AFAM alum speaks on social justice in the real world

Makeen Yasar, a 2019 LMU grad, has utilized his African American Studies minor in important ways in his career at Kaiser Permanente. 

LMU alumni head into a variety of career paths: some that are directly related to their degrees, and some that are not. While many undergraduate programs are focused on careers in specific industries, such as marketing, other programs provide a less direct path to the job market. These programs are often less focused on job training and more focused on social justice issues out in the world.

African American studies (AFAM), Chicana/o and Latina/o studies (CLST) and women's and gender studies (WGST) all provide a thorough analysis of varying social justice topics without directly translating into any specific career. But nevertheless, alumni from these programs have found that they have informed their careers in important ways. Makeen Yasar ('19) majored in health and human sciences with a minor in African American studies. He explained the profound impact that AFAM has had on his career thus far.

Jordan Boaz (J.B.): How did your AFAM minor directly or indirectly translate to what you do now? Has it aided your career or everyday life?

Makeen Yasar (M.Y.): My AFAM minor was a huge influence not only in how I approach my work, but also regarding my sense of self and pride. Prior to my current job, I was a Youth Justice Fellow for the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition, which is a coalition of nine organizations across the county doing justice work alongside Black and Brown male identified youth to end the school to prison pipeline.

We actively trained youth to become organizers in their communities, so being able to describe to them the history of systemic racism from a Black activist perspective came from the education I received as an AFAM minor. For young folks who don't ever get to see themselves in their own curriculum, to finally learn the language to describe their lived experiences was empowering for everyone involved. My education became a tool of empowerment, and the foundation on which we would build their schools to advocate for change in their community. Just this past summer in collaboration with BLM-LA and Students Deserve, our youth were able to defund $35 million from LAUSD school police to reallocate directly towards resources for Black students in Los Angeles (i.e. counselors, psychologists, social workers etc.). And that all started with them beginning to gain their knowledge of self.

It was one of the reasons I was hired for my current job at Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine. I currently work as the Coordinator for the Office of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity where I work to develop and implement the school's pipeline/pathway efforts to get more underrepresented students into medicine and health careers. One of the main reasons why I was hired was because of my community experience.

J.B.: Some people are skeptical about students studying topics like AFAM, WGST and CLST, as they do not necessarily provide direct job skills. What would you say to this?

M.Y.: I'd say that my AFAM education had some of the most formative educational experiences that I had during my undergrad experience. As someone who's pursuing medicine, a lot of what we learn is related to understanding science and applying doctoring skills. But what's often confusing for many healthcare practitioners is how to deal with people. How to understand different communities, and what people actually need to be healed. And what's even harder for a lot of scientists to understand is how to change these issues in equitable ways for the communities most impacted.

Studying AFAM taught me critical analysis skills in history, systems, policies, culture, art and even spirituality. It taught me how to dream, to envision myself and my community outside of the systems we live in. And, most importantly, studying AFAM helped me begin my journey to become liberated. And that? That's invaluable.

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