Tech NAACP president receives leadership award
Tennessee Tech University graduate student, Mark Rine, a biology major from Dickson, Tennessee, has been awarded the John Lewis Youth Leadership Award by the Putnam County chapter of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“At first, I was a little hesitant to accept the award,” admits Rine, who is the president of the NAACP chapter at Tech. “But I wanted to raise publicity for the organization to help students know that the organization is here and they can come and hang out with us at our events, even if they don’t become a member.”
When Rine, who is a non-traditional student and not a person of color himself, came to campus he came with an interest in not only learning about biology but also about learning about his fellow students. In addition to NAACP he joined organizations like the Black Student Union and Center of Diversity Education (CODE).
“When I first showed up, I was mainly showing up to these groups just to educate myself, to try to listen to their stories and their points of view,” he said. “While I was there, I realized that there was a lot of stuff that they had to say that not a lot of people were listening to. So, I felt like I needed to be there to not only show support for them, but also learn for myself.
“I feel like, ultimately, we all share a similar goodness but that sometimes we just mess up because we are uneducated on a certain topic that can potentially offend somebody,” Rine continued. “I wanted to listen and not argue and just be open to anything that I may be doing that could be taken as being offensive, even if I didn’t mean it that way. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a disconnect in my communication. I also have an eight-year-old and want to make sure I’m educating him on the same issues and leaving behind that legacy.”
Last year the position of president for Tech’s NAACP branch became vacant and when no other student had the time or desire to fill the position, Rine stepped up.
“I accepted the position under the pretense that if anyone in the membership wanted to take over, I would step aside and also that if any member felt uncomfortable by my position or my race or age or anything that, I would immediately step aside,” Rine said. “But I do kind of serve this interesting bridge between the Putnam County NAACP Chapter and the Tech chapter since I’m a member of both and they felt like I would be a good fit for that.”
Since accepting the position with NAACP at Tech, Rine says his leadership style has shifted and has been so successful that he plans to continue using it in all leadership positions he holds from now on. Instead of directing his members where he thinks they should go and what they should do, he sits down with them and facilitates conversations amongst the group.
“I'm really just there to connect people to each other and not to push any agenda that I personally have,” he said. “I think that's what I've gotten the most out of this. I’ve learned how to just sit and listen and have honest conversations with people and try to connect people within the membership and then also to connect the membership to other organizations and faculty to try to offer a sense of comfort across the board.”
Rine says he has enjoyed helping to bridge the gap between students of different races and backgrounds and being able to help minority students feel like their voices matter on campus.
“I want to educate myself first and foremost, but then also I want to give a sense of comfort and show them that they do have someone to talk to and ask questions, and to also be an ally in the strongest sense of the word. It’s not just as simple as changing your profile picture online,” Rine said. “You have to put time and effort into it.”
The Tech branch of NAACP meets about once a month and welcomes new members or visitors of any race. For up-to-date announcements on meetings and other events, follow their Instagram page at: @ttunaacp.