Jhala Martin is one of the first students at Michigan State University to declare African American and African Studies (AAAS) as her major. The new Bachelor of Arts degree offered through the Department of African American and African Studies within the College of Arts & Letters was launched this year to promote and support Black transdisciplinary advocacy, engagement, and thought.
“It means a great deal to me to be acknowledged as one of the first people to have the major,” said Martin, who is now in her junior year at MSU. “I hadn’t really thought about my position until recently when I attended a meeting for all the AAAS programs. It was so amazing and welcoming, and I am just so grateful to be along this journey.”
After graduating high school in Detroit with a scholarship to MSU, Martin initially enrolled as a double major in Engineering and Theatre before transitioning to AAAS.
“For the first time, I felt that I was able to learn, discuss, and dissect all the amazing things regarding Black people,” she said. “African American and African Studies allows me to be direct and let my voice be heard. I love it so much, and it’s nice to be surrounded by people who look like me!”
“As a AAAS major, I hope to learn the ability to release wellness, happiness, and expression within myself and share it with others. Beyond the classroom, I hope to build a stable organization that uplifts and celebrates Black people in differing communities.”Jhala Martin
Martin credits Ruth Nicole Brown, MSU Foundation Professor and Inaugural Chairperson of the AAAS Department, and Academic Specialists Yvonne Morris and Chamara Kwayke for her strong sense of belonging.
“They are all amazing for different reasons and have wholeheartedly impacted me as a human being and young Black girl,” Martin said. “They treat me with love, care, and respect and have always shown me that they will be there for me no matter what. All three of them in their own ways have pushed me to be more confident, outspoken, and resilient, and I am eternally grateful to have them in my life.”
Martin also is grateful for the newly renovated space in North Kedzie Hall that is now home to the AAAS Department.
“I really enjoy what has happened in North Kedzie and how it has been transformed into a collective space for AAAS majors and Black individuals,” Martin said. “I am always in the environment as I study, converse with my peers, and catch up with teachers I’ve had previously. It’s really cool.”
Martin aspires to work in a company within her community to further her experience in event coordination and project management before establishing her own organization.
“As a AAAS major, I hope to learn the ability to release wellness, happiness, and expression within myself and share it with others,” she said. “Beyond the classroom, I hope to build a stable organization that uplifts and celebrates Black people in differing communities.”
Written by Kseniya Lukiy