Student Organization Spotlight: Sheila Sidberry & AASG

Student organizations are an important element of Austin Seminary, one of which is the African-American Student Group. The Reed took some time to speak with Sheila Sidberry about the group and the impact it makes within the Seminary community and beyond. 

THE REED: Tell us how and when the AASG began at Austin Seminary.  And what is the mission of the AASG?

Sheila Sidberry: The African-American Student Group began as a result of a few students talking as we were getting to know each other one Spring semester. We realized that though we came from different areas and backgrounds, we had run across the same concerns and issues. We thought there might be other African-American students that might benefit from the chance to come together in order discuss our issues and concerns as a means of support. This idea was presented to Rev. Jackie Saxon and she guided us on what we needed to do to present this to the campus staff for approval. The mission of the African-American Student Group (AASG) is to provide a forum for students of African-American descent to support each other through the sharing of ethnic and religious experiences. As a student-centered organization, the African-American Student Group will provide opportunities for students to discuss specific issues relating to African Americans within the community of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This mission statement was created by Sarah Payton, Samuel Okyere-Mireku, and Sheila Sidberry. The group actually consists of students from various ethnic backgrounds. Rev. Dr. Monya Stubbs assisted the group with defining a tag line based on the mission statement. That tag line is: Learning, Supporting, and Serving.

TR: What impact has the AASG had on the Seminary and what projects does the AASG work on within and outside of our community?

SS: The AASG has began in 2012. Last year was primarily devoted to creating a logo and structure that will promote what the organization is striving to do within and outside the Austin Seminary community. Jeannine Caracciolo created the logo for the AASG based on the input of the group. The first event we held involved a hosted conversation with Dr. Margaret Aymer prior to MidWinters 2013, and then an event with Dr. Valerie Bridgeman prior to Martin Luther King Worship Service so that they might provide seminary students information about ministering beyond seminary. The AASG’s second event was a community-wide weekly Bible facilitated by Danita Nelson. Our third event involved an African-American-style worship service featuring Daryl Horton, who preached a dynamic sermon, "The Reason It's Good to be Here” (Mark 9:5); music was provided by Deric J Lewis, music director Mount Sinai Baptist Church, connecting the community with the Seminary. This event closed our year within the Austin Seminary community. This year, the group is led by Jacqueline Williams, who continued what was initiated last year. The AASG had a community-wide toy drive, which blessed the residents of the Settlement Home for Children in Austin. The group hosted a second worship service this past fall in which Annanda Barclay preached another dynamic sermon. Deric J Lewis again provided the music. This spring, the AASG is co-hosting the HESED Lecture series with the Hispanic Student Association. This lecture series will focus on social justice concerns.

TR: What does the AASG mean to you and why did you ultimately choose to attend Austin Seminary?

SS: AASG is an organization that I feel confident will continue to support the community of those who need a helping hand. It's one that will educate the community on issues which affect the African-American Community and promote social change. In addition, it is a group that will assist the wider community to bridge the campus cultural divide. 

I chose to attend Austin Seminary to continue my education; I transferred from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. due to my job transfer.  I am thankful for the people I have met and the continued great education received that I may go forth as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

Above: The African American Student Group, with support from the Austin Seminary community, teamed up with The Settlement Home for a Christmas drive last semester. 
Above: Sam Okyere-Mireku, Sarah Payton, and Sabrina Jennings
Above: Sheila Sidberry speaks at the inauguration of Jennifer Lord as full professor at Austin Seminary.