” …Our mission would be to introduce the youth to history and current events of people of African American descent, and that way they can enhance their self esteem and self awareness and be passionate about the community.” If you looked back at your 20-year-old self, you would realize that your main priorities were partying and surviving college life. Well, not for this 20-year-old. Walta Abraham may not consider herself a young activist, but she definitely is one in the making with her new organization she started with her friend called the Black History Project. Alongside balancing her major as a civil engineer at University of Missouri (MIZZOU) and a social life, Walta is passionate about uplifting the black youth in Chicago in her spare time. With her intellect, big heart, and beautiful soul, there is no doubt her good karma will come back full circle and filled with success.
First off, what the hell is civil engineering and what made you want to get into this field?
[laughs] Well I originally wanted to go into architecture because I like art and drawing and whatnot. I also liked math and I realized that the civil engineers are pretty much the man above the architects and they make more money so I was like, Oh, let me just do that. The civil engineer works with architects and looks over their designs and also looks over the construction workers on site to make sure everything that they’re building is running accordingly.
Damn, so you’re trying to be a boss, huh?
Tell us about the Black History Project and how does that tie in with what you’re trying to do in the future?
Well, The Black History Project really has absolutely nothing to do with my major in school which I kinda really liked because it’s something I can enjoy, you know? It’s more like a hobby in a sense. So what we plan to do is teach history to the youth of Chicago, teach black history specifically, because graduating from [St.] Ignatius [high school] I realized I knew nothing about black history. They initially had an African American history class but then they stopped it so I didn’t get to take it. And then coming to Missouri I came across a lot more racist people. I ended up taking a black history class and started to gain the knowledge and whatnot, and I was like, Okay, well this is a problem that kids aren’t being taught this in high school and that it’s so regular that people don’t even think about this. So then my friend and I decided that we would start an organization where we would teach black history and relate it to everything that is going on present day.
How exactly are you going to teach black history? Are you guys studying black history or just learning as you go?
We’re learning as we go. With each topic we come up with we do our research, get all the information that we can.
With Mizzou being in a small town and in the middle of nowhere, what type of racism have you experienced?
Well one thing that was really crazy to me was when we had a die in protest at school and a lot of the white people were like, What is going on? Why are they doing this? And some of them were like, Just step on them. And then later on that day people were posting all types of terrible things on Yik Yak and someone made an anonymous post on how they plan to burn down the culture center that’s on campus. And it’s like, Why? Because we had a die in? It’s just things like that that happen, which is so ridiculous.
Explain what went on in creating this organization. What was the process like?
We initially came up with idea after the Renisha McBride case, where a woman in Detroit who needed help after her car broke down knocked on a white man’s door only to get shot in the face. The fact that he did that for absolutely no reason was so messed up. The thing that a lot of people don’t get is that we want this to be open to everyone. We don’t want it to only be towards black people, we want white people to get a better understanding of black history too because they’re just being fed the same information. So we decided our mission would be to introduce the youth to history and current events of people of African American descent, and that way they can enhance their self esteem and self awareness and be passionate about the community.
We launched over winter break, and to plan our first event we pretty much had to figure out what the topic of discussion would be and we decided on police brutality with everything that was going on. We knew a lot of people would love to talk about that. We discussed things from, ‘What is race?’ ‘Does it exist?’ to back-in-the-day’s one drop rule when you were considered impure if you had a drop of black in you. It wasn’t really much of us talking–we had our points we wanted to touch but it was mainly everybody else discussing. It was great.
Is this something you would like to see be more than just a college organization?
Oh yes, definitely. It started off in Chicago and we want it to grow throughout the city and hopefully expand to other cities.
Are you trying to get into politics?
Umm…no… [laughs]. Not necessarily… Honestly no. [laughs] This is something I just want to do to be involved in the community.
What are your views on today’s black youth?
I feel like the black youth has a lot of potential. I’ve been going to the Young Chicago Authors events and their open mic events lately, and I’ve never realized how much passion and potential the Chicago youth itself has. I feel like there are a lot of people who maybe don’t have the self esteem or the knowledge to channel that passion in the right direction.
Other than teaching black history, what do you think is another way to uplift the black community?
I think that acknowledging the fact that everyone is different and that it doesn’t make you any better or lesser than anyone else, and that’s very important to teach. I’ve come across so many people who have said they never thought they would be as good as so-and-so because of where they started off in life or the family they came from. We need to build each other up.
You recently won homecoming duchess, how was that moment for you? You must be very popular to win that in college?
[laughs] You know, that was very outside of my comfort zone! That was literally the only reason why I did it, I wanted to do something that I would not typically do. It was cool, it was fun. I got to meet a lot of people. I had to A LOT of campaigning [laughs].
Do you normally try to step out of your comfort zone?
I’m trying. It’s what I’m working on.
So why MIZZOU?
It was far enough away from home that I won’t get pop visits or anything. Literally, no one wants to drive down and visit me, so that’s great [laughs]. And it’s a little warmer than Chicago. I had initially wanted to go into journalism and MIZZOU is known for journalism, so I visited the school and loved it. I also knew people who went here and also loved it, so I was like, Okay, this cool. I instantly fell in love with the school’s environment.
What are you doing outside of school towards your career goals?
I’m involved in clubs and organizations on campus. Like I’m an engineering ambassador and I’m a part of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. With all of those I’m trying to land a good internship.
Do you think there are different standards between male engineers and female engineers?
I mean yeah. It’s not very common for women to be engineers. That’s why I’m in the Society of Women Engineers and why they have a club about it, because there aren’t a lot of women in the industry.
If it’s such a male dominated industry, do women face any discrimination or is it not an issue?
You know, I actually don’t think that matters anymore. Because in the clubs that I’m in, we’ve had different representatives from different agencies come in and talk to us and we ask those types of questions. So far they’ve all said they never felt discriminated against because of their gender. I don’t think that would be a problem.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get into the civil engineering industry?
I would say to definitely go for it. Anything you want to do is going to be tough and you’re gonna have your obstacles, but if you set your mind to it you can honestly make it.
Having African parents, how do they feel about your career choice since it’s not a lawyer or doctor?
They love it, especially my dad. He’s always wanted me to go into engineering because I’ve always been good at math, and he’s always been like, “Do that! Do that!” And I’ve always been the type to do what I want to do and it all ended up working out. I absolutely love the idea of becoming an engineer.
Do you miss Chicago?
I do. I wish I could be in Chicago with these same people from school.
What’s your favorite thing about Chicago?
My favorite thing? Oh my God… Wait I know, my favorite thing is Lollapalooza. I love music and it’s the best three days of the year.
Catch the next Black History Project event March 21st 1019 S. May St Chicago, Il and for more information contact Blackhistoryproject@gmail.com. Be sure to follow them on IG @blackhistoryproject and twitter @bhpchicago. And see what Walta is up to on IG @yungwalta. Website coming soon!