Burton helps students discover authentic selves

Chloe Chapel

Erick Burton sat in his dorm room anxiously anticipating the reveal of the 2021 Black Lives Matter letters.

A week before the event, ULM made a Facebook page to announce it, and dozens of people commented in opposition. 

Burton wondered to himself if people were “going to mob or were they going to protest?” the next day. 

He prayed the event would be peaceful because he knew it needed to happen for the students at ULM. 

Finally the day came, and maybe there wouldn’t be mobs of people that would stop the reveal from happening—it might be the weather. 

No matter what severe weather was on its way, Burton knew this was his chance for his voice and the voices of his community to be heard on campus. 

So he marched to the letters with fear of protesters and severe weather, but also with the expectation of unity. 

“There was a 100% chance of rain […], and as the program was going, I wasn’t even thinking about it,” Burton said. “When I was getting ready to give closing remarks, I stood at the podium, looked over at Dr. Berry as he stood under the library overhang, and the sun beamed directly on him. I don’t know what everyone believed, but the spirit showed it was pleased, and this needed to be done.”

This moment was special for Burton and Berry because they had a strong relationship. 

Months before the reveal of the Black Lives Matter letters, Burton and many other students wanted to start an organization that was a safe place for all students after the death of George Floyd polarized the country. 

Originally, the plan was for a Black Lives Matter organization, but Burton had the idea for the Cultural Diversity Council. 

“Out of nowhere, it hit me. I said, ‘Wait a minute, let’s think about this. It’s Black lives today, but it could be somebody else tomorrow,’” Burton said. 

Once Burton and other students presented the idea to Berry and other professors, such as Brooke Foy, they received overwhelming support. 

The CDC took off after the revealing of the letters. It went from 12 members to 70 within a month. 

Burton never dreamed he would be part of something like this—something that could help students embrace their  authentic selves in a safe space. 

From the time he was young, Burton knew he wanted to embrace who he is and allow others to do so too, but he didn’t know how to make that possible. 

Growing up he knew he was different, but he didn’t quite understand how. 

“I knew I was different, but I [wondered] is it good or is it bad?” Burton said. “It took me until I got to ULM […] to realize it was a good thing.” 

He felt tied to ULM. 

After graduating, Burton had a job lined up. But after starting the CDC, he realized something was calling him back to ULM. 

He went to Berry’s office and told him he felt compelled to stay. 

After looking into various positions and trying out jobs, he became an enrollment services specialist.

“ULM gave me the opportunity to rethink, refocus and gave me the chance to be who I am,” Burton said. “I can go out and tell those students, ‘Hey, I know a place, and if you’ll let me, I’ll take you there.’”