Editors Note: This profile is a part of the Voices and Diversity collaboration series "Uplifting Black Voices."
From a young girl living in Chicago to a legal assistant at Drake University Law School and now the executive assistant to vice president, Rondolyn "Ronnie" Hawkins has really lived a full life.
Hawkins was born and raised on the South Side of the Windy City, Chicago. She said her life as a girl was “fantastic” and she grew up with an enormous extended family, both maternal and paternal.
“My cousins and I spent most days playing under the watchful eye of my maternal grandmother,” Hawkins said. “She would cook Cajun meals daily, and after our parents returned from work, they would have dinner together and then it was off to our homes. We rarely spent a day without one another. We remain very close to this day.”
Hawkins also said the paternal side of her family traveled a lot. She said they first started traveling together in station wagons when she was younger. Then, after her family had grown too big for the wagons, her family purchased a school bus.
“This bus took us everywhere!” Hawkins said. “We would sing, play and eat on the bus to our various destinations. The most memorable was traveling to Mackinac Island, Michigan. We took a ferry from the dock to the island and stayed at the Grand Hotel where formal dinners were the norm. The children were able to ride our bikes around the entire island without a care in the world. It was an adventure of a lifetime.”
Hawkins described her experience growing up on the South Side of Chicago in an all-African American community as “awesome.” She said she had mostly African American teachers who pushed each student toward excellence, and there were no excuses for failure.
“One item that sticks out in my mind was the building up of our self-esteem,” Hawkins said. “In kindergarten, we recited a poem daily, and I still recall it to this day: 'I am Black and I am Beautiful, I am Clean and I am Good. I AM Somebody, I AM Somebody.' A cadence that would take me far in life.”
Hawkins attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in West Side, Chicago. She said the commute took a full two hours by bus, train and subway, but the magnet school was worth the trip.
“I was surrounded by avid learners, leaders and go-getters the likes of Michelle Obama, the Wachowski [sisters], Craig Robinson, Russell Maryland, Katrina Adams, Chris Rob and a host of other stars in their own right,” Hawkins said. “It was an experience of a lifetime, and many of us are close to this day.”
When asked if she faced any obstacles or challenges growing up, Hawkins said her family and community was always there for her.
“Any struggle faced was met with determination and support from my family and caring teachers,” Hawkins said. “Our community was close knit and no one never felt alone.”
After graduating high school, Hawkins attended college at Lincoln University, a historically Black college and university (HBCU), in Jefferson City, Missouri. She said the experience there was one of a kind. Hawkins said attending an HBCU allowed her to be herself and enjoy her culture without apologies.
“The culture, the essence of who I am all gathered together on one campus,” Hawkins said. “I met my husband my third year of college and married.”
Hawkins put off completing school until she attended Drake University, where she earned a degree in entrepreneurial management and a master’s degree in public administration.
“It was a challenge with four school-aged children and a career, but my husband and I made it work,” Hawkins said. “I’m proud of my educational experiences and happy to have had them.”
After returning to college, Hawkins said she was attending a predominantly white university, which was a completely different experience compared to the HBCU she had previously attended. She said it was not only the fact that she was a “true minority,” but it was also because she was an older student. She said she often connected more with the teachers than students, yet she made friends for life in both.
However, she did face discrimination while at that university.
“During the graduation ceremony for my master’s degree, I wore a small pin that signified my induction into the Honor Society,” Hawkins said. “As I approached the stage to receive my degree, a professor stepped in front of me, blocking my entrance to the stage. She demanded that I remove the pin. She then reached into my gown and removed the pin. It was a humiliation on a day that was to be celebrated. It was an aggression that was not so micro.”
After completing college, Hawkins worked at the Drake University Legal Clinic for a group of attorneys and judges.
“This job was a natural extension of my work in the Polk County courts,” Hawkins said. “I enjoyed learning about the inner workings of the law and helped so many people at the same time. The job was always interesting, never a dull moment.”
After working for attorneys and judges for nearly 25 years, Hawkins said she felt the need for change. She said she saw the position she currently holds advertised and she applied for it.
“The thought of furthering my personal charge of making a difference in the lives of others was motivating and enticing,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins currently works as executive assistant for the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion in Beardshear Hall. She said her week is full of problem solving, scheduling and supporting the vice president and office staff with programming.
“I like the fact that I can be a part of making change not only at the university level but in the lives of the students,” Hawkins said. “I believe the education we can give to students about diversity and inclusion will carry on throughout their lives and on to the coming generations.”
Along with that, Hawkins said she would like people to understand that diversity and inclusion work is exhausting. She said diversity and inclusion is a continuous rotation of both learning and unlearning.
“Not everyone agrees with the concepts or strategies, but they are necessary nonetheless,” Hawkins said.
Beyond working at Iowa State, Hawkins also works exclusively with Not For Profit: Boys to Men.
According to the Boys2Men website, its mission is "to help equip minority youth and families with the tools necessary to successfully complete elementary school, transition into middle school and assist families in addressing delinquent behaviors that might lead the youth into the juvenile justice system.”
Hawkins said she also loves to cook, read and sing. She is the owner and operator of a catering business for the past 30 years. She also describes herself as an avid FANILOW, which is the term for a fan of Barry Manilow, an American pop singer and songwriter who specialized in elaborately orchestrated romantic ballads, which first won him a wide audience in the 1970s.
Hawkins said the work she does for diversity and inclusion directly impacts her life.
“My personal and work lives intersect as I fight for my family’s right to drive around the city of Des Moines without being stopped by the local police,” Hawkins said. “I speak at forums, classes and social justice events against the phenomenon of driving while Black. I take it personally when my family is at risk due to preconceived notions and skin color."