John Livingston

Another Way

So much of history can be captured in a moment. It is unfortunate that so much today is taught with a political narrative in mind. In January, tears came into my eyes during the inauguration of Winsome Sears as Lt. Governor of The Commonwealth of Virginia. A Black woman being administered the oath of office by a Black Supreme Court Justice on the steps of the former capital of The Confederacy. Surely a MOMENT for all times. Not surprisingly only “crickets” in the media about the event. It took too long to happen, but it did. By the way, Ms. Sears served in the Marine Corps with distinction and Veterans’ organizations helped significantly in her campaign.

This Labor Day Weekend football celebrated the legacy of The Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in our country. One of those colleges Wilberforce University is located just a few miles from where I went to college in southwestern Ohio. I grew up in a socially segregated community, but upon arriving at Wittenberg in the summer of 1969, in the middle of all the social and racial unrest that was unfolding in our country, I soon became aware that being a “teammate” with a common cause, could make racial and ethnic differences melt away. Most of our team came from western Pa.—steel mills, Appalachia, and the cities that bordered the Ohio River that ran between Pennsylvania and Ohio including Cleveland and Pittsburgh. My roommate John Schmidt was the captain of Cincinnati Mohler High School whose coach would later become the head coach at Notre Dame. John’s mother and father were both German immigrants and neither could speak English.

John, later in life, became the chief operating officer of the company his father had worked for as a gardener. I never experienced a truer “meritocracy” than my college or high school football teams—until I joined the military where the same dynamic played out. It didn’t matter where you came from, or the color of your skin just get the job done correctly the first time. Carry the ball across the goal line, block and tackle, slog through the mud at night or stand “midwatch on the Crow’s nest”—do the job for your teammates and shipmates and nothing else matters—PERIOD.

I was reminded about a trip I took three years ago back to southwestern Ohio as I watched several (HBCU) football games this weekend. I had coffee at that time with several Wilberforce and Central State University professors on campus at Central State (both colleges are in the same town). I asked them two questions. The first was about STEM education at their schools and the other was about Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the basic sciences. I saw evidence of their answers to my questions as I watched the football games unfold this weekend.

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One Professor referred me to a study done several years ago that showed that premed and STEM students faired far better in realizing their dreams of medical school or graduate school if they went to an (HBCU) than if they went to a State University or especially an Ivy League College. The problem was the first and second semesters of their freshman year when they were competing against scholarship students who went to those universities to specifically study chemistry and physics. Historically Black students’ college prep was different from Whites and those coming from Asian and Indian cultures. Many Black students would change their major before the freshman year was over. This didn’t happen at places like Wilberforce and Central State. Students would catch up in the STEM classes by the beginning of their junior year because of the individual attention they received from their professors and the availability of summer school without cost. Teaching was done by professors and not graduate students and teaching assistants (TAs). But there were two other aspects of the process of going to a (HBSUs). One was that almost every student participated in “work study”. They had skin in the game, and they came to understand early on the value and the cost of their education. Even if on a Pell Grant or other form of aid “work study” was part of the deal—even for athletes and STEM majors. One professor at the end of our discussion told me that he had a daughter that had an opportunity to go to either Virginia or Tuskegee. She chose the latter.

The second question was about “wokeness”. (CRT) is part of the curriculum they admitted, but it is taught very differently—the difference between curriculum and pedagogy was first explained to me by them. As explained to me they teach “responsibility and accountability”, and they don’t teach “white privilege” and they never teach victimhood ideology. And oh yes in the dining halls many if not most of the students say grace over their meals—voluntarily

So, watching the football games this weekend what stood out to me was the respect the students showed for their teachers, coaches, and each other. Interviews with the band members demonstrated a respect for the bandmaster—they called him doctor or professor. The players looked their coaches in the eye and the words “yes sir” could be discerned by anyone watching from the sidelines or on TV. Later, earlier this year, ESPN did a documentary on the Tuskegee band camp that was three weeks long in the middle of a hot humid summer in Alabama. Sweating tuba players doing pushups, and dance team members doing grass drills. Up at 6AM and lights out at 2200. Rehearsals and marching all day long. Discipline was part of the deal. An enforced discipline taught and learned by a young person many times creates an inner discipline that can last a lifetime.

One other interesting thing that I thought was revealing. Two of the best teams in the (HBCUs) system are Jackson State and Tennessee Tech coached by Deon “NEON” Sanders and Eddie George. Two NFL Hall of Fame football players who played for Florida State and The Ohio State University. Hall of Fame Millionaire legends giving back to programs where they know their influence will do the best and be most appreciated.

The virtues of hard work, discipline and respect should be the pillars that any program teaching people how to treat each other should be grounded upon. Living those virtues by working on a team or a board job or preparing oneself physically and mentally to be a productive member of society is what higher education should demand of its teachers and students. Teaching victimhood and guilt is counterproductive.

Below is an article about a Naval Academy football player who grew up in Lebanon Ohio, a very few miles from Wilberforce. The third son of a mixed-race marriage, physics, and astrophysics major, and soon-to-be F-18 pilot, his journey from Appalachia to Naval Officer is worth examining. Racism was a daily experience in his life, but his family and Christian faith and values helped him to keep his eye on the goal. And like Deon Sanders and Eddie George he will soon be able to teach other young men and women from similar backgrounds how to fulfill their dreams. Faith and family are the key to upward mobility. (CRT) and tolerating victimhood only gives people an excuse not to compete and succeed on their own merits.  

Our State Universities, government agencies, major corporations should look to the example of the Eddie George’s and Deon Sanders of the world and the (HBSUs) if they want to really teach social responsibility. There is another way. There is a right way. Teaching victimhood is counterproductive.

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