Justin McCarthy ’12, an Afro-American studies major tells us about how hip hop shaped his life and Afro-American studies changed the way he thinks about the world.
Where are you from?
Why did you decide to attend UMass?
I have always attended small schools. I graduated with less than 60 students from The Gunnery School in Washington, CT. I really wanted to attend UMass because of the big university feel that it had.
What led you to choose Afro-American studies as your major?
It took me forever to decide on a major. At first, I wanted to be a communications major then decided I wanted to go to business school. Both of these subjects did not hold my interest, so I met with an advisor to talk about my major. By asking me what type of classes I enjoyed the most, I realized that my Afro-Am classes were the classes that I both enjoyed the most and found the most challenging. I figured I couldn’t go wrong with studying what I loved.
As the chapter president of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, what are your duties?
A number of my chapter brothers have graduated, leaving me to be the only undergraduate brother on campus. This leaves me with the responsibility of planning programs for the UMass community. We have held many social events, but have mostly concentrated on education or service based programs at UMass. I also have a number of brothers in the Springfield area and a few brothers in graduate programs at UMass, so I have some manpower to help with our events.
You volunteer at A Better Chance/ABC House of Amherst along with your fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. How long has your fraternity been involved with the ABC House?
My brother and UMass professor Gilbert McCauley, started our relationship with the ABC House in 2009. My fraternity brothers and I have spent time with the young students at the ABC House to show them that college is the way to go. We have taken field trips to watch plays, hosted programs on domestic violence, and even brought the students to hang out with us during homecoming weekend at our annual tailgate barbeque. The students look up to us, as we are a group of young, college-educated, men of color, who take the time to hang out with them.
Obviously, you have an interest in education outreach since you have been a counselor at Camp Summer Stars and also as Site Coordinator at Student Bridges. Does education outreach play a role in your future plans?
Through my work with Summer Stars and Student Bridges, I try to leave my mentees with one lesson: education is not a privilege, it is a right. Reaching out to these young students and helping them realize that they can achieve their goals through higher education has been my most fulfilling experience in life so far and I will continue to empower students as I move into my professional career.
You’ve said in another article that you’re interested in hip-hop culture…could you tell us a little more about how this interest started?
Hip-Hop has made me who I am today. Hip-Hop was what made me curious about the world. I remember hearing rappers like Tupac Shakur rap about people like Huey P. Newton and Malcolm X and this made me curious about these leaders. I started to research historical figures at a young age and this helped me become a better student. I became a DJ when I was twelve years old and had my own business. I would DJ birthday parties, graduation parties, and my high school basketball games. This helped me stay out of trouble and gave me a deep appreciation for music, as well as teaching me about business and managing money. My career goal is to earn my Ph.D. and become a university professor. I hope to make the study of Hip-Hop culture my life’s work.
What’s been your favorite class at UMass?
My favorite class that I have taken so far would have to be an Afro-Am class that I took my freshman year. The class was titled “The Minority Experience” and it examined the experiences of oppressed people all over the world. This class helped me look at the world through a different lens. It challenged everything that I had learned in high school. It made me think for myself and not just regurgitate my high school history teacher’s thoughts.
What’s your funniest memory of UMass?
Just a few months ago, Student Bridges was asked to create a panel discussion about college awareness at the Renaissance School in Springfield. Prior to the panel discussion, the students at the school mentioned that they wanted Sam the Minuteman to come to the school and visit. So when Student Bridges asked who wanted to dress as Sam the Minuteman, there was no way I was going to be able to miss that chance. I dressed up as Sam for the day and the kids loved it. It was so much fun, but extremely hot in that costume.
What advice would you give to incoming freshman?
Take at least one Afro-Am course in the W.E.B. Du Bois department. Even if you are not a student of color, an Afro-Am class will make you think in ways that you probably never have before. Undergrad is about expanding your world and your mind. I would also recommend getting involved with programs on campus that help give back to the community. Partying and hanging out is cool, but making a positive impact on our university will leave you with a greater sense of pride.