Payton Head still encourages Tigers to speak out

Head: “But most important you are powerful. What unites us all across our differences is that we are Mizzou made.”
Former MSA President Payton Head observes a Racism Lives Here rally in Speakers Circle in September 2015. Maneater File Photo

Last year, former MSA President Payton Head was called the N-word while walking through campus. His response, a Facebook post that went viral, was one of the starting points for a movement.

“It started as a hurt for me, but then it became a hurt for my school, because what kind of legacy am I leaving if I don’t talk about these issues?” Head said in an interview with The Maneater at the time. “I love my school. This place is my home, but I want my home to be better.”

Head used his position as Missouri Students Association president to speak out on issues of racial equality on campus. The events and the administration's response to them prompted the first Racism Lives Here protest, the precursor to the formation of Concerned Student 1950.

Head graduated from MU at the end of spring semester last year.

In a letter to The Maneater Sunday that began, “Hey Mizzou Family,” Head explained what he’s been doing in the months since he graduated MU. While writing it, he was on the bus to Columbia Law School in New York City to tell MU’s story.

“Every single day I’m working to be better than I was before,” Head wrote. “I’m currently traveling the nation and speaking on how you all have changed the world.”

Head, who lives in Washington, D.C., with his sister, just finished a fellowship at the National Campus Leadership Council. Through the organization, he worked with college student body presidents throughout the country on mental health, sexual assault prevention, college affordability and inclusion issues. He has also worked with the White House and the U.S. Department of Education in regards to campus inclusion strategies. Head’s goal is to “help [national authorities] learn the importance of listening to student voices.”

“And trust me,” he wrote, “they are listening.”

Although he said life seems the dream on his social media, Head wrote that he understands people are still struggling. He’s flooded with student debt and is still fighting the depression and anxiety he developed last fall while MU was in the national spotlight. Despite these drawbacks, he still works hard, noting that everyone is human and makes mistakes, but “what matters most is how we move forward.”

“We get up, take accountability for our actions, dust ourselves off and strive to be better than we were the day before,” Head wrote.

Head wrote about what he personally learned from being MSA president. He emphasized that the power of MU isn’t just in the curriculum but in the people that make up the Tiger community. These people include faculty, staff and, what he deemed most important, students.

“You are unique, you are diverse — coming from all over Missouri, this nation and this world,” he wrote. “But most important, you are powerful. What unites us all across our differences is that we are Mizzou made.”

He said he wants to encourage the students here at MU. When he came to MU, he claims he felt something magical, but only after graduating did he figure it out: “We are trailblazers.”

Head currently travels the nation speaking about MU’s story. He said he is able to do this because people are inspired by MU and the progress the university has made to change.

Head had a story he wanted to tell, and that is why he ran for MSA president. He learned from his campaign that people with a story will be heard as long as they are willing to tell it.

“I learned this when I was told that I would never be MSA president because I didn’t fit the norm,” Head wrote. “I wasn’t white, Greek, a Missourian, or straight. You all proved that wrong when you went to the polls and elected Brenda [Smith-Lezama] and I with the highest voter turnout in MU history.”

The magic he felt was in the power of the MU family and community: The power they have is in their voices and their actions.

“Your power is unmatched,” he wrote.

While this power does exist within the community and individuals, the most important lesson Head says he learned from being a Tiger was how to love himself. He says this power that people have cannot be used if self-love doesn’t exist.

“Once you love and accept yourself for who you are exactly as you are, know that no one can ever take that away from you,” he wrote. “You can take on the world unapologetically and empower others to the same.”

That is what Head is doing now. He is speaking at various campuses and encouraging others to take on the world and change their campus’ climate.

In a message to MU students, Head encouraged students to focus on their studies but learn to love and support themselves and others.

“That is how Mizzou has moved forward in the past, and that is how it will move forward to be even better in the future,” he wrote.

Edited by Nancy Coleman | ncoleman@themaneater.com

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