Alan Mckenzie is Leading BLSA by Love at MMC

Photo via Alan Mckenzie

Photo via Alan Mckenzie

Reading Time: 5 minutes

From a young age, Alan Mckenzie was taught by the example of his grandma, who encouraged him to “lead by love.” Growing up under her roof, he recalls how his love of people and interest in film all started with her. She taught him how to stand up for what he believes in and to value education. Mckenzie explains that he was pushed to work hard in school and become a community leader because of the strong foundation his grandma laid for him. 

“I realized that without my grandma being there, who knows what I would have been… I want to make it my lifelong mission to help people the way she helped me,” he says. Mckenzie has begun this journey to help other people by finding himself and his own community in college. 

Mckenzie, 22, is the President of Marymount Manhattan College’s Black and Latinx Student Association, which is a Core Council group that assists in amplifying and representing the voices and opinions of Black and Brown students at the college. His goal is to make students of color feel seen and heard on campus, and so far, he has been able to lead meaningful conversations within the club. This semester alone, BLSA has hosted meetings discussing topics such as White allyship action and accountability and the school to prison pipeline. Under his leadership, the club has grown to have over 100 members, and the club has recently been added to the Intercultural Center Student Council. 

Just over a year ago, Mckenzie was pushed into the position of President when the leadership of the club was shifting and he felt that without a seamless transition of power, the framework of the group would crumble. Previous to taking on this role, he had been Vice President of the club and essentially knew the basics of how to organize meetings, but it was another thing when he had to start leading these discussions. However, a setback to his promotion in BLSA was that he was in the thick of adjusting to online classes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

During the first semester of his presidency, he introduced BLSA’s online publication, Tribe Magazine. Mckenzie wanted to create a space that would represent “the creativity, intelligence, and social activism of the Black and Brown community,” especially since at that time MMC was completely on Zoom. They had intended to publish the first edition last Spring but didn’t receive enough submissions and now they are planning the next edition. But this continues to be Mckenzie’s passion project, especially as it links to his majors, Television and Video Production. Bringing people of color together through Tribe Magazine not only links to his long-term goals, but it reflects the type of community he wished to be a part of when he was a Freshman. 

His long-term goal is to become a filmmaker and revolutionize Hollywood, in order to break down the institutional racism that continues to persist in the entertainment industry. It was reported in a survey from UCLA’s 2021 Hollywood Diversity Report that only 25.4% of film directors were people of color and 25.9% of film writers were people of color. Through Tribe Magazine, Mckenzie wants to slowly allow a space for students of color to write and create what is important to them, which will act as a springboard for his future endeavors. According to Marymount Manhattan College’s recent Fall 2021 statistics, 21.6% of the student population are Hispanic and 8.8% of the student population are Black. It is important to Mckenzie that no other student feels like they can’t express themselves or don’t see themselves represented at MMC. 

“I thought Tribe Magazine would be a great way for us to express ourselves, whether it be with our poetry or there’s even a video portion for dancers and other creatives, and it does tie into my long term goal of having my own creative company for people of color,” Mckenzie explains. He has had to confront his own set of unique challenges at Marymount, which has allowed him to grow into an empathetic and vulnerable leader. 

At each of the BLSA meetings, there is a set topic and it typically evokes a deeply personal conversation. Mckenzie says, “One of the things we always try to do is be sensitive, empathetic and intentional — We know that everyone is coming from different experiences, and what brings us together is that we are people of color in a PWI, but other than that, we are not a monolith.” He says that it is difficult to be vulnerable to an entire group of people because he constantly battles between being shy and outgoing. On top of that, he admits that he is very critical of himself when it comes to leadership. He was extremely nervous for one of the first in-person meetings this semester when he led a powerful discussion on White Allyship. 

As he was getting ready for the meeting, he was worried that no one would show up. After a few semesters of hosting BLSA meetings via Zoom, he wasn’t sure how many students would actually show up. Admittedly, he felt nervous to enter the Intercultural Center to start the meeting, but as soon as he walked in the room was overflowing with people. There weren’t even enough chairs for the number of people. Mckenzie was inundated with a feeling of shock and pride — he realized that this club has become a safe space for other students of color.

Before this meeting, he spent a lot of time talking with Freshmen and Sophomores about BLSA to encourage them to join this space to share their thoughts freely. Mckenzie recalls that there was one Freshman in particular that he really wanted to join BLSA. This particular student was nervous to come to the meeting and tap into his vulnerability. “I understood how that kid didn’t feel comfortable or didn’t feel like it wasn’t his place or he felt like he wouldn’t add to the conversations — But I told him to come, and he came,” Mckenzie says. This was a moment of pride for Mckenzie because he saw a student step out of his comfort zone, and this student even thanked him after the event.

Mckenzie has been able to see the full circle effect of this club. He started out as a student who was not sure where to fit in, and now he is making sure that no student of color at Marymount feels that same way. “It’s always great to know you’re not crazy and that you’re not the only one, and what you’re going through is what everyone is going through,” he says. 

Outside of his leadership in BLSA, Mckenzie is a 2021 Social Justice Ambassador at the college and he is also involved in his neighborhood’s Democratic Committee to help decide who would make a good representative of his community. His Instagram is filled with his personal activism, such as pictures from the Black Lives Matter protests he attended over the summer and different visual projects he has worked on. 

He will be graduating this upcoming May and plans to continue meaningful conversations in BLSA while working on his Senior Film Capstone. Mckenzie says, “My biggest goal is to have the club foundationally, structurally, and culturally in a great place — I want to create a culture where when anybody comes in, no matter what the change is, they can come in and have a blueprint to grow and be better.” He wants to quadruple the membership and create strong events and engagement for Black History Month and Women’s History Month in the Spring Semester before he has to find someone to take his place on the e-board. Graduation is something Mckenzie is looking forward to because this is a big moment his grandma hoped for. Ultimately, Mckenzie will continue into the future through leading by love in the footsteps of his grandma, in order to create diversity in the film industry.