Panther of the Year: Gayla Tillman a voice for black activism and liberation

Panther of the Year Gayla Tillman is not only president of the Black Student Alliance at Georgia State, involves herself heavily with other black student organizations to advocate for black communities. Photo by Dayne Francis | The Signal
Panther of the Year Gayla Tillman is not only president of the Black Student Alliance at Georgia State, involves herself heavily with other black student organizations to advocate for black communities.
Photo by Dayne Francis | The Signal

The efforts of black activists including Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey throughout history have resonated with the following generations, fueling today’s modern movements, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

There was one millennial, however, who was so immensely molded by the impact these inspirational figures had on the public that she decided early on in her life black activism was the path for her. And her name is Gayla Tillman.

The African American major devoted her life to the cause early on in life and realized that attending Georgia State would provide a substantial platform for connecting with students and the community, and as Tillman said, “raising the consciousness of students at Georgia State.”

From a hope to reality

It was when Tillman was in high school that her admiration for black awareness began to flourish, and so she made sure to be just as involved with the community then as she is currently at Georgia State.

“I was only involved in one organization in high school, it was called Zeta New Beta and it was a community service organization,” Tillman said. “We worked really closely with girl scouts and volunteering whenever they needed help, like they had mother/daughter tees that we would assist with. We would also have Black History Month plays and stuff like that.”

After getting a taste for what the effects her presence in different causes and communities has on her present and her future, when Tillman entered Georgia State, she began to recognize the unique opportunity she had to make a considerable change regarding the injustices placed upon the black community.

“When I was entering college, it was when Black Lives Matter was raising a lot of attention, so I wanted to find my place in the movement and find my place in the back liberation. I found that it was through raising the consciousness of students at Georgia State. So what really inspires me is seeing student activists. Martin Luther King Jr. started of as student activist, and seeing that whole movement and being inspired by that made me want to continue that legacy of sparking change through college students,” Tillman said.

And that’s exactly what she did. Tillman continued the legacy by becoming the president of the Black Student Alliance (BSA). She wanted to reach black liberation by fighting society’s injustices against them. BSA battles oppression by raising discussions that bring up memorable activists from the past and their tactics on obtaining change, and being active through attending and hosting various events to help spread the word.

“Black Student Alliance is an activism and awareness organization, so we have a mix of events,” Tillman said. “There are some cultural events, like we had one called Artists for Change and it was a culmination of singing, dancing, spoken word and a lot of different cultural aspects to highlight either the injustices or the celebration of blackness in America. We currently have the BSA week going on and today [March 29] is Family Roles in the Black Family.”

Tillman didn’t stop there with the level of involvement she aimed for. She has attempted to be present in several other organizations at Georgia State, because for Tillman, she needs to expose herself to various outlets that raise knowledge on the black community.

“[I am also] the Program Chair for Sankofa Society. I feel like I’m an honorary member of other stuff, because I am so busy I haven’t had the time to fill out applications, but I constantly go to National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) meetings or our NAACP Chapter or Greatest Minds. I am honorary member of a lot of the black organizations that we have on campus. Of course, I support the Multicultural Center and Black Student Achievement,” Tillman said.

Being that she’s an African American Studies major, she believed that incorporating history into BSA’s discussions was the best way to develop connections with past activists and invoke inspiration for current ones. She also wanted to expand the knowledge that some students may not have of black history or current events.

Not just a university

When coming to Georgia state, Tillman knew that it was surrounded by waves of racial diversity within the student body, faculty and staff. What she wasn’t anticipating, but became conscious of very quickly, was the amount diversity present within the black student body.

“Georgia State has a large black population, but I know that doesn’t mean that all black students at Georgia State are the same,” Tillman said. “I’ve met people from different socioeconomic status or sexual orientation to different gender pronouns. I think that what Georgia State had taught me to appreciate, the diversity and the pluralism that’s here.”

It’s knowledge that she has gained here at this urban institution that Tillman said she can utilize throughout the rest of her life. It was knowledge that spanned across understanding how to become accustomed in certain environments to realizing tactics that benefit her in the job market.

“What I learned from Georgia State is how to deal with different types of people. That seems like a very ambiguous statement, but it’s very distinct to me. I’ve learned to deal with different types of egos here at Georgia State. [I’ve also learned] what it means to be friends with someone on a personal level, but business-wise you can’t really be that,” Tillman said.

Even though Tillman is only in her second year here at Georgia State and has more time to gain both interactive tools to use in her future and tools to use when fighting for the black community, there are some useful tips that she has already picked up on while being a student here.

“My biggest advice I would give to them is if you don’t know something, ask. And if someone has a probable with you asking a question, then you need to find someone that would be comfortable with you asking that question,” Tillaman said. “Because there are a lot of things that first generation students were not taught or were not exposed to, so there should be no shame in your inquiry or your lack of knowledge on certain topics. Also, if a door isn’t open or doesn’t have a knob to it, then it’s up to you to create it.

Tillman has already gathered expansive perception on the reality surrounding her, socially and professionally. She knows that she still has the time to learn much more and imagines herself five years from now and sees herself with three degrees and working as a Historic Board Artist in New York or California. Until then, she is honored by the achievements she has currently received.

“I was surprised honestly, because it said Panther of the Year, and I was like, ‘of the year? Wow!’ It just meant that I was being recognized by the university as a student that either put forth a lot of leadership or put forth a lot of effort into making Georgia State great,” Tillman said.

More on Black Student Alliance

  • Students must be enrolled part time with a total of six credit hours
  • Dues are required for new members: $12
  • Meeting Day: Tuesdays
  • Meeting Time: 6:15 p.m. – 8 p.m.
  • Meeting Location: CLSO 103
  • Public organization email:

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