Xenia Machado
Black History Month 2022: ACE Academic Advisor Xenia Machado Applauds Black Students’ Cultural Pride

Celebrating Black History Month offers us an important opportunity to recognize the many achievements and contributions that African Americans have made. It’s a time to honor African American leaders who had the courage to challenge inequities, strive for excellence under any circumstance, and blaze a trail for generations to come. In this article series, throughout February, we hope to educate, engage, and empower our community by learning more about the Black experience in America.

Xenia Machado, an ACE [Accelerate Complete Engage] Academic Advisor, knew she found her ideal job when she witnessed firsthand how deeply John Jay students embrace their different heritages. “As a Hispanic-Serving Institution and a Minority-Serving Institution, John Jay College is no stranger to diverse cultures,” says Machado, who identifies as an African American woman of Jamaican and Cuban descent. During my first week working here, I was so amazed at how much pride the students took in their cultural backgrounds, and remember thinking to myself, I am home.” Recently, Machado found herself scrolling through the Black Student Union’s Instagram page and it instantly made her smile seeing all the different ways the students were highlighting Black culture, history, and challenges on their social media platform. Growing up in Brooklyn, Machado says that it took her some time to truly understand and embrace her own Black identity. That’s why she was thrilled to see Black students at John Jay celebrate their identities. We sat down with Machado to get her perspective and thoughts on the importance of Black History Month.

February is Black History Month. What does it mean to you to celebrate the many achievements generations of African Americans have accomplished?
Celebrating the contributions of African Americans is very personal to me. I am a product of the African American pioneers’ many sacrifices, and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. As cliche as it sounds, if you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future. Celebrating Black History Month is embracing where we started, and how far we’ve come as a collective group. It’s a reminder that there is still work to be done, and that I have a responsibility to continue this legacy of advancing my culture.

How do you celebrate Black History Month?
During Black History Month, I especially like to support Black-owned businesses in my local community and attend as many Black History Month events as I can. In support of Black health and wellness, this week I’ll be attending a yoga session with a Black-owned organization. I also look forward to attending some of the virtual Black History Month events John Jay is hosting this month.

What hopes do you have for the African American community, both at John Jay and in America?
My hope for the African American community is that we as a group continue to create healthy platforms to bring awareness to issues in the Black community, such as mental health and wellness, racial injustice, and systemic inequality. These dreams and aspirations are so important to achieve because our fight for liberation isn’t over yet. I’m so grateful to be part of a culture filled with activists and creators who continue to use their spaces to do this.

“Learning about our history opens the door to understanding Black people and our struggles. Embracing diversity creates unity amongst one another.” —Xenia Machado

What do you want people who are not Black to understand about African-American History?
I would like people to know that African American History is deeply rooted in the individual stories of Black people. Learning about our history opens the door to understanding Black people and our struggles. Embracing diversity creates unity amongst one another. This goes the same for other cultures’ history as well.

When you think of African American history, what makes you the proudest?
I’m the proudest of how far African Americans have come since the time of slavery. I’m part of a new generation of Black people who are unapologetic and unashamed to be Black. This is a new experience for me, as I once struggled to fully embrace my Black identity. When I think of things like the Crown Act, Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, and having a Black woman be Vice President, it makes me hopeful for the future. I am proud to be Black.

“When I think of things like the Crown Act, Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, and having a Black woman be Vice President, it makes me hopeful for the future. I am proud to be Black.” —Xenia Machado

What African American leader would you say has made the biggest impact on your life and why?
Former First Lady Michelle Obama has had the biggest impact on me and my aspiration to work with college students. I identify as a first-generation college graduate and I often faced challenges throughout my college journey. Without the support of my school counselors and academic advisors, I wouldn’t be as successful as I am now. I’ve always been passionate about working in education to help students overcome barriers and gaps toward their degree attainment, and I was inspired to continue this work with Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative. I was first introduced to the Reach Higher Initiative while interning at a non-profit organization’s National College Signing Day event. Michelle Obama’s national support for school counselors and college access staff helped make the dream of completing college a reality for many high school students. I’m continuously motivated to do the same with my students at John Jay.

If you could talk to Michelle Obama, what would you ask her?
I’d like to ask Michelle Obama about what motivates her to continue moving forward when she feels defeated or discouraged? I’d ask her that question because for many people of color our seat is not always welcomed at the larger table, which can be discouraging. Michelle Obama is someone who had to face much rejection before she reached the peak of her success. It would be interesting to see how she did this.