DeShawn Blanding, a sophomore biological engineering major at N.C. A&T, has been elected Southern region vice president of the National FFA. His election makes him one of only six African Americans to achieve this distinction and the first from an HBCU.
Chastity Warren English, faculty advisor of A&T’s collegiate FFA chapter, says that Blanding has what it takes to succeed as a national officer.
“The Collegiate FFA Chapter at N.C. A&T is ecstatic about DeShawn’s new role,” Warren English says. “I am especially proud because I know he dedicated an abundance of time to making his dream become reality.
“He has such a humble spirit and a desire to learn. He is also a friendly young man, and open to working with diverse groups of people.”
Each year at the National FFA’s Convention and Expo, six students are selected by delegates to represent the organization as national officers. Delegates elect a president, a secretary and vice presidents representing regions of the country. In his new role, Blanding will take a sabbatical next year to travel the country. National officers commit to a year of service to the organization, visiting FFA chapters, hosting state and local conventions and meeting FFA members. Each officer will also meet with business and industry professionals, government and education officials, and will lead personal growth and leadership training conferences for FFA members throughout the country.
“It means so much to be able to be a minority voice and a leader on the team that has brought so much to me,” Blanding says, describing FFA as equal parts agriculture and leadership. “To be able to influence the 649,000 members of the organization is a great opportunity, and I’m fortunate to have it.’’
Blanding credits CAES faculty with developing his skills to take advantage of this position, by pushing him and others “outside your comfort zone” and preparing students for leadership roles.
Blanding has been involved with the FFA since high school in South Carolina, where it was the first organization he joined. In high school, he was a chapter officer and the state vice president his senior year. “I didn’t have an ag background coming into this organization,” he says. “The FFA introduced me to ag and brought me out of my comfort zone. Now, I have a huge interest in ag – it has basically been my life for the past five years.”
Helping other students find their passions will be the most enjoyable aspect of his new office, adding that: “I can’t wait to help students who aren’t familiar with agriculture know about FFA.”
Warren English points out that Blanding’s election is also a milestone historically.
“At one time, we had an organization named the New Farmers of America (NFA), which began in 1935 as a national organization for African American farm youth to promote agricultural leadership, skills and character. In 1965, when the NFA merged with the National FFA, the organization consisted of 1,004 chapters in 12 states, and had more than 50,000 members.
“DeShawn being elected as a national officer, who attends a(n) HBCU, represents the 50,000 African American members who came before him.”