For students working toward the achievement of the CCC-SLP or CCC-A, in a profession where only 8% of members and affiliates identify as minorities, and an even smaller number identifying as Black, the cultural disconnect within our field can lead to feelings of loneliness and uncertainty. Many Black CSD students seek a community that embraces, nurtures, and mentors its Black student members. The National Black Association for Speech, Language, and Hearing (NBASLH) not only meets the needs of Black students, but the organization also excels in cultivating current and future Black leaders in the profession.
To better understand the impact of NBASLH, I interviewed current and past student members to learn how NBASLH meets the needs of Black students and stays true to its mission, “to maintain a viable mechanism through which the needs of black professionals, students and individuals with communication disorders can be met.”
Before sharing their voices, I first want to highlight my own voice—the one that NBASLH helped me find in the deep abyss of insecurities, uncertainty, and imposter syndrome. As a former student member and now professional member, NBASLH has been my door to opportunities and welcomed me with a seat at the table with freedom of creativity and inclusive collaboration. Through this, NBASLH has taught me that in order to activate my true purpose, I must step outside of my comfort zone, reach past the stars, and silence the negative narratives that try to impede on my goals.
The impact that NBASLH has had on my life is one that many can relate to—which is a testimony to the strength of NBASLH and why I’ve decided to share the authentic voices of both current and former students . . .
Kennedy Guess, SLP Master’s Student at the University of Houston, NBASLH SLP Student Representative
“NBASLH brought a sense of warmth and identity, especially when being the only Black student in my program. The [NBASLH] convention was my way to connect with other Black students and gave me a familial community outside of my institution.”
Kennedy’s words describe many current and former students’ stories when they talk about their first introduction to the NBASLH experience. It always starts with attending the NBASLH convention, held every year in a different city since 1978. The convention highlights research and clinical expertise amongst various CSD sessions while offering a “family reunion” vibe that elevates the authenticity of excitement that NBASLH members share when attending every year.
Dr. Kia Johnson, PhD, CCC-SLP, Professor at the University of Houston, NBASLH Chair and NSSHLA National Advisor
“NBASLH was the place everybody went, and I remember my first convention in Milwaukee as a student. I remember seeing Wanda, Bernadette, Tommie, Vicki, and Lemmie sitting outside the hotel lobby talking, and we were the students listening in and admiring them from afar. We were in awe of seeing these top-named influential Black professionals in our field—hoping to get close enough to hear some of their wisdom.”
Dr. Johnson’s words illustrate the power and impact of seeing representation within our field from a student perspective. NBASLH affords the opportunity to engage with prominent leaders in our profession. This engagement helps alleviate feelings of Imposter Syndrome that many Black students may carry, while also creating a supportive and inspiring network. Dr. Johnson continued to reflect on the powerful influence of these interactions as she explained how they impacted her personally, during her reflections:
“As a student, being able to have a conversation with them—and them remembering you when you saw them again later—made it feel like you mattered. So, for me, it made the profession smaller even though ASHA and our profession are so big. Going to NBASLH as a student made me feel like I had a circle.”
The significance of being seen and remembered by accomplished Black professionals in the field of CSD inspires Black students and illustrates that they have a place and a purpose in CSD—empowering students to be the next generation of leaders in the profession.
Jamila Harley, MEd, CCC-SLP, ASHA’s Associate Director Health Care Services, Former NBASLH Student Representative and Convention Chair (2013-2015)
“For me, to go from NBASLH Student Representative to working at ASHA within 12 years—which I believe to be a relatively short period of time—I really owe it to NBASLH, and I trace it back to them.”
NBASLH has always been a platform for students to develop their leadership and professional skills. The NBASLH Student Representative Board of Directors position is one way that students have the opportunity to gain leadership experience. This position gives students a platform to represent the NBASLH student membership needs, understand and learn the operations of an executive board, and use their voice to evoke change in the field of CSD and their communities.
Dr. Shauntelle Cannon, AuD, CCC-A, PhD Student at Ohio State University, NBASLH AuD Student Representative
“NBASLH helped make Black audiologists be seen and helped with the development of who I am as a student. Now holding the position as a student rep, it gives me a platform to be heard as an audiology student and to let other audiology students and professionals know that NBASLH is our home.”
Historically, speech-language pathology students have been the voice of the student membership; however, now the board has ensured the “H” in its name is highlighted by recently creating an audiology student representative position. Now the NBASLH board has two student representatives to represent both professions.
Darius Thomas Wallace, CCC-SLP, CEO Dynamic Therapy, Former NBASLH Student Representative and Convention Chair (2018-2019)
“NBASLH has cultivated me into the man I am today. It has provided me with professional development and connections with others in speech pathology and audiology. And enhanced how I see the world through a culturally competent lens. NBASLH has offered me an opportunity to commit to my profession and to actively commit to its advancement.”
Darius’ statement is symbolic of NBASLH’s continued reputation for enriching the lives of successful Black CSD professionals in our field today. NBASLH has produced researchers, private practice owners, professors, ASHA presidents, clinicians, philanthropists, motivational speakers, and more. NBASLH’s leadership, professional, and cultural development has challenged students to step out of their comfort zone and embrace their best talents and skills while improving their weaknesses.
Jori Childs, AuD Student at Samford University, 2020-2021 National NSSLHA Student State Officer for Alabama (AuD), NBASLH Student Member
“I have a village supporting me. I’ll always be grateful for the relationships I’ve made as a member of NBASLH. I’m motivated by my peers and inspired by my mentors. Together, we share knowledge, ideas, and experiences.”
NBASLH is a support to numerous Black students in CSD. They recognize the importance of student development in research, scholarship, leadership, and service. At each convention, NBASLH acknowledges their students through scholarships, volunteer efforts, and special sessions while being inspired by the professionals that have paved the way. NBASLH is not a mono-ethnic community. They offer support for all students, regardless of their background, and those interested in being allies to the Black community—inclusive of serving Black individuals with communications and swallowing disorders.
Meeting the Needs of Black Students for 40+ Years
Collectively, these current and past students’ voices exemplify the image and value of NBASLH’s influence through inspiration, celebration, and empowerment. While NBASLH has maintained its mission of being a “viable mechanism through which the needs of Black students are met” for more than 40 years, any student, from undergraduate to doctoral, from all races and ethnic backgrounds can benefit from the NBASLH experience.
I now carry the charge of NBASLH’s legacy and reputation to embrace, nurture, and mentor our current and future Black student members. Since its inception, the countless lives that NBASLH has changed will continue to be the pedestal that fosters Black success. For me, my life is forever changed, and for those that have yet to experience NBASLH, I say to you, “the doors of the church are open.” (African American English figurative language)
If you’re interested in learning more about NBASLH or want to join, please visit nbaslh.org.