When I went back to school to study African American studies and—although I didn’t know it then—creative writing, I went to most unlikely place: Wake Forest University. I chose Wake because I could take one course at a time and earn a master’s degree. Also, it was close to home.

Over seven years I studied with two wonderful African American professors: Alton B. Pollard III (now head of Howard University Divinity School) and Anthony S, Parent, Jr. (History Professor and Director of the MALS Program at Wake Forest). Dr. Pollard is the reason I went to Wake, and Dr. Parent, became my thesis advisor, as I wrote about Martin Luther King Jr.

I also encountered many white professors who were involved in serious work to improve race relations.  Dr. Stephen Boyd was highly supportive and loaned me one of the first books on King that I used toward my thesis.  Dr. Mac Bryan shared events from the Civil Rights movement and made me aware of King’s visit to Wake Forest and the tape of his speech that was available in the library. Through Chaplain Ed Christman I was able to join the committee that organized the King Day Celebration the year Maya Angelou read King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” to packed auditorium.

I heard the Reverands Dr. John Mendez of Emmanuel Baptist Church and Dr. Carlton Eversley of Dellabrook Presbyterian Church speak in chapel and attended worship services at their churches.

I took courses in Slavery in the US, Slavery worldwide, African American Religious Traditions, Black Biography, and a comparative study between the US and South Africa.  I was able to hear speakers such as Rev. Bernice King and Angela Davis, go on field trips to see the Reynolds Homeplace in Critz, Virginia and see the living quarters and burial grounds of slaves.  I met poet Derick Walcott.  And yes, I had black classmates.  Not many but some.  Probably a higher percentage than the average WF student encounters because of my field of interest.

Anyone can learn about Black History  anywhere he/she chooses, but I am grateful for my opportunity to do so at Wake Forest. The educational choices I made changed my life.  Happy Black History Month.

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