An Educators Journey
Mario Alonzo Jacob Bennekin is originally from Eatonton, Georgia. He attended Morehouse College where he discovered his love for History and African American Studies. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History from Morehouse College and later, his Master of Arts in History from Valdosta State University. His master's thesis was focused on the African American struggle during the Reconstruction Era, a time frame that lies between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Civil Rights Era. It was his love for history that led to his love of teaching and sharing this history with others.
When Mario was hired by Perimeter college over 20 years ago, he became an advocate of the teaching of Black and African American History. Within his American History courses, Mario would be intentional in teaching these historical topics with honesty and transparency. He would sometimes show newspaper clippings of lynchings during that time, or put students in the shoes of historical figures, such as Nat Turner and W. E. B. Du Bois, to debate issues from their perspective. Many students raved about his classes, and they often praised him for his teaching style. After ascending to the position of chair, Mario took his vision to a higher level, by initiating the creation of an African-American history course and pathway at Perimeter College. He also was responsible for putting on the first-ever "60's Symposium," which brought local speakers who lived through and participated in protests of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Mario was on a path to fully support this mission when he passed.
An Educators Legacy
After Mario's unexpected passing in 2019, the Social Science faculty at Perimeter College (which includes the disciplines of African-American studies, History, Political Science, Sociology, Social Work, Anthropology, Education, Criminal Justice, and Psychology) decided to continue his work by putting on the first Perimeter College Black History Symposium in his honor, named "The Struggle for Black Freedom," February 11 – 13, 2020 on all six campuses of Perimeter College, which includes Dunwoody, Clarkston, Decatur, Newton, Alpharetta, and Online. The focus of the first year's symposium was Reconstruction, in honor of Mario. The symposium consisted of opening and keynote speakers, scholarly faculty presentations, student poster competitions, student dramatic performances, student spoken work contests, and movie/documentary screenings. The symposium was open to the college community as well as the public. Some of the titles of the scholarly talks were, "The Struggle for Black Voting Rights: from Reconstruction to Right Now," "Grassroots Garveyism and the Origins of Black Power in the South," and "HBCU work/life from the Reconstruction Era." There were film critiques on the movie "Birth of a Nation," and a documentary about the 13th Amendment. Students presented papers on various topics, such as "Black Women & Voting Rights in the 1800s," "The Connections between Lynchings & Police Brutality," and poster presentations on topics such as blackface and minstrel music. Awards were given to students who participated in the contests and competitions. During the three days, over 800 people were in attendance, and the college community gave rave reviews. Although the discipline was able to put on the symposium, they could have done so much more with greater support.
Our Dream: The Mario Bennekin Black History Symposium
In the inception of the symposium, there was a hope to name the symposium after Mario Bennekin to honor his work in the discipline and make it a yearly event. The University System of Georgia's rules and regulations to name a symposium is to establish an endowment. In order for it to be established in his honor, we had to raise $50,000. We were successful in reaching this goal in the fall of 2020. However, we anticipate the symposium growing bigger and having a greater impact on the community from year to year. The purpose of the symposium will be to highlight topics related to the struggle and plight of African-Americans, to be held yearly during Black History Month (February). The endowment will provide the needed funds for putting on the symposium. If enough funds are raised, we will also be able to sponsor a scholarship in Mario's name. Mario and I always believed that "with education comes tolerance," and I believe that this symposium will go a long way in making a difference in race relations in our country. Thank you very much for your assistance in achieving this goal. For more information about the symposium, go to https://perimeter.gsu.edu/bennekin-symposium/