By Donovan Levine
Dr. Ellesia A. Blaque, a professor at KU, sparked national waves, both good and bad, after an interaction with President Donald Trump on Sept. 15. The national media latched onto the beginning of the interaction when, after being interrupted by the president, she requested permission to continue her question during the town hall meeting in Philadelphia.
Blaque was no stranger to the city, having lived in Philadelphia until she was halfway to her fourteenth birthday. At that time her family moved to West Goshen, a less diverse environment compared to Philadelphia. There was a culture clash for Blaque when her family moved from a “predominantly black everything to no black anything, with a lot of racism.”
“The little white kids called me the n-word like it was my name,” Blaque said.
Within a month or two, she was expelled from the entire Chester County school district because she had lashed out physically to remedy the prejudice. After going through so much, Blaque sued for emancipation from her family and won. Afterward, she was placed inside a children’s home.
Between these events, Blaque learned to be independent. Between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, she ran away multiple times, managing to hide while working a full-time job and owning her own apartment.
On top of the pressure of her childhood, Blaque has dealt with medical problems from a young age.
At age 15, Blaque had steadily increasing ocular pain and light sensitivity for several days. A specialist told Blaque she was born with sarcoidosis, a disease that had rooted itself within her skin and migrated into her eyes.
“Learn Braille because you will be blind or dead before you turn 27,” Blaque’s doctor had told her.
A young Blaque wasn’t ready to lose hope. “You are not God, and you don’t get to choose when I die or how I die,” she said.
When she turned 16 years old, she was kicked out of the children’s home, passing the maximum age for residents they housed, and she went back to her apartment to continue living on her own.
Blaque became entrenched in the arts, predominantly through reading and music, but she also fell in love with the freedom of youth, never staying in one place for long.
To describe herself, she quotes a character from Poetic Justice who says, “The world ain’t nothing but a big ass place to play around with. And so I play.”
If Blaque didn’t have the right regimen of steroids and other medicine, she would have been left blind and eventually dead from the disease. This led to her forging prescriptions, stealing medicine from clinics and seeing multiple doctors under fake names. Blaque knew she couldn’t keep running forever.
“So half of my life, well I’ll say one-third of my life I just ran. From everything,” Blaque said.
“At some point, you have to grow up,” said Blaque. For her, that point was at 35 when she decided to return to college after being accepted into Temple University.
After one semester, the university awarded her scholarships equating to almost a full ride, and professors recommended she continue her education through a unique program.
Her experiences there would influence her decision to attend graduate school at Wayne State University in Detroit.
With her graduation at WSU close at hand, Blaque was offered a job at KU, and she has been there ever since.
As an educator, Blaque said that she focuses on providing material to her students that enables them to make their own interpretations and conclusions. She wants her students to think critically, never telling them how they should think.
Blaque stated she teaches the historical context of literary pieces first and then the literature influenced by that historical moment. She never teaches the literature on its own.
Blaque specializes in African American literature and works with students to educate them on the truths and injustices that minorities have faced throughout history to this day.
Blaque provided her reasoning behind her “addiction” with slavery.
15:09 – “I thought that it was the most ridiculous and cruel and brutal thing in the history of mankind, so I continued to read it, to the point where I own every single slave narrative published before 1861,” Blaque said.
Blaque connected her background to her appearance at Trump’s town hall meeting on Sept. 15. She was there to bring up important questions in regard to her medical condition, trying to figure out if she would be covered under the possible changes to medical benefits for those with pre-existing conditions.
Trump has stated that he intends to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which protects pre-existing conditions.
Blaque clarified that when Trump interjected between her cause-and-effect question, her request that he let her finish her question was not disrespectful or meant to characterize her as a person…
“I wasn’t rude. I wasn’t loud. I wasn’t angry,” Blaque said.
Despite the outpouring of positive reviews, she felt many would jump to conclusions about who she is as an individual and as an educator by taking the clips out of context.
Blaque wants to show others her story, how, despite her medical history, social hardships and age, she was able to be successful. In her eyes, other people can also accomplish the same, if not more, when placed against similar monumental odds, if they have the will to keep pushing to beat whatever is stacked against them, they will get what they want out of life.