Last year, Whitworth College’s Black Student Union had no officers, no meetings and no money.
Tonight, the 18 members of the BSU are hosting the biggest gospel concert Spokane has ever seen. Four adult choirs, two children’s choirs and a rap artist - all from the Inland Northwest - are scheduled to perform.
“There might be nobody there, but we’re still going to praise God and rejoice in his name,” said Chris Mastin, BSU president and primary force behind the group. “But the Lord said even if there’s only a few, that’s worship. You don’t need a whole bunch.”
A Spokane native, Mastin grew up in the neighborhood just south of Francis. He graduated from Rogers High School and served in the Army.
But he hadn’t heard of Whitworth College until an adviser at Spokane Community College suggested he go there for a teaching degree.
“Let’s just say I didn’t have too many people to relate to,” he said of his first semester on campus.
The 18 black students at the college this year constitute just more than 1 percent of the student body of 1,750.
Most of the other black students felt “isolated and unhappy,” as well, Mastin said.
Last spring Stephy B’eans, the student life program specialist at the college, sent out invitations to all the black students to attend a meeting. She was hoping to spark interest in reactivating the Black Student Union.
“I prayed in my heart that somebody would be ready to step in and take some sort of leadership role,” she said. “And Chris Mastin was that person.”
Mastin holds down a full-time job as a night security guard at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds. He works at an internship in the mornings and attends class in the evenings. He has joint custody of his three sons, ages 8 months, 3 and 6, and shares child-care responsibilities.
Still, he said, he didn’t hesitate to take on the responsibility of the BSU.
“I have always wanted to make a difference. I prayed for this,” he said. “And God blessed me with this opportunity and so I’m taking it.”
Mastin said he hopes to create an environment at Whitworth where all minority students feel comfortable.
BSU Vice President Sean Haley thinks that if they are successful, they will attract more blacks to the college. Haley, a sophomore sociology major from Seattle, said he came to Whitworth because he was looking for a small school close to home.
Although he had never been in an environment quite so white, he didn’t think it would be a problem.
“I didn’t know how tough it would be,” he said of his freshman year. “It’s been very tough. It’s an extremely lonely environment to be in.”
Like many other students, Haley found support from B’eans, who many students call Mama Beans.
“I hope we can create a place where there are a lot of people who can provide mentoring relationships like she does,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
If the support system for black students is thin within the college itself, one can be created by building a bridge between the college and broader black community, B’eans said.
The concert is the foundation for that bridge, she said.
“We have this reputation of being quiet,” Mastin said of the college. “We’re up here on the North Side, and we don’t mingle a lot.”
B’eans said outsiders might be impressed at the quality of the concert the student union has assembled. The adult choirs are from Calvary Baptist, Holy Temple, Lighthouse Tabernacle and St. Matthews Baptist churches. The children’s choirs are Angels with Attitudes and the Northwest Pacific Baptist Mass Youth Choir.
“When we call upon our brothers and sisters in the community, they come through for us,” she said. “Especially when it has something to do with the ministry, you can bet your bottom dollar, they will be there.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: GOSPEL EXPLOSION ‘97 The concert begins at 7 tonight in the chapel at Whitworth College. The event is free and open to the public.