March 01, 2010
Article by Tom Loewy, photograph below by Bill Gaither, The Register-Mail
Maurice McDavid stood out from the rest of those who lined up for free chilli, cornbread and countless other foodstuffs during Thursday's free community dinner inside the LULAC building on Second Street.
He didn't stand out because he is Division III football big. Or because he was the only black man -- other than Lomac Payton -- in a crowd of almost 100.
The 22-year-old Knox College senior projected ease. Confidence. He smiled and extended a hand to strangers. He sat and spoke with a few high school students. He conversed with a woman in Spanish.
One couldn't help but want to meet the magnet. And after that meeting, one can't help but pray he stays in this community.
"I owe the way I am -- to a large extent -- to my mom," McDavid said after he finally got a chance to sit down and enjoy his meal.
"My mom always told me I was someone special. And I remember explicitly something from the fifth grade. I was a chubby kid, but I decided over my spring break that I would go out of my way to be nice and patient with people. I saw the difference immediately. I liked the response I got from people."
McDavid was born and raised in DeKalb. He spent most of his youth in predominately white schools.
"Growing up in DeKalb set me apart from other black students who came in from urban areas. And my background set me apart from most of the black students. The fact was, through most of school, most of my friends were white."
As McDavid finished eighth grade his brother, Henry, pulled him aside and told him to expect a change in high school.
"First of all, he told me the football team wouldn't be as good as we were in grade school. And he said I would notice a change in my white friends. They were going to notice I am black.
"He was right. In high school, my being black became a point of conversation. A point of jokes. A point of ridicule. Looking back on it, I now know part of it was the process of kids making their identities. But it was there. I was different."
McDavid forged ahead. Most of friends remained white students who he participated with in football, wrestling and track. But he helped form a black student union as a sophomore, became the group's president as a junior and was named his prep football team's captain as a senior.
McDavid came to Knox College and, in his own words "fell in love with Galesburg." He spent part of his sophomore year observing Sue Peterson's class at King Elementary School. His junior year was spent with Sandra O'Dell's seventh-grade English class and Roy Gulley's history class.
He'll graduate this spring, but be back in the fall to student teach -- after he spends a month teaching at a Navajo reservation in Arizona.
McDavid grew other kinds of roots in this community. He joined the congregation of the Apostolic Tabernacle on North Street. He will help lead the recognition of Black History Month -- one month late, but better late than never -- at Galesburg High School in the classes of Dan Powell and Evan Massey.
McDavid is invested in this community. The recent discussion of the black student graduation rate at GHS caught McDavid's eye.
"I think the best way to attack the issue is to begin by setting aside excuses or reasons. Whether you have students from Chicago or students from other countries or students from just one community, you always have students who are doing well and students who are struggling.
"What can you do about the black graduation rate? You move to a more multi-cultural education - you diversify your teaching staff and your curriculum. The fall term of my junior year at Knox was the first time I ever had a black teacher in all my years of schooling."
McDavid said the experience was "exhilarating." It was an affirmation that he could be what he dreamed.
"Black students can see someone like them. White students can see a teacher, not someone on the news, BET, MTV or ESPN. It's more important than you think. And it is important for black students and white students to learn about something other than western European history."
Finally, McDavid finished his meal. He had appointments to make. A kid on his Bible quiz team needed a lift back to Knoxville. There was a meeting he should have left for 20 minutes ago. He left LULAC talking about people.
"I preached this weekend at my church in DeKalb and I based it on a speech Nelson Mandela gave - where he quoted a poet.
"It's about what scares us. It's not the darkness within us, it's our light. What scares us is the scope of how good we can be. To ourselves. To each other. I think other people like me because I walk with my head held high and I'm not afraid to share my light with others.
"When we shine, it liberates others to shine."
Originally published February 26, 2010. Reprinted by permisson. Tom Loewy is a reporter/columnist for The Register-Mail. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 343-7181, Ext. 256.