Levels of Care: The HBCU Community and the Story Behind the Viral Photo
Firda and Wayne Hayer are a Muslim couple living in Atlanta, and first-time parents of 5-month old Assata June. Firda is an aspiring graphic designer and a visual artist, originally from Seattle. Wayne is native Chicagoan and a Kinesiology Major at Morehouse College, a Historically Black College or Univeristy (HBCU) in Atlanta. Recently, their story went viral when Wayne took baby Assata to class with him at Morehouse College. Wayne’s professor lent him a hand, offering to hold their young child as he taught.

Tell us the full backstory. How did your baby end up in a math class at Morehouse?

Wayne: Well our baby Assata is 5 months old and I (Wayne) work two jobs working as a security guard at a bar and as a personal trainer at LA Fitness. Not to mention that I also serve as the Vice-President of the Morehouse History Club. To make a long story short, I am never home. My wife had to grab Assata’s birth certificate and would have been even more exhausted had she had taken Assata with her. I agreed to take Assata with me because we had nobody who could watch her. So I strapped her to my chest, packed my notes, and headed to class. I was super nervous about walking in a classroom with a baby with all of my fellow brothers looking at me. Dr. Alexander waved at us and told us to come in and the rest was history.
What was the professor’s initial reaction to seeing your baby in class? Classmates?
Wayne: He was excited. His eyes lit up with joy, everyone in class got quiet and stared. Not in a way that made me feel unwelcome but in a sense of curiosity and admiration. One of my classmates went out his way to even make a statement in front of the entire class about how he was moved about what he was looking at.

How did it make you feel to have the professor take care of the baby in class? 

Wayne: I’m very protective of Assata, however, I am at ease when she is around good people and I would put Dr. Alexander in that category. It seemed very natural for him and it was both humbling and vulnerable for me to trust him with her.

Give us some quotes, if you can remember, that the professor said about the situation as he took the baby, strapped her on, and proceeded to teach.
Wayne: I distinctly remember him saying “My mom would love to see this! This is so exciting!” I remember him saying that he has no kids but it looked so natural for him to teach with Assata in his arms. She looked around, chewed on her pacifier, and then eventually fell asleep. Babies can sense good people and she sensed that in him. I remember Assata and I making eye contact and then she closed her eyes, attached to Dr. Alexander.

What was the baby’s response to being held by the professor? 

Wayne: It was as if she had been with him before. She was enjoying herself way too much. At times I wanted to remind her that “Hey I’m your father!” Babies know good people when they see them because they don’t just let anybody hold and touch them. She felt comfortable and most of all she felt safe.

What was your intention behind sharing the photo online? How did it make you feel to see the photo go viral?

Wayne: I did not share the initial photo that went viral. It was a classmate of mine who did it and I was tagged in it. Then another classmate of mine texted me photos that people were taking of me. It was a “Lean On Me: East Side High” kind of moment going on. But when I saw it go viral, I knew the importance of the symbolism behind this. There are not many black male educators and often times we lack that positive masculinity. Secondly, it symbolizes youth and black fatherhood and that it actually exists. Normally when you see student come to class with their child, it’s a woman. However, it shows a fiercely dedicated man, devoted to his family and his education. Imagery is powerful and if this picture represents that to them then I have no problem with that.

What has been best part of the response people had online as the photo began to circulate widely?

Wayne: The best part of this whole thing was knowing that I was not alone in this. Seeing women post their experiences of how they had to carry their children to school made me realize that I’m not the first and I won’t be the last. They were rooting fiercely. I mean, the love and the support was just something out of this world. And this is where I firmly believe that HBCUs stand alone in this matter. I’m not saying that this situation wouldn’t happen at any other institution but at an HBCU, it comes from a much deeper place. Black men are often times stereotyped for being uneducated, but here you a see black teacher educating a black student while holding his child. We are often times stereotyped for not being fathers. Here, you have a young black man doing his duty and bringing his daughter to class to get his education by any means necessary while also being a dad at the same time. And Morehouse is in one of the more prolific HBCUs to date. Black men are here, we are educated, and most importantly black men are reclaiming their time.
Tell us more about the community feeling you have had attending Morehouse, particularly from the angle of it being an HBCU?
Wayne: HBCUs have this special ability to mold greatness from those who sometimes believe that they are not worthy of it. HBCUs have shattered every negative stereotype there is about young African-Americans and is the breeding ground of black excellence. I feel represented here and most importantly, these institutions represent the legacy of our people’s history in this country. HBCUs were the institutions where the African descendants of slaves and those who were former slaves went to become educated. Many fought in the civil war and came back home not knowing how to read or write and it was here where they came to mold themselves into something much more. I genuinely feel that this is where I belong. I firmly believe that if every black student does not attend an HBCU, they should at the very least make it a priority to apply to one. The fact that my fellow brothers were cheering for my success, even though many of them don’t know me personally, reassured me that HBCUs are here to stay. In the aftermath of Bennett College losing their accreditation despite them raising the money to keep their accreditation, this is what that college board needs to see to stress the importance that HBCUs have in our community.  This must be protected at all cost.

There are so many levels of care in the story. Husband for wife and for child.  Professor for student, and therefore students’ child.  Expand on that for us.

Wayne: Yes, this story is saturated in care. I take great pride in being a father and when her mother, Firda, was in the hospital in labor, none of our family was there. I brought my notebooks, text books, and lap top studying while trying to ease her as she went through her contractions. We married in a private ceremony with none of our family there, my Morehouse brother was our only witness. My wife and I have been through so much together and on many instances, we did it on our own. I care for her deeply and could not imagine going on this journey without her.  We  have been through way too much for me not to care. And as for my daughter, she is my legacy and how she carries herself in many ways is a reflection of me. I have to care for her and I have to protect her. If I fail at that then I’ve failed at life. As for the teacher, they do not get enough credit. They are over-worked and underpaid but they still go above and beyond for their students. I feel that no matter what level you teach at kindergarten or college, you have to be a nurturer and caring person to a certain degree. Dr. Nathan Alexander is all of that and much more and I am forever indebted to his kindness and must pay it forward.

As a Muslim couple, explain the values you may have inspired by your faith that formed a foundation to why this story was possible.

Firda: Islam places an emphasis on compassion, mercy, and the importance of obtaining knowledge. Raising a family is a partnership that requires both parties to have compassion and mercy on each other. Wayne knew how much I was struggling by myself to take care of Assata at home at times and he wanted to lift that burden off me by taking her to school, while still pursuing his education.

 

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