I’m a 1973 graduate of Paine College, this Christian Methodist Episcopal institution for higher education founded in 1882 in Augusta.
I will begin by saying it’s a miracle that I attended Paine or any college, being that I was a tenant farmer’s son from the village of Henderson in Middle Georgia and missed almost 60 days of school during my senior year at Houston County High School.
But I have been truly blessed, highly favored and prepared for a life of service and leadership. After taking the SAT, my guidance counselor, Mrs. Thelma Bannister Collier, gave me a directory of colleges and told me to start thinking about college. I looked through the directory and picked Morehouse College and Howard University.
When I gave my choices to Mrs. Collier, she told me to “be serious” and that “she would see what she could do.” I was asked recently, how I felt about that and what it meant. But I accepted Mrs. Collier’s comments as insight and wisdom. Her comments didn't affect my feelings in any way. I was glad to hear "I'll see what I can do."
How would a first generation college student with little or no financial support survive at Morehouse or Howard? If Mrs. Collier had been a Spelman College graduate with contacts in Atlanta and Morehouse, I'm sure she may have directed me to Morehouse. The same if she had been a Howard graduate.
But being a 1955 graduate of Paine, she facilitated my admission to her alma mater.
About 10-15 years ago, I ran into Mrs. Collier and another teacher who had a major impact on my life. During the conversation, she said they were determined to get me into college. It must have been a struggle with the number of days I'd missed. They knew that I didn't miss the days playing hooky. I missed the days because I was working to help my family survive.
I can still remember that September Sunday afternoon in 1969 when my homeboy, Willie James Ross and I, arrived on the campus. The sun was bright and the grass was the greenest and the prettiest I’d ever seen.
My first experiences were memorable but not enjoyable. Shortly after arriving, we met several upper classmen who called us “crabs.”
That day and all of the following week, we were, literally at their “beck and call.”
I was resistant, which caused my problems to increase. The upperclassmen felt that they had to teach me a lesson by giving me more and more things to do. The more I complained, the more they taunted me. In a round about it, it prepared me for something that I would encounter later during my sophomore year.
During the next couple of weeks, I met and became friends with several people who are still my friends today. During the first semester of my freshmen year, I was invited to participate in the J.C. Players, the school’s drama club.
It was here that I was introduced to my life’s calling. I participated in plays throughout my undergraduate years but decided to pursue a graduate degree in mathematics because many people told me I would be more employable.
In the spring of my sophomore year, I became a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Why? I felt that joining a brotherhood organization with distinguished and accomplished members across the country would be a good thing to do. Why did I pledge Omega and not Kappa, Alpha or Sigma? Many are the friends that I made during Freshmen Week of 1969 had pledged Omega during the fall semester.
This may be an overstatement and I can accept any pushback or correction that may follow but all of the fraternities have distinguished and outstanding members across the country and around the world. As I grow older, it seems that our primary differences may be our colors.
Looking back over the 63 years of my life, I can say that the four years I spent at Paine College were some of the most impactful.
From the friends I met during “Crab Week” to serving four years as the executive secretary of our national alumni association.
From being bitten by the theatre bug during my freshmen year to having spent all of my adult life as artist. Working as an actor, puppeteer and storyteller, while writing and selling poetry and fiction.
From leaving a one-traffic light hometown to meeting and befriending people from around the world.
My experiences at Paine College prepared me for a wonderful and joyous life.
I am forever indebted to Paine College’s founders and its past and present administrators.
I am forever indebted to my professors, especially Mr. Taylor, my drama instructor and Mr. Kessler, one of my math professors.
And of course to my high counselor, Mrs. Thelma Bannister Collier, class of 1955, who saw something in me that I had no idea was there.
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