Stillman College Inaugural Festivities Spotlight Service, Path to Eminence

While things were winding down elsewhere in Tuscaloosa with Spring Break beginning at the University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College and the local school systems, it’s been just the opposite at Stillman College as the school’s sixth president Dr. Peter Millet was inaugurated Friday.

The weekend of inaugural festivities that included a Gospel concert on Thursday evening, a prayer breakfast on Friday morning and a sold-out masked scholarship ball on Friday evening, gave the historically black institution that serves more than 800 students a chance to be in the spotlight.

Stillman’s Service Imperative

Saturday’s Burrell Odom Day of Service put the Stillman students in the community  in a way that President Millet told The Tuscaloosa News would be at least a once-a-semester event.

As a service learning instructor and community engaged scholar, I was pleased to hear that President Millet wants to make community service an official part of every Stillman student’s experience.

As an undergraduate student at Howard University 25 years ago,  I vividly remember my days of service in Northwest Washington, DC as a member of the Community Action Network.   I also did street ministry through my church, Metropolitan Baptist.  But,   my connection to the larger DC community was an important part of my development.  It also helped me be a better journalist.

Stillman President Peter Millet
Stillman President Peter Millet

Path to Eminence

Often those of us at the University of Alabama or elsewhere in Tuscaloosa hear secondhand what’s going on across town at Stillman College.  Fortunately, Friday, I got a chance to see firsthand some of the festivities formally marking the beginning of The Peter Millet era.

Even though he’s been on campus for more than a year, formally as provost and then as an interim President, this weekend was Dr. Millet’s chance to call the nation’s attention to what he is doing to take this institution established in 1876 to a new dimension in 2015.

He wants Stillman College to “Expeditiously Move from Excellence to Eminence.”

In his inaugural address Friday, Dr. Millet detailed how he would do that with academic excellence, community engagement, health and wellness and simply by “loving one another.”

Indeed, it’s a great day to be a Stillman College student and an occasion for pride if you are one of the thousands of Stillman College alumni.   Those of us in the Tuscaloosa community celebrate with the Tigers on the West side of Tuscaloosa.

Those of us at the University of Alabama stand with you in our common goal of helping our students be successful


Breakfast On Martin Luther King Day With An 83-Year-Old Freedom Fighter

Willie Wilder, and 83-year-old freedom fighter told his story of marching with Dr. Martin Luther King today over breakfast at Stillman College’s Hay College Center.

On this day when the nation pauses to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, I am excited about meeting one of those freedom fighters who marched with Dr. King.

This morning here in Tuscaloosa, I had the pleasure of sitting across the breakfast table from Willie Wilder, an 83-year-old native of Alabama who participated in the March on Washington and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.    For about 20 minutes, I just listened as he told his story.

Willie Wilder
Willie Wilder

Wilder and I attended the Unity Day Breakfast, the first three special events sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization which King founded.  We were among more than 200 who gathered at the Hay College Center on the campus of  Stillman College.    A Unity Day March and Mass Rally were planned for later today.

Wilder’s mother moved him and his siblings first to Cleveland, Ohio in the 1930s. Later they moved to Philadelphia, where his mother died.   About four years ago,  Wilder moved back to Alabama, where his family still owns land.

Even though more than a dozen ministers, elected officials and government leaders addressed the breakfast crowd today,  none of them could have more impact on me than Wilder.

The Day He Skipped Work to March

Wilder recalled taking the day off of work to travel down to Washington to participate in the August 1963 March and how he was discouraged from doing so by many of his black friends.  But, his white employer was supporting his activism.  He says when he returned from Washington, his white employer asked him “how was it?”

He vividly recalls how non-violent the march was.   The peaceful way that hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall was something he’ll never forget.

For Wilder, the experience contrasts sharply with the way the police in Selma, Ala. responded to marchers who tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge into Selma.  He recall having  snakes nearby as he and thousands and others slept in fields overnight on their historic march from Selma to Montgomery. He was among those who  walked 12 miles a day and four days later reached the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.  The demonstration lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Willie Wilder was a little upset that many of the elected officials and ministers who were speaking this morning were not going to participate in today’s Unity March from Tuscaloosa’s Martin Luther King Elementary School to Tuscaloosa City Hall.   Dressed in his overhauls and a turtle neck sweater,  he came to breakfast with the goal in mind of marching today.

He’s a year older than my father, who over the years has shared countless stories of traveling through the segregated South as soldier in the army and later as a student at Hampton Institute.

Something in Common

Wilder and I didn’t just talk about the good days in terms of being a freedom fighter.  He’s also a veteran photographer.  I had my digital camera taking photos today and know he probably had a few things to tell me about what I was not doing right.

L. Douglas Wilder

But, our mutual interest in photography pales in comparison to the fact that Wilder is the cousin of former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, for whom I worked as Senate Page in one of Wilder’s last years in the Virginia State Senate.  That was some 30 years ago when I was a mere 9th grader back home in Richmond, Virginia.

What a small world!

But, what a big impact one breakfast can have.

We didn’t exchange business cards or contact information.  So I don’t know if I’ll ever see Willie Wilder again.   I just know that God orchestrated today’s encounter JUST FOR ME.

I took Willie’s picture and will always remember our breakfast for the wisdom that I gained from this freedom fighter.     As a 43-year-old, I learned some things from one 83-year-old that I will never forget.

That’s why we participate in events like those that are part of the National Holiday Observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   It’s a day ON, not a day OFF.    And, this one has been a good one.    Later this evening, they will culminate with an old-fashioned mass meeting at the site of the only Tuscaloosa church Dr. King visited when he was alive, First African Baptist Church.

Stillman College Loses Technology Leader, Award-Winning Professor

Anthony Nzeocha, an education and psychology professor at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, is remembered for his advocacy for technology in the classroom and his award-winning teaching. His memorial service will be held Thursday, June 16.

Outside of Tuscaloosa’s Stillman College, the name  “Anthony Nzeocha” may not ring a bell.The native of Nigeria was not one to seek a great deal of attention, unless of course you talk about Stillman’s Annual Integration of Technology in the Classroom Conference.

Anthony Nzeocha

“The conference is designed to demonstrate innovative uses of technology to enhance learning,” Nzeocha said of the most recent conference, which has taken place for the last nine years.

Nzeocha was the face of the Integration of Technology technology, which is held each year during the month of February.

I first met Dr. Nzeocha through this event that brings college professors from around the Southeast who are interested in ways to link technology to teaching.

Each year that I attended I remember Nzeocha keeping us on time and on task even as he captured portions of the conference on video and still photo.   He was the perfect host, while also challenging students who attended the sessions to take seriously the insights of the faculty presenters who came from near and far.

Nzeocha lost his battle with cancer this week and will be memorialized at an 11 a.m.  service this Thursday, June 16 at Tuscaloosa’s Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

The West African native graduated from Clark Atlanta University with his Ph.D. in July 1990.

He has been at Stillman for more than 20 years.

He taught classes in both Stillman’s department of Education and Psychology.

In addition to his role as coordinator of the technology conference, Nzeocha also served as Stillman’s National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) Assessment Director.

In fact, almost every year at Integration of Technology College, Nzeocha made sure to include a presentation or discussion about how technology aids those in higher education to do assessment.

While I don’t work on the Stillman campus, all of us in the Tuscaloosa educational community are affected when one of our great educators is taken from us.

Fortunately, during his more than decades at Stillman, Nzeocha was recognized for his great work in the classroom.

He received The Joseph A. Gore Faculty Merit Award for Excellence in Teaching twice.

We celebrate the life of this great teacher who was clearly one of Stillman’s biggest champions for technology.

He will be missed!