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March 09 12:56 PM

Centenary professor honored with civil rights award

Dr. Andia Augustin-Billy was chosen as a 2018 recipient of Mount Canaan Baptist Church’s Black History Awards given in honor of its longtime pastor and a prominent figure in the civil rights movement in Shreveport, the Rev. Harry Blake.

Blake created the Black History Awards program in the 1970s to recognize individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions in business, education and faith. The awards are bestowed as part of the church’s celebration of Black History Month in February.

Augustin-Billy was one of four individuals honored in the field of education at a special worship service and ceremony held at Mount Canaan on Sunday, Feb. 25. She is an assistant professor of French and Francophone studies with a concentration in women, gender and sexuality studies. Her research interests include Francophone African and Caribbean literatures, African diasporic studies, and postcolonial, women, gender and sexuality studies. Augustin-Billy leads studyabroad experiences for Centenary students in Paris and in Haiti, where she grew up as the daughter of missionaries.

Growing up outside of the United States in a majority black country like Haiti meant that Augustin-Billy didn’t have much personal experience with Black History Month, a concept which is deeply rooted in the unique context of American history. Learning about the Rev. Blake’s Black History Awards program and being honored as a part of it has broadened her own knowledge and perspectives.

“I have really learned the significance and importance of celebrating African- American history, especially for Rev. Blake’s generation,” said Augustin-Billy. “The era of Jim Crow laws and the civil rights struggle is not so far in the past, and these events still provoke so much emotion. I am so honored to be recognized by a person like Rev. Blake, who lived this history.”

Hearing the stories of other honorees at the awards ceremony reinforced Augustin-Billy’s understanding of the continued relevance of the multi-faceted struggle for civil rights in the 21st century. the experience has also left her wrestling with how, as a Black History Awards honoree, to best represent the Rev. Blake’s ideals in her work at Centenary and in the community.

“As an honoree, I am now absorbed in Reb. Blake’s history, and I feel a great responsibility to continue his legacy and continue this story,” she said. “Everyone should and ought to make an impact where they are, and for me that place is Centenary. I am fired up and inspired to be a better teacher — to be more intentional in helping students recognize and resist injustice and to help them cultivate a sense of caring and humanity.”

The Rev. Blake recently spoke at Centenary during the annual Dream Week, a celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Augustin-Billy delivered the welcome for the Dream Week convocation on Jan. 18, providing context for the Rev. Blake’s reflections on his work with King during Shreveport’s civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s.

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