top read poems the year it came out with the national organization, Split This Rock, a poem dedicated to women everywhere going through something. That said, my life changed significantly during the pandemic, and so did my path. You know why? One day, I realized that there’s never been a woman version of Jim Henson or Hayao Miyazaki or Tim Burton. What if the first person to accomplish a feat like this happens to be a Black, neurodivergent woman from Kentucky whose worldview and artistry could help everybody? Wouldn’t you want that woman to be dedicated to your same values? I know I would.
This month, keep an eye on the women in your life who share my ethnic and sociocultural persuasion. You could be talking to the next Kamala, or Meghan, or Brittney, or Bianca. I can’t be everywhere at once to inspire the sisters who look and think like me, but just for this month, let’s call these young women, “Bianca’s Roses.” If you see someone who’s going through challenges in your chapter, and you have a little extra time on your hands, just make sure she knows you’re there, even if it’s just for an hour during Black History Month. Or even if she’s not struggling and she’s thriving and celebrating her wins, this month, above all, when we are coming together as a nation to celebrate Black lives, let her know that her life matters to you by cheering her on.
When she wins, you win. When you win, she wins. We all win as a fraternity.
Twenty years from now, that sister too, might be in the throes of creating something that could help everybody because once upon a time, you helped her.