How did you learn about Knox?
I learned about Knox through my counselor at Whitney Young High School. Also, two of my classmates who graduated before me went to Knox. The first time I saw anything about Knox was when one of them came back with a letterman's jacket. Subsequently, a Knox recruiter came to my high school. Also, I was an athlete, played basketball, and got connected with Coach Knosher.
I was accepted to a number of different schools. I visited Knox and stayed with Eric Williams '85. He was my admission host, and the next year, he was my RA. It had the feel of a family. As somebody coming from Chicago, it was a different experience, which appealed to me, but it felt like a close-knit family environment. That's what attracted me to Knox.
How did you learn about A.B.L.E.?
I learned about A.B.L.E. from the other African-American students on campus, from folks like Eric and Tim Fair '84, who were like part of that extended family to me.
What were some of your most significant experiences with A.B.L.E.?
There were a ton. I was vice president for a year, then president for a year. There was one year where we built shanties to bring some awareness to Knox College about apartheid in South Africa. That was huge.
Another time, there was advocacy around the Martin Luther King holiday being placed or not placed on the Knox calendar.
Any specifically on-campus issues?
The on-campus issues had to do with equity and access. Knox College is a great place. But, when I was there, it was better for some than others. In the sense that every student of color that I knew came to Knox so that they could get a great education. And, in doing so, they felt that they were sacrificing some things socially, but it was worth it, to get this awesome education. But other students who came to Knox—they actually got both.
How do we make sure that the total Knox experience is a great one for all students on campus? That was one of the internal issues that the founders of A.B.L.E., who I got to know a lot, felt, and that I grappled with as a student. And then I led the Black Alumni Association for about a decade, those were still issues that students were dealing with, problems that we were grappling with, how do we make this Knox experience a great one in every facet.
What were the results of your activism?
I do think A.B.L.E. was effective. I'm not sure we were as effective as we wanted to be, because we're grappling with some of those same issues. As a support organization and a vehicle for change, I know that my participation, and the support that I got from A.B.L.E., helped me and countless other students of color to stay at Knox and to graduate from Knox. If there hadn't been an A.B.L.E., I am certain that a number of students would have left the College or not graduated from the College. So in terms of making sure that students had their support, that was effective.
Also, the more students you are able to retain, it gives you that critical mass of students that other students might have an affinity with, and that attracts more students of color. When the students who were there before me, the seniors when I was a freshman, when Tim and Vickie Johnson Fair '83 started, there might have been 10 Black students. When I was there, it went from 25 to five Black students on campus. And there weren't many Latino students. If you look just at African-American students, that number is higher and has continued to grow. And what's also grown is the actual success of those students, in terms of graduating from the College and then continuing on in their careers, professionally or in graduate school.
I also think that because of A.B.L.E. partnering and pushing the College, that things are better, as it relates to the social aspect, but also what A.B.L.E. pushed for, and we have as alumni as well, is to make it affordable for students. We looked at a number of different ways to provide support.
The fact is that if you look at Knox among its peers, at the number of faculty of color at Knox, that is one of the things that A.B.L.E. since its inception has talked about and advocated for and have definitely seen that come to fruition. Particularly as professors, and now there are professors of color with tenure. And there are a couple who were a part of A.B.L.E., like Mary Crawford '89 and Jessie Dixon '89, who are there and still fighting. When I was president of A.B.L.E., Mary was my vice president.
What were your experiences with A.B.L.E. House, as a club, as a residence, as a cultural center?
I experienced all those. It was where we met. We had parties at A.B.L.E. House, but when I was there we really tried to focus on it as a cultural center. So we built up the library and other resources. And I lived in the house for a year-the old A.B.L.E. House on Academy. But because of building the library and the events with alumni, we were able to get the bigger A.B.L.E. House. It was a place where students could connect informally and formally around issues related to Black culture and current events.
Where do you see the Black alumni organizations, in bringing about the changes you'd like to see?
I think it's imperative that the organizations exist and that we as alums are part of them, and active. As alums, we have as great a voice, and maybe even a greater voice, for change. I was the chair of the Black Alumni Association of Knox college, and the representative for the Alumni Council. I think those things are very important to bringing the perspective of African-American students and alums to every conversation that the College is having. As I said, Knox is a great place and part of that is because of this diversity, but if that diversity isn't heard from, if that diversity is not shared and acknowledged, it isn't as great of a place as it could or should be.
You graduated in 1988. How did you experience that time, right before the creation of the Black studies program that started in 1987?
I finished most of my courses by '87. I saw it build up. That was a tremendous thing for the College and for all students. It is something that founders like Alfreda Williams '69 wanted to see, and every student after that wanted to see it. So it was huge to bring that opportunity to Knox, so that students would not feel that they have to go someplace else to have that experience.
Thinking about all the alums who poured into me and my classmates why I was there, that we understood, as we were going through what could be a difficult experience, that we could make it and be successful. And one of the ways that we knew that was that they came back and shared that with us. They were tremendously supportive, and that was one of the reasons I stayed involved after I graduated, because I wanted to be able to give to students what I had gotten, how I had made it through. I hosted the Black alumni picnic at my house. If not for alums like Alfreda Williams, Chris Chaney '80, Carl Bibbs '82, Brenda Butler '71, Debra Banks '73—those are alums of A.B.L.E. and the College who helped me get through and a number of other students. And I got my first job out of college because of an alum, somebody who's a member of A.B.L.E. That network of support was so important.
When you talk about how I see the role of A.B.L.E. and the alumni, it's that making sure that the college experience is a great one for all students, and that includes African-American students. That's what A.B.L.E. can give students, a real platform for what they want to do after they leave Knox. When you look at policy things that relate to the College, and to the state and nation, it's a great way to get involved in that. As you look at the times we're living in now, when you talk about equity and fairness and the opportunity for all students to succeed, A.B.L.E. has to be very strong in that fight.
What advice do you have for current students, and for prospective students?
For current students, I would tell them to realize their power and influence they have as scholars at Knox College, and take advantage of that, all the opportunities that Knox provides. I work with a bunch of colleges and universities, and there aren't any better places for students where they can get a great education and have a voice. There are so many tremendous opportunities for students to lead while they're at Knox. I would tell students not to wait to lead.
For prospective students, when they're looking at schools, when it comes to Knox College, the fact of the small student/faculty ratio, it's a place where if you want to learn and lead, you actually can, and you must. When you have a class-my smallest class was five students, and my largest was only 40. You can't hide. Knox is a place where you have to be able to articulate the knowledge that you have acquired, and that is something. You talk about the thought process, that's valuable in every career, the ability to think strategically and rationally, and that's something that happens at Knox because of the discourse that you have with the small classes, and the other outside opportunities.
A.B.L.E. students have a change agenda for the College. How can A.B.L.E. alumni also have a change agenda for society?
Because of Knox's standing and reputation, Knox can be a catalyst for change, in the state and nationally. When you talk about the abolition movement, Knox has always shown that that which one has worked on and has the passion can lead. That's one of the things that attracted me to the school. That it was a small place, a smaller school, but a leader in so many things nationally. And even some things that people don't know about.
Wherever I go, to work and live across the country, there are very few places that I can go where there is not some Knox influence, where people don't know the College and its reputation. When I left Chicago to go to Denver, our superintendent said, "My grandfather went to Knox." I was in Hawaii last week and ran into a [University of Illinois] graduate whose daughter went to Knox.
There's definitely a place for that. Students and the College itself should continue to lead. Be not afraid to lead in things that are not popular, but are right. That's one of the things I'm proud about of my College.
From Chicago, I went to Denver, where I led the college and career area for Denver Public Schools, then went to the Oakland Unified District ad ran the Office of Post-Secondary Readiness, focusing on getting kids ready for careers and college.
Now, I'm back in Colorado as chief schools officer for Blue School Partners, a nonprofit educational organization that invests in quality schools. We launched in April, investing between $15 and $30 million into schools and programs in Denver. I lead the educational strategy around that.