For many Swarthmore students, the summer of 2020 has been a time of activism and agency as they organize, overcoming COVID-19 limitations, and work to make positive change in their communities through a variety of initiatives. This is the fourth in a series of stories about their effort and success in engagement for social justice.
Deante Bryan ’20 grew up thinking that the ‘smart Black kid’ was supposed to look a certain way, and that he didn’t fit the bill.
“If I told kids I was in the advanced class, they would think I was messing with them, because I didn't 'look' like a smart kid,” says the economics graduate.
At Bryan’s predominantly Black high school in Elmont, N.Y., advanced classes were overwhelmingly white. While he says “going to Swarthmore helped me broaden my view of what is considered to be a smart black kid,” Bryan feels that a singular stereotype of Black excellence continues to limit younger generations of Black students.
“You won’t even do your work to the level you know you can, because you felt like it’s not what you’re supposed to be on,’” he says.
To work toward solving this problem, Bryan and close friend and fellow economics grad Joshua Collin ’20 took advantage of extra time in quarantine to air their first episode of “Slightly Educated,” a podcast and YouTube series, on April 5. In early August, they added a new co-host, computer science graduate Kendre Thomas ’20.
Inspired by the Joe Rogan podcast, each episode features a conversation between the hosts and a different Black guest. So far, guests on the show have included WNBA player Jocelyn Willoughby, a University of Virginia Basketball alumna who was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2020; Johns Hopkins University alumna Oluwadamilola Oshewa, founder of Thick Girl Fitness, LLC, a company focused on women and specifically Black women’s health; and Swarthmore men’s basketball player and Honors history major Abass Sallah ’21, of Potomac, Md., who leads the College’s Athletic Diversity Initiative.
Bryan, Collin, and Thomas show “the person behind the resume,” Bryan says, discussing everything from study habits to sibling competition to the experience of being Black at a predominately white institution. Recently, the podcast has also become a space for in-depth discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement. In the coming weeks, the co-hosts plan to bring in as diverse of a group as possible, including friends that are artists and musicians, poets, and political scientists.
The podcast, unlike some others, is also available on YouTube and has an Instagram page. One reason is Bryan’s mantra, “seeing is believing.” He feels this way because he’s lived it: During his time at the College, he connected with a professor because he saw his own background in his appearance.
“I used to sag [the practice in historically Black communities of wearing pants low around the hips] hard," Bryan says. "I came to Swarthmore, and one of my professors, he was sagging. And he wasn't Black, he was from Queens though. He turned out to be my mentor, because I was like, ‘Oh look at him, bro got a Ph.D., and he still sags!’ So now I believe I can get a Ph.D.”
He hopes to bring the experience he had at Swarthmore to kids like him.
“We started a whole podcast on that because you want people to be like, ‘Look at him. I feel like I could ball with him. So if he's smart, you know, I could also do it too,’” Bryan says. “Even if one person tunes in and they feel more empowered, they feel more like they can do it, then that's success.”