College is the time for students to explore outside of their comfort zones and diversify their personal interests. While not all students travel nearly 5,000 miles away from home to attend university, finding your place on campus can require much trial and error — Alex English can vouch for this.
The Red & Black sat down with the fourth year journalism major, a prominent voice in the university’s Black community, to discuss racial change and his role as president of the University of Georgia’s chapter of the NAACP.
An outsider looking in
A military kid, English was born and raised on a military base in Germany. UGA’s journalism program piqued his interest while in high school, leading him to apply to the university in 2017.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to do journalism,” English said. “I always knew that I want[ed] to tell people stories because I like talking to people.”
English didn’t get involved with “BUGA” — the University of Georgia’s organized Black student body — immediately, but allowed the community to find its way to him during his freshman year. He participated in several clubs and campus events starting out to familiarize himself with the campus’s feel, including UGA HEROs and Black Male Leadership Society.
“I came into college wanting to be super involved,” English said. “Not necessarily in things involving social justice, but I knew that I wanted to learn as much as I could.”
A leader in the making
English quickly excelled in the journalism program and began making connections early on that would drastically change the direction of his career. He entered UGA with plans of becoming a political journalist before gaining an interest in sports reporting. He credited assistant director of Grady Sports Media Carlo Finlay for encouraging him to pick up the college’s sports media certificate, and John Weatherford for advising him to complete the new media certificate.
As he spent more time in the classroom improving his critical thinking skills, he became more confident in his ability to take charge and discuss the social issues he considered important. English serves as a Grady Ambassador for the 2020-2021 school year, a group of distinguished student leaders who lead tours, interact with alumni and act as the “face” of Grady College.
“Of course, it’s an honor,” English said. “But I never would have thought to have gotten to that point.”
Becoming president of the campus’s chapter of the NAACP this school year was a separate feat for English. The chapter, which has been active since 1998, was initially formed to advocate for “freedom, justice and equality for those in the university, Athens and Georgia communities,” according to the organization’s website.
Since English first took charge last August, the NAACP at UGA has focused on voter suppression during the 2020 presidential election and the dual Senate runoffs this January, educating Black students on the importance of their votes.
English said that as chapter leader, his priority is the city of Athens. The presidency gave him the platform to speak out about political and social changes that disproportionately affect all people of color. His role in the media helps keep him informed, and his role in NAACP helps him keep others informed.
English explained the effect of growing up biracial on a German military base and the contrasting effect of traveling to the United States in pursuit of a postsecondary education. The diversity he grew up experiencing factored into his expectations for campus life in Athens. Getting involved in BUGA was a chance for him to surround himself with similar peers with still very different cultural backgrounds.
“I joined [clubs] because I wanted to get to know different perspectives,” English said. “The way it transitioned, though, to me taking a more active role was because I felt more equipped to discuss these things myself.”
Leading such a prominent racial justice organization can be challenging when your background is so different from the peers you represent, English said. He credits his upbringing on a military base to his internal desire to remain truthful and leave a good impression on others.
“I focus on what I am,” English said.
Leading with no regrets
English said he considers his time as NAACP chapter president rewarding and fulfilling. As a senior, he reminisces on his four years spent at UGA and has no regrets.
As a group that aims “to seek enactment and enforcement of federal, state and local laws securing civil rights,” an important job for English is to ensure the campus chapter has the legal resources available to students who may need them. This entails preserving records efficiently and “having the receipts” to back up claims, English said.
His biggest goals for the school year were to continue programs like the UGA NAACP Image Awards, which spotlight makers of change in the community, and to ultimately leave people with memories, and he encourages the executives that will take his place to do the same.
“So when you’re in the room, be in the room and have something to say that can help others grow,” English said. “And that’s really the biggest thing.”