by Victoria Kuz

Former Missouri Students Association president Payton Head returned to campus to deliver a Black History Month keynote address on leadership and its challenges on Monday night, Feb. 20.

Head was president of the Missouri Students Association from 2015-2016. His fall 2014 campaign with Brenda Smith-Lezama had the highest election turnout than any other in MU history, according to The Maneater.

In September of 2015, he was called racial slurs while walking through campus one night, and his Facebook post relating incidents of racism he experienced at MU and challenging the privileged went viral.

Head read the post to the audience on Monday night.

If your simple existence is not a political statement I’m really going to need for you to check your privilege,” Head said in the post.

In Head’s presentation, he spoke about other instances of hate crime at MU, including a 2010 incident where cotton balls were scattered in front of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, and the vandalization of the center’s sign two years ago in which the word “black” was marked out.

“No one has to do everything, but everyone can do something,” Head said.

One of the first points of his speech was the creation of a “safe space” for audience members to learn.

“When we’re afraid to talk about the big issues, we don’t talk at all,” Head said.

Head suggested an approach for dealing with “big issues.”

“Part of the work that needs to be done … is for us to get political,”  Head said.

Additionally, he placed an emphasis on understanding our history.

“The only way we’ll move forward…is to be sure that we understand history, not just for this university but this nation as a whole,”  Head said. “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us … just because students have graduated and moved on doesn’t mean that their stories are far away from us.”

In his speech, Head also promoted allyship and intersectionality as “crucial to the success of any movement.”

He spoke about access to resources as a university and about using them to petition for change.

“We protest, we organize, we march, because we love this place,”  Head said.

At the event, MU Black Studies chair Stephanie Shonekan described Head as one who “walked on ice, but never fell.”

The event was moderated by current MSA President Sean Earl.

Edited by Aviva Okeson-Haberman |

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