Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum Speaks on Race and Women of Power – Black Enterprise
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Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum Speaks on Race and Women of Power

Dr. Beverly Tatum
Dr. Beverly Tatum (Image: Courtesy of Basic Books)

2015 Legacy Award recipient Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum laughs with excitement over attending Black Enterprise’s Women of Power Summit. Beaming with happiness when expressing her gratitude, she looks forward to March 3, the day she’ll grace the stage at this year’s Legacy Awards.

“I really am honored. Tremendously honored and really looking forward to it,” says the legend. “And I’m in great company. I think it’s really a wonderful thing to be able to share this experience with such dynamic women.”

Set to join founder & CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and Editor- in- Chief Emeritus of Essence Magazine, Susan L. Taylor; author and journalist, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, actress and activist, Pam Grier; Daniel Tatum is set to be honored with the Barbara Graves Award for her 35 year career in higher education.

“I knew Barbara Graves. And I know what a wonderful person she was,” says Daniel Tatum, who’s been President of Spelman College for the past 13 years. “And I’m tremendously honored to be receiving the award that is named after her. I know what an important person she was certainly to her husband and her children. And what a role model for women — smart,  gracious – all the things we all want to be. Barbara Graves epitomizes those things. So I am just tremendously honored not only that I’m getting an award, but I am getting that award.”

Coming from a home of educators — a mother who was a school teacher and father a college professor —Daniel Tatum’s career path was destined. After an experience teaching while attaining her PhD in grad school, Daniel Tatum’s dreams of clinical psychology changed to a focus on education. She embarked on a traditional academic route, from professor to tenure and promotion, working at University of California, Santa Barbara, Westfield State University, and Mount Holyoke College. After a 6 month stint serving as acting president of Mount Holyoke, Daniel Tatum was nominated for President of Spelman, a position she proudly accepted. Now, at 60 and preparing to retire, she’s ready to transition into her next dream. “I’m not intending or seeking to be President of another college or university. But I want to continue to educate primarily through my writing. And I’m really excited about the opportunity to be able to focus on my scholarly writing in a way that I haven’t had time to do over the last 13 years,” she says. “I’m hoping a year from now when people ask me what I do now, I can say, ‘I’m a writer.'”

The author of three books, Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation (2007), and  Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community (1987), 1997’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and Other Conversations about Race; is her most popular, critically acclaimed for its accurate take addressing race. Analyzing today’s world, she realizes the discussion hasn’t fully changed.

“It’s not like it’s a new conversation. I have two sons, 28 and 32. My kids grew up in Western Massachusetts in a predominantly white community and in that context you didn’t worry about police on the street like you would in New York City. But you worried about being pulled over while driving. So talking to your kids about what happens if you get pulled over by a police officer. Why you have to keep your hands visible at all times. Why you don’t talk back. Why you’re always courteous. And those conversations are hard to have, but necessary,”she says. “It was a complicated conversation then. But it was before Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. It was before these real experiences that sort of feel like open season on black people.”

“One of the things I talk about in my book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?is that when we talk about issues of race we need to be honest about the realities. But at the same time we don’t want to create a sense of despair. So we have to talk about not only what the problem is, but what are the solutions and who’s working toward a solution. It’s not that every police officer is your enemy. It’s not that every white person means you harm. Not everybody is disrespectful. Not everybody sees you as a criminal,” she points out. “But sometimes people do and you have to be prepared for when they do. And you don’t always know in advance which is which. But it’s a balance between both speaking from a place of reality and wanting to offer protection and wanting to offer hope for the fact that the problem we’re talking about now is not one that will always exist. And is not one for which there is no remedy.”

Today, with a triumphant legacy laid, Beverly Daniel Tatum has no regrets. “At every moment in my life someone has given me good advice. There isn’t anything I would have done differently. At each stage I was doing what I wanted to do and I’ve been fortunate to get the jobs when I wanted to have them,” she says. “I’ve been blessed to maintain a happy family life throughout my career. I have a very close family and great career and no regrets. If someone had told me at 20 and graduating college that these are the things that are going to happen in life, I’d have been truly surprised and quite suspect. I certainly would not have predicted that I would become a college president or thought it desirable to be so.”