Lessons from a Trailblazer

Lessons from a Trailblazer
September 26
00:00 2012

Current black male WFU employees dine with school’s first-ever black student

Dr. Ed Reynolds, Wake Forest University’s first black student, returned to his alma mater last week.

The San Diego, Calif. resident was on hand for a series of special events held to celebrate WFU’s decision to voluntarily integrate 50 years ago. The integration of the school is the focus of a yearlong campaign at Wake called Faces of Courage.

Reynolds, a native of Akropong, Ghana, took time to interact with current African American WFU faculty and staff during an intimate invitation-only dinner at Noble’s Grille on Sept. 20.

J. Matthew Williams, assistant director of WFU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said he arranged the dinner because he wanted Reynolds to see the impact of his decision to attend to Wake Forest.

“Ed Reynolds … really opened the doors of opportunity for all of these men to work in their current capacity,” Williams said. “Without him, where would we be?”

Williams, a member of the university’s Class of 2009, said he hoped the dinner would be an affirming experience for the men in attendance.

“There’s a huge misunderstanding that African American men don’t occupy positions of authority in academia, and when you look around the room, you see the impact of their influence on our university,” he stated. “…I think it’s important to recognize our contributions. Oftentimes, there’s a very singular view of African American men, and showing the diversity of what we offer to the community is important.”

Wake Forest alumnus Kevin Smith was among the handful of staff members on hand. Smith, who began a two year fellowship in the Office of University Advancement in August, said the opportunity to come face to face with someone who played such an integral role in Wake Forest history made it a can’t miss event for him.

“It’s something that’s very impactful for me and something I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” commented the Wilson native, who graduated in May with a degree in English and political science. “…He really changed the history of this entire university. What he did definitely deserves recognition.”

Though many credit Reynolds, who went on to obtain graduate degrees from Ohio University, Yale and the University of London, with singlehandedly opening the doors for the countless African American students who have come behind him, Reynolds, a father of one, says his enrollment in the school was a community effort. He recalls returning home from church to find nickels, dimes and dollar bills that had been quietly slipped into his pockets by anonymous supporters and being showered with homemade cookies and treats from African American employees on campus. Reynolds said the outpouring of support he received left an indelible mark on him.

“When you go through this experience, I think you are grateful for the community that supported you and what you do is you want to encourage others, you want to bring others forward with you,” he remarked. “You recognize the responsibility you have to other black people.”

Despite the tumultuousness of the era, Reynolds said his time at Wake Forest was largely uneventful. He was shepherded by Chaplain Ed Cristman and Reynolds’ seven suite mates from Taylor Hall, whom he said were “very protective” of him. Reynolds said he remembers his time at the university fondly and was honored to be a part of the Faces of Courage celebration.

“It’s humbling that there is recognition for the fact that you came 50 years ago and it’s something that is encouraging that, in a way, the effort that you made with the support of many people has not been in vain,” he declared. “Together, a group of black people have had a significant impact on the integration of Wake Forest.”


Faces of Courage will continue during Family Weekend with a Sept. 29 talk on diversity and inclusion led by Dr. Barbee Myers Oakes, assistant provost for Diversity and Inclusion, who is spearheading the Faces of Courage events. For more information, visit  HYPERLINK “”

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