Davidson Convocation Honors Alums For Commitments to Justice
October 29, 2001
In a Fall Convocation on Saturday, October 27, that many oldtimers declared the most meaningful and moving they had ever witnessed, Davidson College honored three alumni with extraordinary records in civil rights, economic justice, and overcoming personal challenges.
Joe Martin, a former executive vice president in banking who is now paralyzed with Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), received an honorary doctor of laws degree. As he sat on the stage of Love Auditorium in his motorized chair, this 1962 Davidson graduate was lauded for his lifelong commitment to racial justice, and his seven-year, ongoing, struggle with ALS. "He has fought not only the disease itself, but the temptation to let the disease reduce his usefulness," read his citation.
Martin has helped to raise more than $3 million to establish the Carolinas Neuromuscular/ALS Center at Carolinas Medical Center. He chronicled his life with the disease in a book entitled On Any Given Day, and just this month he published Fire in the Rock, his first novel. It speaks of friendship among a white preacher's son, a beautiful white girl, and a talented black boy, and stands as another example of Martin's effort to promote better racial relations.
A longtime employee of what is now Bank of America, he believed that the financial institution could be used to make the world a better place. He emphasized low-interest lines of credit for affordable housing, and was a major force in helping predominately black colleges and universities finance needed construction. In 1997, when he was honored with the Whitney M. Young Award by the Urban League, he promoted the idea of "Race Day," a day each week when people would make an effort to eat lunch with a member of another race. In that same year he was honored by Davidson as its first recipient of the John W. Kuykendall Award for Community Service. Click here for full citation.
After receiving his honorary degree hood from President Robert Vagt '69, Martin acknowledged the audience's long ovation the only way he was able--with a tilt of his head and twinkle in his eye. President Vagt then read a statement Martin had prepared. It said, "The paralyzed man you see here is not who I am... Paralysis is just something I have to do to discover who I am... I hope that Davidson students will likewise work to discover who they are." Click here for full text of Martin's remarks.
Martin Eakes '76 and Bonnie Wright '79, co-founders in 1980 of the Center for Community Self-Help (CCSH), were the speakers for Convocation. Created on a shoestring, with its first office in the trunk of their car, CCSH is now a statewide organization with 100 employees in six cities, assets of more than $800 million, and a record of lending more than $1.6 billion to low-income individuals and businesses across the country to help them achieve economic self-sufficiency. Eakes received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" in 1996 in the field of community affairs for his creative means of helping people escape the cycle of poverty.
Wright thanked the college for being "a place of the heart" where she developed deep and enduring friendships. She noted that she still gathers annually with fifteen women who shared Gray House as a residence their senior year, and that the group circulates a quarterly newsletter. She continued, "Martin and I had success in an uncharted field by following our hearts... We've had to measure success in non-traditional ways, mostly in the personal stories of the people we've sought to serve."
She admonished the robed seniors in the audience to find the place where their skill and personality meets community and world needs, and not to be shy in accepting the challenge they'll find there. "Playing small doesn't serve the world," she said. "Let your light shine, because it gives others permission to let their lights shine, as well."
Martin Eakes followed his spouse, and gave Davidson credit for sharpening his vision. "Davidson taught me to think big," he said. He then recalled some of the challenges he and his spouse faced their determination to create equality of opportunity among different races. He noted that minority families have just one-tenth the wealth of white families, and attacked predatory lenders for their part in perpetuating the debt of people desperate to escape poverty. While acknowledging that his organization has made a difference in the lives of many individuals, particularly single women seeking to own their own houses, he said that the scope of the task is overwhelming. He said that CCSH only takes on about 1,000 clients a year, while an additional 10,000 or more individuals and families per year in North Carolina alone are victimized by predatory loan practices.
"So why do I continue the work?" he asked. "It's totally selfish. It's a chance to be touched by 1,000 ordinary heroes who struggle every day to make a better life for themselves and their families. And it was Davidson College that helped me refine my feelings. I thank the people who made this a wonderful, nurturing place to grow."
Later in the program, President Vagt read the honorary doctor of laws degree citations for Wright and Eakes. It noted, "Having grown up in Greensboro and Atlanta during the civil rights struggle, Martin Eakes and Bonnie Wright were profoundly aware of the discrepancies that existed between the haves and have-nots. They set out with their degrees, using their talent and knowledge not to better themselves, but to take on the daunting challenge of closing the wealth gap between rich and poor." Click here for the full text.
Self-Help continues to develop innovative programs for low-wealth families, including loan programs to child-care centers and charter schools, and a secondary market loan program that has become a national model for expanding homeownership in partnership with Fannie Mae and the Ford Foundation.
Bonnie Wright expanded her focus in 1991 to found a chapter of the non-profit National Coalition Building Institute, leading workshops in conflict resolution, diversity appreciation, prejudice reduction, and leadership development. She was the key founder of Durham's Maureen Joy Charter School, one of the earliest and most successful charter schools in the state.
In addition to the honorary degrees, the college honored two professors hailed as extraordinary teachers. The college presented its annual Thomas Jefferson Award for outstanding faculty achievement to C. Earl Edmondson, professor and chair of the history department. He was praised for "setting by personal example a standard of harmony and affection that is admired by faculty, staff, and students." Click here for the full text.
In addition to his departmental duties, Edmondson has been a long-standing member of the college's Humanities Program faculty. His professional work and publication relate primarily to 20th century Austrian history, but he is now completing a volume on the origins of the Cold War, which he is writing in conjunction with a Russian scholar.
Edmondson has served on numerous faculty committees, and agreed last year during his sabbatical to rewrite portions of the faculty by-laws. He has made two trips to Russia to organize an academic relationship between Davidson and Moscow State Institute of International Relations. His commitments to international efforts have been characterized by his active membership in the International Education Committee, and as a mainstay on the advisory committee to the Dean Rusk Program in International Studies.
For the last eight years he has served as secretary of the Davidson chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and he is a former president of the state chapter of the Association of American University Professors. Edmondson, who holds a master's and Ph.D. degree from Duke University, joined the Davidson faculty in 1970.
The college also announced the appointment of John Heil as Davidson's new Paul B. Freeland Professor of Philosophy. Heil, who came to Davidson in 1987 and chairs the department, was praised as, "A challenging and demanding teacher, and an extraordinary scholar with an international reputation." His areas of academic interest include metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and epistomology. He has written five books, is currently under contract with Oxford University Press to publish another in philosophy of mind. He recently completed another book on metaphysics while on sabbatical last year at Monash University in Australia. He has also contributed scores of articles to professional journals and edited volumes.
Three students also received the Goodwin Exxon Award for exemplifying high standards of character, good sportsmanship, and consideration of others. They were sophomore Lynn A. Burnett of Rock Hill, S.C., junior Katherine K. Fiedler of Roanoke, Va., and senior Rachel E. Smith of Shelbyville, Tenn.
The Alumni Award for top academic performance during the first year of college was shared by five sophomores, all of whom earned perfect 4.0 averages during the freshman year. They were Melinda C. "Lindy" Baldwin of Golden, Colo., Melissa C. Breedlove of Blairsville, Ga., Rachel P. McCord of Knoxville, Tenn., Annette V. Welty of Fairmont, W.Va., and Timothy W. Westover of Lawrenceville, Ga.
Mathew Arbuckle '02, chair of the Patterson Court Council, presented awards to that group of Davidson fraternities and eating houses. The Most Improved Award went to Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Turner House won the "Highest Grade Point Average Award, with an average of 3.2 per member. Kappa Alpha's efforts at raising more than $20,000 in the past year for the Muscular Dystrophy Association earned that fraternity the Community Service Award.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.