The second-year sociology student has been a part of the Umoja Black Scholars Program for a year and continues to be inspired by its values and teachings.
By Natalie Metcalf, Valley Life Editor
Kandice Vass is in pursuit of social change, primarily by defending her community. Being a part of the Umoja Black Scholars program and taking sociology courses influences her plan to create a better version of the world.
Her goal of building a legacy has influenced her since she was a kid. Vass wants to be a part of the bigger picture by making long-lasting changes in society. The sociology major has her heart set on California State University Los Angeles, transferring as a sociology law and society major. Vass’ time at the Umoja Black Scholars program began last year, after attending her first in-person college course. There, she met the counselor and coordinator of the program, Dr. Elliott Coney.
“Once you go into sociology, you learn all these theories, and you start applying it to life,” said Vass. "But being a lawyer you get to go in and change laws that are negatively affecting people in the community. I think sociology has a background where it stems into creating an effective change for people.”
Vass was inspired by her mother, Pam Vass, to pick sociology as a major. Vass wants to give back to her community, but not choose the same career as a social worker and therapist –– per her mother. As a future leader of tomorrow, Vass plans to attend law school after receiving her graduate degree. The sociology major wants to connect with people and make a permanent change. One day, the black scholar wishes to change laws negatively affecting her community, such as mass incarceration and systemic racism.
“Incarceration is awful, we’re the freest county and yet we have the highest incarceration rates, that’s insane,” said the sociology major. “We like to act like racism is past tense but it’s present tense and it’s going to be future tense if we don’t make systemic changes.”
The Valley student’s favorite part of The Umoja Program is its sense of community. In her first year with Umoja, she went to a Umoja conference and college fair in Anaheim. During the conference, Vass was able to make long-lasting connections with fellow Umoja peers and receive advice on transferring to California State University Los Angeles.
“You make connections with people who are gonna tell you about the next school you're going to,” said Vass. “I’ve made a lot of friends and they're all so cool and they motivate me and I motivate them –– the energy is reciprocated.”
Her closest friend in the program is Jana Palmer, the vice president of Umoja. Vass and her friends in the Umoja Village combine schoolwork and hang-out time. The second-year student enjoys making playlists with her friends. Vass enjoys listening to house music and R&B.
“I think the smallest steps can get you a very long way,” said Palmer in reference to Vass’ succession. “The fact that she wants to step up here [Umoja] and do some things around here is already in the right direction. She is such a bright person, so I really have no doubt she’ll be successful.”
The 21-year-old describes the Umoja Black Scholars Program as a family because of the way the program is run. Coney is seen as a father figure to the program because he is so passionate about his job. The black scholar primarily uses the Umoja space at least twice a week but also visits when she is on campus.
Palmer, Dr. Coney and her mother inspired her to create something greater and leave behind a legacy worthy of her mentors. In high school, Vass volunteered as an assistant coach for her church with her mother and her aunt.
“I want to make effective change and I think it’s more of a legacy thing, like leaving something behind for somebody else,” said the sociology major. “They’ve opened so many doors and now it’s my turn to open doors for other people.”