The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Carrying culture: Ava Francis brings presence, inclusion and action to DePaul’s BCC

Sam Mroz
Ava Francis types away in the Black Cultural Center as students relax in the space behind her on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Hired in August 2022, this will be her second year in the role.

When first profiled in September 2022, Ava Francis was only a month into her new role as program manager for the Black Cultural Center (BCC).

But even then, the goals she set for herself were clear.

“It was a chance to not only get my name out as a fresh staff member to DePaul, but a way to promote the center itself and the many people that work to keep this space running,” Francis said.

In her second year in the role, she’s had time to build her reputation in both the center and the broader DePaul community, becoming a trusted face among her peers. And with time, she aims to build upon this presence while emphasizing the student agenda.

“It’s really important that the people in my type of role have a sense of longevity so that students can buy into my work,” Francis said. “It means everything to earn that trust.”

Most recently, throwing a kickoff at the start of Black History Month, Francis watched as student organizations paired with DePaul faculties came together to host several community events over the past few weeks. An archives exhibition of DePaul’s Black student union, a BSU Gala and a spring of speaker series highlighting the black experience are just a few examples of these many activities.

Choosing to take a brief spot in the backseat during Black History Month, Francis places faith in the groups and school she represents, as outside of the annual celebration, her promotion of the Black experience is endless.

As a program manager, cookouts and conversations, art shows and team meetings require collaboration year-round, a trait that her collaborators do not take lightly.

“She’s outgoing and involved, understanding and present, for all of us,” said Teanla House, senior and program assistant for the BCC. “And on top of all of that, she’s patient.”

House’s time at DePaul saw the transition from one manager to the next, as Cory Barnes, the former manager of the BCC, would leave at the end of the 21’– 22’ school year for a new role at Loyola University.

In this switch, House stepped up to her current role as program assistant, joining Francis at the start of her tenure at DePaul. 

She listed the discussion with BCC members’ physical, intellectual, emotional and social well-beings (PIES) at weekly team meetings as one of many actions taken in the center since Francis’s arrival.

Changes like this give Francis a direct insight into the needs of her center and its members, channeling the many conversations she hears into one fluid voice.

“It starts with the students and then for us to relay a message to our coordinators, and then for them to relay a message to the higher ups,” said Samira Morris, community engagement assistant for the BCC. “In those moments, having someone like Ava can make a major difference.”

And with someone like Francis, a call for inclusion is made across every center and student.

“I think that’s a really great improvement, not just for us, but for all the students to know that this is a place you can come to be yourself,” Morris said. “Being able to provide more for students who lack a sense of community and don’t know where to find it, communication has vastly  improved between the centers and Ava is a major part of that success.”

In documenting each cultural and resource center’s role and the diverse perspectives they offer, Francis’s attitudes towards presence, patience, inclusion and action are shared principles with the remaining coordinators. 

“We push against the idea of our centers being siloed off into some kind of cultural border,” Francis said. “I’m really thankful for the people that I get to do this work with because when things are going crazy, and the weight of this role starts to build, having these people around can make every moment feel a little less lonely.”

Borrowing an idea from the Asian Pacific Islander Desi-American Cultural Center, the BCC will begin hosting weekly movie nights at the start of the spring quarter, devoted to the work and representation of Black artists and creatives.

*The first of a five-part series, this story profiled the work of BCC coordinator Ava Francis. In the 2024 spring quarter, this series will continue with a profile of every manager and as such, the centers they represent.*

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