My First JCLC Conference: Chelewa Gant

Thursday:

Heading to the conference keynote, I get on the elevator then a woman gets on. I’m always nervous when it’s just me and a female in any space alone, but this was an exception because the woman who got on the elevator was the first person I ever would call a “Global Librarian.” The type of librarian I want to be in the long term. This woman is currently the President of ALA, Loida Garcia-Febo. I knew who she was and I made my introduction. She continues to text on her phone without even acknowledging me. I understand the demands and busyness of people’s schedules, but I was crushed by her lack of humanity towards me especially when she has spoken to the UN and travelled to so many countries and interacted with so many people. Just a smile and nod would have made my day better, but instead, it boosted my already high anxiety. About thirty minutes later she gives a speech about inclusion, communication, and kindness towards library professionals and people in general. I was so upset at the hypocrisy, I wanted to go back to my hotel room and not attend the conference at all, then the keynote speaker came on stage and shined a light from a different perspective. Benjamin Alire Såenz is an author with a unique perspective on life, creating stories, communication. This was a huge inspiration for me because I’m currently working on a young adult series of books. On that night I completed five whole chapters of my first book. This was most writing I had ever done in one sitting, ever.

The sessions I attended were wonderful and informative:

The “Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy” session with Leilee Warren helped me tremendously with a successful class instruction session I had upon my return to Bowling Green State University. My initial thoughts on the exhibits were that it all felt overwhelming, but once I got it together and decided on a path to walk, it made all the information easy to process and gave me time to interact with people and discuss the school/product/service they represented. My youngest sister had a poster session, but she was not able to attend the conference. I spoke with her colleague to understand what the poster session was about.  All the time and work my sister put into this project. I was very proud of her!

“The Insider Tips from Library HR Directors” session was great because it gave me perspective from the HR side when applying for positions. Kathryn Kjaer, Leo Agnew, and Gerald Holmes (yes from UNG Diversity Institute) gave a lot of good information on what to consider and not consider on when applying for jobs and going through the interview process.

Friday:

I go to a session on “Using Mindfulness to Cope with Microaggressions and Workplace Stress” with Jaena Alabi and Pambanisha Whaley and it involved a group activity. Coincidentally I’m in a group with the President of ALA, Loida Garcia-Febo and a librarian from Oakland, CA. I wanted to tell the story of her ignoring me on the elevator, but I decided to go with the guy pulling the gun out on me while I walked to work. The activity consisted of a speaker (me), listener (Oakland Librarian), and observer (Garcia-Febo). The Garcia-Febo’s feedback was all based on the listeners’ response to me, never to what happened to me. It was good because the Oakland Librarian had a lot of questions for me and my experience that I was more than happy to answer, but equally uncomfortable because Garcia-Febo never once spoke to me or made eye contact with me. After the activity, I shared my story in front of a room of over a hundred people, because I had only told a few people to that point.  JCLC would be the only safe place I could ever share it. I didn’t realize there were that many people in the room until I stood in front of them. Looking around the room, I noticed my Department Chair/Residency Coordinator, Eileen Bosch was in the room and like Garcia-Febo she too was texting on her phone. As I started to talk and warm up the crowd, I noticed she was texting on her phone. When I get to the gun part, the room went silent. I looked the President of ALA then I looked at Eileen then I continued the story. After the class, there were many people that wanted to talk to me, hug me, shake my hand, give me words of encouragement, and share their stories. I listened to every single story and discussed solutions to this continuing problem. Yet, I still have not talked to Eileen about it, nor has she talked to me about it.

After that session, I went to a focus group at the local public library. The focus group included two other residencies from the UNC Diversity Institute and several other librarians in various stages of their careers. At times it got very emotional as we talked about the micro-aggressions we experience every day and how hard it is to not have the support we need and how the lack of what we need creates doubt and makes us question our self-worth.

After the focus group, went to lunch with a group of residents from the UNC Diversity Institute. It was good to be around familiar faces, have some laughs, and enjoy food! During this time I ran into an old friend, Gyasi Evans from back home (Denver, Colorado). He and his sister both are librarians as my sister and I are librarians. Gyasi started the idea to discuss future collaboration for sibling publication. I honestly can’t wait to see what we come up with!!

Due to the emotional morning I had, I was exhausted and did not attend any other sessions for the day.

Saturday:

Early morning, but great for learning! I attended a session, “Social Change Book Club” with Regina Ward, Hadiya Evans (Gyasi’s sister), and James Davis. When I was a Young Adult Librarian for Denver Public Library I was not aware of the social discussion group R.A.D.A. (Read. Awareness. Dialogue. Action.) they had put together. It made me feel upset that something so important and engaging was not being fully supported by administration (when it started). This was something I could have been a part of and made a different version for teens to use in the community library that I served.

Before the Residency Interest Group panel, Jon Cawthorne (from UNC Diversity Institute) and ALA President-elect Wanda Brown approached me at different times and started conversations with me. They made me feel validated with the work that I do and encouraged me to continue to pursue my passion. I also was involved in conversations with other residents from the UNC Diversity Institute with Amanda, Lorin, Alex, and a former resident Ashleigh that has resulted in a panel proposal that we are putting together for the 2019 ACRL Conference.

Before the conference started, my slide of data that I spent a lot of time during the summer piecing together was being cut because of timing issues. So I was upset going into the panel I was involved in. The other residents gave their narratives of recruitment and retention sitting at a table on stage saying the same thing in more or less the same way. Not me! It was my turn. I got up. Left the stage and walked among the people and talked to them. I stuck to the script (for the most part) and said what I needed to say with gusto and humor. When I finished my story, I got an ovation. When the panel was over, I had a line of 5 people waiting to talk to me! First was a lady from a different institution and she asked if I would leave my residency early? I did not expect this and I exchanged information with her for future reference.

After the panel, I went to eat BBQ and was later surprised by some library school students and residents that heard me speak on Friday and on my panel. I was able to give them advice on researching residency programs, how to look for red flags, making local connections, how to find supportive co-workers, and work around unsupportive co-workers.

Sunday:

The closing of the conference was festive and informative because really I did have a good experience I will definitely take what I learned and use it in the future. At the airport, I was stopped by multiple people who saw me speak on Friday and Saturday and I felt good to talk to people who actually have ideas and looking for ways to grow within the profession. I met two women who heard me speak on the panel. One is an academic librarian from a small University who wanted to know if she gets approval from her institution if I would be interested in helping her build a residency program from the ground up based on what I had to say on Saturday. The other lady was a branch manager for a large U.S. city. She said, “You want back in with public libraries, let me know.

JCLC was a great experience for me. What I learned, I will definitely use and my goals to be better has a clearer definition. I cannot wait for the next JCLC!

-Che

One thought on “My First JCLC Conference: Chelewa Gant

  1. Chelewa Gant says:

    Months removed from writing this post and I have been told that I made a lot of people upset by writing this. It has definitely “blacklisted” me cost me potential employment opportunities among other things. On the positive side, this post expedited the process of me leaving Bowling Green State University. As soon as I get the “ok” I will post that story leading up to my departure with emails and audio recordings as proof of the culture and retaliation at Bowling Green State University. Even with proof and an honest account of events, I will be seen as in negative light and that’s ok because I’m black man living in this country and after 36 years of being a black man, somethings become second nature.

    I do understand that it is considered unprofessional to call out people by their name, but I’m the type of librarian who accepts and expects accountability. However, this cycle of unprofessionalism will continue and people will just accept it because they want to have a career. For how long? I’m a different type of professional and my name and my work ethic will not be silenced because it makes some people feel uncomfortable.

    I definitely made some mistakes in my residency and I will talk about that as well, but from my experience I hope readers will walk away with a different perspective of what to do/not to do in the academic libraries and the workplace in general. I’m more than happy to answer any questions you may have, but please keep in mind that you may not like the answer or better yet you have been through this or know someone who has. In that case, I would like to work together with anyone to help with questions and/or concerns.

    Regards,
    Chelewa Gant

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