Today marks the beginning of Black History Month in our country. And, while many of the leading figures in African American history are deservedly celebrated during this time of year, there are many unsung individuals whose contribution to our nation’s rich history gets lost. They are individuals who selflessly worked to make our society better, fairer and more accepting of all people.
In many aspects those individuals were just as important to many in the effort to bend the arc of history towards a more just society. For each of us, there are those who have impacted us directly and gave meaning to the significance of this yearly celebration. To me, one such individual was Mr. William “Bill” H. Myers.
Bill Myers was a member of the Glassboro State College/Rowan University administration for more than 25 years. During his time at the school, Mr. Myers was the embodiment of a service leader. He was a mentor, disciplinarian, trusted advisor and role model for thousands of students, and particularly those of color who passed the university’s gates. His infectious personality and deep caring for Rowan and the students who called it home, were evident from the first moment I met him.
He challenged me at every turn to be a better student and person, because as he said numerous times to me over the course of our relationship, that I had an “obligation to succeed”. An obligation he would never let me shirk or shy away from….even when I tried. See, Mr. Myers challenged all of us, students of color, to correct the misrepresentations and stereotypes of what being “black” in America meant to non-African Americans. He wanted us to vindicate our people and our culture by excelling both academically and socially at Rowan.
Mr. Myers had a talent for seeing in us what we didn’t see in ourselves and that insight formed and framed our obligation. This obligation to succeed was as much about us individually as for all those who came before us paving the way for our seat by honoring their efforts with ours. It was also about those who would come after us, and our duty to return as mentors and examples of achieving collegiate success so they also could see that it could be achieved. He encouraged us to celebrate our culture and embrace the rich history of our people beyond the textbooks. He gave us the room to be leaders and the confidence to achieve our dreams.
Black History Month cannot solely be a reflection of those chronicled in the annals of history. It has to be born and carried by the thousands of men and women who history doesn’t know, but whose impact was mighty. That is what Mr. Myers represents to me. He sadly left us in 2003 far too soon, but his spirit remains with me still. He is someone, who gave of himself to help nurture a legacy of men and women committed to giving back to their communities and embodying the dream of Dr. King. I am forever grateful that our paths crossed over 25 years ago. I know that I have been immeasurably made better by him having come this way. And, that to me is the greatest compliment that any of us can say about one another.
So, while we take the time to celebrate the great names of African American history and culture during this month, take a moment to say a prayer of thanks for all of our personal heroes who brought Black History Month to life for each of us personally.
That’s my take. What’s yours?