A Reflection on the Importance of SDSU’s Black History

February 10, 2023
University Library Addition's mural honoring SDSU's history of Black leadership.
The University Library Addition's mural honoring SDSU's history of Black leadership.

“I will persist; I will persevere; I will not give up!...HGS Yes!” 

These words can be heard in the voices of more than 100 Henrietta Goodwin Scholars and their academic coaches each Friday during a weekly seminar on the San Diego State University campus. The seminar — taught by alumna Rachael Stewart (’20, Ed.D. in Educational Leadership), Charles Bell Faculty Scholar at SDSU’s Black Resource Center — focuses on community engagement, leadership and identity development. 

The Black students who find community and inspiration with us also learn about who Henrietta Goodwin and Charles Bell were, and how their stories evoke Black Excellence. 

Goodwin was the first Black student to graduate from SDSU (then San Diego Normal School) in 1913. Bell, a leading mathematician, became the university’s second Black professor in 1958. They may not have been widely known or highly recognized during their time, but today we shine a light on who they are and what they represent. 

Last year, the students got the opportunity to meet Henrietta’s niece, Beverly Goodwin. Goodwin, who sadly passed away not long after, shared how the love for education permeated her family’s history, and that the HGS program is in line with the Goodwin family mantra. 

Who would have imagined that 110 years after Henrietta was left off the list of San Diego Normal School graduates, her name and legacy would be known across the university and beyond. From being not allowed to walk to now having her name grace websites, books, articles and affirmations. 

Most recently, her picture can be found on a mural in Love Library, along with Bell, whose name will appear on SDSU’s East Commons Building in April. They both represent the past and the future. Their legacies ignite the flame of persistence and perseverance in our students. 

During Black History Month, we are reminded that the strength of those from the past gives us the muscle to keep striving for excellence today and tomorrow. 

Even though we did not personally know Goodwin and Bell, J. Luke Wood, SDSU’s Vice President of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, rightly understood that by institutionalizing their names, we would preserve an important part of Black history, SDSU history and American history. For many people from the African Diaspora, Black History is an acknowledgment of our excellence. 

And not just for one month out of the year. Our excellence exists 365 days a year. 

Our history awakens our souls and reunites us with those who came before us. In this way, the determination of Henrietta Goodwin and Charles Bell lives on, igniting hope in our students, faculty and staff. 

Their stories hold us accountable to persist and persevere.

SDSU will host a naming dedication ceremony for Charles Bell at East Commons on April 3 from 3 to 4 p.m. 

Tonika Duren Green is a full professor in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology. She also serves as Associate Vice President for Campus Community Affairs and Affiliated Faculty.

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