Black History Month: Lifelong Learning inspired by Inez Prosser and Alain Locke

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Black History Month: Lifelong Learning inspired by Inez Prosser and Alain Locke

At Hone, we have a soft spot for lifelong learners. So this Black History Month, we are highlighting two prominent individuals who believed in the importance of education and teaching – both in and out of the classroom. In this article, we’ll share the brief biographies of Inez Beverly Prosser, America’s first black female psychologist, and Alain LeRoy Locke, the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance,” discuss their many accomplishments, and highlight how they paved the way for other Black individuals to follow in their footsteps. 

Here’s a look at the lives of these two noteworthy Black learners and teachers and what a modern audience can learn from their stories.

Inez Beverly Prosser: America’s first black female psychologist

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When Inez Beverly Prosser was born in Yoakam, Texas in 1897, the world was a very different place. Even after the start of the twentieth century, it was uncommon for women to complete their high school education – and even more uncommon for women of color. And yet, even from a young age, Prosser recognized the importance of learning and was named the valedictorian of her high school in 1912. While graduating high school was an accomplishment for most young women at the time, Prosser had bigger dreams. She went on to receive a degree in teacher training from Prairie View Normal College, which is known today as Prairie View A&M University, one of the 100+ historically Black colleges and universities in America. After briefly working as a teacher in her hometown, Prosser accepted another teaching role in Austin, Texas, and split her time instructing her students and taking classes herself at a nearby college. At age 27, she graduated with a degree in education from Samuel Huston College before deciding to pursue a master’s degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado. 

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Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Despite a successful and award-winning career in teaching and high education, Prosser wasn’t ready to abandon her true calling: being a student. Pushed by her love and commitment to lifelong learning, she went on to become one of the first African-American women to receive a  Ph.D. in the United States, having earned a degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Cincinnati at age 36. Her dissertation, The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools, was controversial in the years leading up to the Brown v. Board of Education decision as it found that black children fared better in segregated schools than non-segregated learning environments due to the emotional hardships that came with segregated learning at the time. 

While her career was tragically cut short by a car accident, Prosser is often referred to as America’s first black female psychologist. She never let her gender or race hold her back from pursuing her dreams and getting the education she deserved.

Alain LeRoy Locke: The “Father of the Harlem Renaissance”

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Alain LeRoy Locke was a 20th-century writer, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts most known for his title the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance.” Born in Philadelphia in 1885, Locke adopted a love of learning early in his life thanks to his mother, who was a teacher. He went on to receive degrees in English and Philosophy from Harvard University, and became the first African American to be selected as a Rhodes Scholar, an esteemed postgraduate award inviting students to study at the University of Oxford in England. Another African American recipient wasn’t selected for the prize until 1963, nearly 56 years later. 

Even as a Rhodes Scholar, Locke still faced prejudice with many colleges at the university denying him admission. Ultimately, he landed at Hertford College, where he studied literature, philosophy, Greek, and Latin before moving on to the University of Berlin to further his philosophy studies.  

Upon graduating, Locke moved to Washington, D.C. where he taught at Howard University before taking a break to receive his Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University. Locke returned to Howard University but was briefly fired after fighting for equal pay on behalf of the university’s black faculty.

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Photo by Caleb Perez on Unsplash

During this time, Locke became a guest editor of the magazine Survey Graphic’s issue on “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro,” which discussed the African-American literary and artistic movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. A few months later, Locke expanded the issue into an anthology of fiction, poems, and essays titled The New Negro. This collection of writings was regarded as a landmark in black literature and argued African Americans should fight for social, political, and artistic change rather than accepting their position in society. Locke not only raised awareness of the amazing work Black artists and writers were producing, but he also encouraged Black creators to use their self expression as a catalyst for change.

What we can learn from Prosser and Locke

While Prosser and Locke followed very different paths, they both understood the value of continuous learning and teaching the generations of tomorrow. Even in the face of adversity, these two Black individuals made history and challenged the social and political expectations of their time. It’s never easy to raise your voice to speak out against inequality and injustice, especially in the face of such strong opposition, but both Prosser and Locke fought to draw attention to the Black experience and change society for the better.   

While our country has changed since Prosser and Locke’s lifetimes, the US still has a long way to go when it comes to racial equality and justice. While racism and equality can be intimidating topics to try to address as an individual, we can all take action today to help build more welcoming and inclusive communities and organizations. 

Bringing the learning to life, at work

In honor of these indefatigable Black leaders who have led bravely in the face of tremendous resistance – and so many other equal opportunity leaders across this young nation’s history – Hone CEO & Co-founder Tom Griffiths shared his thoughts on the future of diversity, equity and inclusion at work.

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“We are, as a country, at a critical reckoning point as to whether and when we will see a real and sustainable level of commitment from companies with regards to DEI initiatives. 2020 and 2021 were years of intense interest due to the news cycle and tragically polarizing events, but as other topics take center stage nationally, who will continue to invest in this work? As we pause this month to pay tribute to so many Black heroes who have come before us, it will be important for all of us to advocate to our company leadership in order to sustain and underscore the commitment. As we have learned from these forerunners in fostering equity in education, this important work is never done.”

At Hone, we have many resources you can use to educate yourself on the state of diversity and inclusion in the modern workplace and how to be an effective ally. Here’s a round-up of our DEIB resources: 

Inez Prosser and Alain LeRoy Locke are a poignant reminder that each and every one of us can make a difference when it comes to building a more equitable world. This month, especially, let’s make a commitment to wake up each day and be the change you want to see in the world and in the workplace. 

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