A Living Legend: “Black Fire” Students Interview Kathy McGruder

 

 

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Courtesy of blacksheeponline.com

 

By: Carter Blackwell, Alice Burgess, Kevin Cao, Matheus Correa, Caroline Glen, VJ Jenkins, Jim Malnati, John Mathew and Marcellus Wright

Background

Our interviewee is Kathy McGruder, better known as Miss Kathy. Miss Kathy is an African American employee at the University of Virginia who works in Newcomb Hall Dining as a cashier.  McGruder will have worked at the University for 14 years this coming August. She is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico where she grew up with her mother and older sister after her parents’ divorce. Her mother was one of the first two African American students to graduate in the first class from the Technical Vocational Institute (now Central New Mexico Community College) where McGruder later took classes.

Transcribed Interview

Welcome Miss Kathy, as I mentioned before, we are doing this interview for our Black Fire class, and we’re trying to get an oral history of Employees and Students here at UVA, doing this project to showcase the experience of the African American student and also employees here at the University of Virginia…We decided to interview you because you are beloved by our student body.

That’s rocks it’s all good, I’m just a human, I’m no better than anybody and I don’t need all that praise—not sayin’ I don’t like it – but it’s just a weird feeling, you know, cause I’m not worthy.

So to start off what is your full name, where are you from, and how long have you lived in Charlottesville?

My name is Yvonne [pronounced Ya-von], my maiden name was Donaldson, my married name is Mcgruder – I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was born and raised there – I miss home, I miss the food – but my husband is from Charlottesville, and here we are!

How long have you lived in Charlottesville?

13 years – actually this year, July 11th will be my 14th year being here.

And how long have you been working here at UVA?

13 years since I have been here, so August it will be 14 years for me

Wow that’s great, and so besides the K-mart job did you work any other jobs in Charlottesville or was that it?

That’s it…

And what drew you to come to Charlottesville?

This is my husband’s home town…I remember telling him oh honey why couldn’t you be born in Richmond?…

When did you come to work at UVA and what drew you to work here?

Well I believe it was just from putting applications in here. I didn’t want to do cardiology anymore; I’d had enough of the death and EKGs …. and then I was called by them [Aramark] which was a blessing.

What was your first impression and perception of UVA?

I don’t know I’m a weirdo, I’m…believe this or not…I’m shy, and how I overcome my shyness is ‘yak-yak-yak’ [reference to chatting and talking]… so when I did first come here, and like some of my co-workers when I would say, ‘Hi how are you guys?’ they would go, ‘heey how you doing? [monotone, disinterested response].’ SO I would…well back then this end you know we had the south side and the north side [of Newcomb], I would just eat in Brown College [dining room]. Everyone would eat on this end, and I would just eat in Brown College and then everyone started coming to Brown College and I sat there for a minute. But by then…I don’t know…I guess they were in their comfort zone around me…I don’t know…I just, I just don’t understand how if someone new comes you shun them. Where myself…I’ve even told my children…if someone is new at school or if somebody – this was when they were in grade school — if someone is getting teased, go up to that person and ask them if they want to come and play with you guys because you know no one should be left alone, so….

So have you always been very well known here on Grounds, and did that develop over time, how did that start because everyone knows Ms. Kathy and loves Ms. Kathy?

I have no clue… I know there were two students that went to school here, one graduated in ‘05 and one graduated in ‘06 – Alicia Hines graduated in ‘06 and Sharonika Barcliff graduated in ‘05 – and Sharonika and Alicia used to call me Mamma Mia, and everybody just started calling me Momma Kathy. I cant think…I don’t want to say it wrong, I think it was the Sigma’s [asks Matt if they are blue, white, and silver] they had a couple brothers that would just called me ‘Momma Kat, Momma Kat’ and then the SG rho, they…‘Momma Kathy, Momma Kathy, Momma Kathy this, Momma Kathy that’, I don’t know, and then from there everyone started calling me Momma, and I don’t know…

How do you feel about being so recognizable & someone known to brighten people’s days?

Oh I love the love, God is the Bomb, and as you’ve heard when we were off camera what I was telling you about my life, I’ve always wanted love, and tell me if this is not, ‘here me now here with if I will not open the doors of heaven and pour you out a blessing that you will not have room enough to receive it.’ God has sent me here and each day you guys come through, each one of your faces, I see Him in it, and I get that love, and it’s, it’s great coming from you, but I know that it is just another form of me feeling His love and vice-versa. So anything that you say that ‘I do’ that is so wonderful it’s not me it’s Him. That’s why He puts us there so that we don’t miss it, He wants us to give it.

How does your faith impact your everyday experience here? And have you found a community of worship in Charlottesville?

When I go to Church, I go to Zion Union Baptist Church. I love my little church. I love my little minister. I gotta have it, I have to have it, you hear how I’m talkin’ right now and I’m in it.  If I didn’t have, oh my god, I don’t think I would have my job right now, because I’m sure I would have flipped everything over in that cafeteria and set it on fire. But I don’t want that side of me to come out. I don’t want to misrepresent. And sometimes my mouth slips, but as I said with God and His gifts, I’m so glad for His mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness. But I know without any of those, without Him, without the sacrifice that I just celebrated this past weekend, I’d be a lost sister.

How do you see faith play a role in student lives at UVa and specifically African American?

It comes with being reminded, just like the book says faith cometh by hearing. If it’s muffled and you’re not hearing it, faith is not going to build up. But if you have one person who can say it, I think I had someone come and ask me what was my reaction with what happened to Martese. Pissed. Angry as heck. But me out there fighting and acting a fool, that’s not going to change anything, it’s going to end up with my picture on the front. But me, myself I know that God is going to take care of everything and he’s taking care of it now. A lot of people and a lot groups expect for certain people to react that way so they can tell people, see, I told you, look how they act.  But when you approach it in a different way it confuses them because what they expect is not showing up. And if you do it calmly you usually come out the winner. And if you don’t come out the winner then stay calm, you’ll come out the winner!

What is a typical day of work like for you, including commute to UVa and home?

My commute is pretty cool, just this roommate that I’m married to. If I can get him to leave home at 6, I don’t live far but I don’t get to work and immediately start rushing. I want to come in, get my French vanilla you know.

What hours do you normally work?

6:30 -2:30pm. Which is fine, because when I worked cardiology back home, my hours were 6-2 so it still keeps me on the same schedule, when my children were in school I was still able to be out of work by the time they got out of school.

How is it for you building relationships with students that are only here for four years?

Oh God, there’s not a May I don’t cry. But I love it, I cry every May I always have. But I keep up with some on facebook, and then the new ones that come in. They just look so lost, it’s like Oh my god you see it in their eyes, and then they meet crazy “Ello Sugar”,  they say “ oh my god, woman down the hall, she’s tripping.” So I think I do that because it allows me to break the ice for myself and it allows them to see that I’m crazy and they can break the ice too.

With UVa and the different perceptions that people have of it, would you feel comfortable sending your kids to UVa?

I would, and I’m still trying to get my son here. Cause you let something go down and every stick of a brick that you see on this campus, I will jackhammer it down [laugh].  No but I would like for my child to my come here. I wanted my daughter to come here, and she told me she wanted to go to VCU cause she wanted to go to school that wanted her for her intellect and not her ethnicity. And I was like “Whoa, well that’s my baby.” But I mean that’s her choice, wherever they go I want them to be happy. But if they came here, that’d work.

What do you want people to remember about Miss Kathy?

That sometimes when I hug you guys and I say I’m going to fart, I really don’t [laugh] Just love, that I love you guys, I love you guys, I’ll always love you. And God’s the bomb. And you’re all the bomb. And I’m just really thankful to Him for you guys. And I’m going to kill you because this is one camera. But I do, I love you guys so so much. And some days when I’m working, and just the love that comes in I have to go around the corner and cry. So if you come in and you see me crying, they’re happy tears. Because God rocks and I never thought that I would have so much love coming my way in a town where off campus, people treat you like you’re not good enough cause you’re not from here. And to come here on this campus and to be accepted just as I am for the crazy nut that knows how to get out of her straightjacket, I’m thankful. And just know that I love you, and that

Remembering Armstead Robinson

Armstead Robinson’s founding of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies in 1981 marked a critical moment in the history of UVA and the field of Africana Studies. Coming to UVA in 1980, Robinson left an indelible imprint on the university’s intellectual landscape. A great deal of insight about his vision for Black Studies and the Woodson Institute can be gleaned from  the Armstead Robinson Papers housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.

Robinson died on August 28, 1995 at the age of 48.

In 2006, the Center for Race and Law at UVA held a panel in his honor. Check out the podcast below.