President of Black People’s Union ponders race relations, finance and equality

James Allen Jr. will graduate from GW in May, leaving behind a legacy of his own.

He says he hopes to be remembered as hard-working, fun-loving and dedicated to his efforts. His work with various student organizations will be evident long after he is gone.

Optimistic outlook”I always try to keep an optimistic outlook,” he says. “My family is religious all the way around, so I’ve always had the goodness of God in me.” He says he accepted God around the age of 11 or 12 – but that religion has been a part of his life from the start.

Allen says he also attributes his good attitude to his family and upbringing.

allen “I was fortunate, I was blessed with two good parents,” he says. Allen’s parents are still an integral part of his life. Commuting to GW from his home in Maryland allows him to spend quality time with his family, something most GW students lack.

Allen has two younger brothers. He says he “learns more from them” than they do from him.

“My family is a source of my strength,” Allen states. “Maybe that’s why people consider me so optimistic.”

But Allen is by no means made of steel. “Some things get me down. I’m not like `Yeah! I’ve got a paper due tomorrow!’ I do get depressed, but when I do, I just say my prayers.”

Allen says his attitude and demeanor are based on other people.

“If I’m going to make somebody happy, make someone smile, that makes me feel good.”

LeadingAllen has been a member of GW’s Black People’s Union since his freshman year. He remembers when the upperclassmen welcomed him to the group.

This year, as president of BPU, Allen says he tries his best to make people feel welcome – following the example he remembers from years back. He makes personal phone calls and writes e-mails to all of the members of the group.

“We want you to feel like a family member,” Allen says. “That’s the feeling we’re trying to portray.”

The BPU family has more than 80 members. Allen says he aimed for 150 people this year, but insists that it still isn’t “too late to reach that goal.”

Allen says this year’s freshmen are more energetic than past classes.

“It’s been a pleasure seeing the young people take charge,” he says.

“When you see the new freshmen come and you see the potential, the talent, the innovation and the inspiration they have, they have such energy that you just feed off of that,” he says. “That’s a positive for me.”

Activism and BPUAllen said he would like to see BPU evolve and grow. “This is a transition year for BPU,” he explains, pointing out that BPU is in its 30th year at GW.

“During the Civil Rights Movement, BPU was instrumental in getting the equal opportunity program established that admitted local area students (to GW),” Allen says.

Today, though, “problems are more subtle.” Allen says he is concerned with issues less apparent than legal segregation.

“I’ve been here for four years and I’ve only had two or three African-American professors,” he says. “In terms of the faculty, I think there has to be more diversity.”

Allen says the dynamics of the student body also could be improved. “Over the past few years I’ve always heard (the figure) of seven percent, seven percent,” he says, discussing the number of African-American students. “I’m wondering why just seven percent? Why does that number stay? That disturbs me.”

The location of BPU’s office also may be a problem, Allen says. “We’re on G Street,” he points out. “Everyone else is in the Marvin Center. We’re physically separated – and that might be good and that might be bad.”

The distance from the Marvin Center is good, Allen says, because it gives BPU space to develop independently of other groups. At the same time, though, lack of access to other student groups can be a hindrance.

Allen says he has noted positive developments on campus in terms of diversity, even if there is still work to be done. He attributes some of the progress to Student Association President Kuyomars “Q” Golpavar.

” `Q’ has made a definite effort to have a diverse (SA) cabinet,” Allen says.

But the senators, Allen points out, are “still the same old people.” He says he would like BPU more involved in the SA. Then, he says, more African Americans will be represented.

BPU has spent recent weeks promoting Black History Month. Here at GW, Black History Month is not contained within the month of February – events are planned well into April.

Allen refuses to take credit for the extension of Black History Month. He says it has run past February all four years he has been here, and that BPU plans the extended celebration as a matter of course.

BPU tries to support the Africana Studies program, a Columbian College discipline offered as a minor. “People fought for the program, but now there’s no director,” Allen explains. “So the program is handicapped because there’s no one to promote the classes.”

Allen says BPU and the Organization of African Students have been working together, trying to solve the problem. “The demand is not perceived to be there,” he says. “But as a student, you might not know about these classes.”

BPU “needs to be doing even more,” Allen says. He worries about the retention and graduation rates among African-American students at GW. When he looked up figures last year, Allen recalls, he found that black students at GW graduate at a lower rate than white students and the rest of the student body.

Allen says issues like this one provide a “broader challenge” for BPU – the group must be involved in these problems.

ReflectionsIn addition to time spent leading BPU, Allen is involved in other activities, including the Black Business Association and Colonial Inauguration.

Allen created the first-ever GW exposition for area African-American businesses last March called “The Color of Business.”

He spent months in preparation – compiling lists, calling businesses and organizing the actual event. The exposition, he says, was a success because students got a lot out of it.

“When you envision something and it materializes, you feel good about that,” he adds.

Allen says one of his greatest memories of GW is of working at the 1996 CI. He made tight friendships there.

“From telling someone, `It’s going to be okay’ – to just telling someone where the Marvin Center is,” Allen laughs, “I had a great time.”

A finance major, Allen also spends his share of time cracking books. He is taking 18 credits this semester, his last one at GW.

“I’ve developed a love for business,” Allen says. “I’ve started reading the Wall Street Journal and I get Business Week sent to my house.”

Allen says he hopes to attend graduate school, where he will fine-tune his business skills. If that doesn’t work out, he says, he will join the workforce.

He has lived in the D.C. area all his life. Although proximity to friends and family tempts him to stay, he says his interest in finance may eventually lure him away, possibly to New York City.

But during the next few years, Allen may yet reside in his beloved Washington. He already has applied to graduate school in finance here at GW.

“I’d like to be here and see how BPU and BBA are progressing,” Allen says. “I’d still stay active, I just wouldn’t be working in the same capacity that I am now.”

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