Daughters: My Brothers for Life

by Marta D. Collier

December 13, 2007

I AM A DAUGHTER OF WABASH.

We are a unique group of women who over the years have affiliated with this historic institution as friends, girlfriends, and even wives of men who have matriculated here as students.

I claim an even more unique affiliation with Wabash through the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies, which has served as the headquarters and home for African-American students at Wabash for more than 30 years.

I attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, but I feel more like an alum of Wabash.

My journey with Wabash began when MXI Director Horace Turner brought a delegation of brothers from Wabash to a Black Student Conference at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. I was part of a group of students from Earlham who attended the same conference, where I met seniors Lemuel Stigler ’73, Dock McDowell ’72, and freshman Willyerd R. Collier ’75.

Willyerd, whose well-earned nickname was "Chat," was my introduction to Wabash College and the aura of the MXI. I entered one of the sessions to find him "holding court" in the center of the room, as brothers from the Institute were prone to do. I learned over the years to view this "attitude" as part and parcel of being a Wabash man. The confidence and moxie took me by surprise when I realized this smooth talker was a freshman. Despite my shyness and the fact that I was older than this man, I took a bold step and introduced myself at the end of the session. That conversation has continued for more than 30 years of marriage, and that "freshman" has yet to run out of things to say.

THE FRIENDSHIP between Wilyerd and I led to many weekend visits to campus and exposure to the famous and the infamous in the world of Civil Rights and Black Activist politics during the early 70s. Horace Turner fathered a movement among the brothers that brought everyone from revolutionary poets to Pan-Africanist leaders to talk about their beliefs and world view with MXI members and their guests. Publisher and Organization of Black American Culture founder Hoyt Fuller, attorney Flo Kennedy (one of the first black women to graduate from Columbia Law School), and television journalist and activist Tony Brown are but a few of the personalities who left their marks on Wabash and the brothers and sisters of the MXI.

I remember sitting in a session in the building on Wabash Avenue and being mesmerized by the profound yet humble presence of Stokely Carmichael. He spoke with authority on topics that transcended state or national issues and made us see the need to adopt a more global view. I’ll never forget when he stopped in the middle of his lecture to gently chastise his young audience for lacking the foresight to come prepared to take notes. My personal comeuppance was complete when at the end of his lecture Stokely broke out into perfect French in a conversation with two MXI brothers from the Gambia. I realized then how "unfinished" I was in my own development and how blessed I had been to sit in the presence of this soft-spoken giant of a man.

IT MIGHT SEEM ODD FOR A WOMAN to claim such kinship to a "school for men," but I found mentorship that I needed as an undergraduate, a young wife, a graduate student, and new university professor among the staff and faculty of Wabash and the MXI. History professor Peter Frederick never seemed to mind my presence as he exchanged verbal jabs with Willyerd and other MXI brothers. He often played the proud father as he worked to refine the raw talent he, Horace, and others saw in the black students who were slowly becoming a presence to be reckoned with on campus. Later, as I struggled with doctoral studies and dissertation issues which at times threatened to overwhelm and defeat my efforts, he’d smile, pat me on the back, and make me know he believed in me and my ability to "cross the burning sands."

HORACE BECAME MY SECOND FATHER. He never let me off the hook because I was female. I began to realize I had a voice and something important to say, and this new understanding literally changed my world. I spent many an hour on that green couch in the old Institute building matching wits with Horace and Willyerd over one intellectual issue or another. I realized that something different from what I experienced on my own campus occurred in those encounters. It was refreshing and new and exciting in its nature; I was coming into my own as an intellectual being. Horace never stopped pushing, even when we pushed back out of our own frustration and immaturity. When we wanted to quit, he would ask how things were going in a way that made us know we’d better be making some kind of progress. It wasn’t about quitting. Quitting was not an option.

YOU LISTENED TO COUNTLESS CONVERSATIONS among the brothers while hanging at the Institute, and those conversations taught you what it meant to speak up for oneself and defend a position even under fierce attack by opposing views. The thing I marvel at, even now, is that no matter how heated the discussions became, brothers ended the night in harmony. It was never personal. I never knew men could argue so with profanity flying everywhere through the discourse on race, politics, women and sometimes all of the above. Brothers challenged each other and heightened their sense of who they were and what they believed in the midst of this strange Midwestern context while forging bonds of friendship that stood the test of time.

Times were often less than ideal as Wabash struggled to accommodate this new and distinct presence on campus in numbers larger than at any other time in their history. Brothers shared food, clothes, living quarters, money, cars, and whatever else they had in a corporate effort to forge a community in which they could
survive. Some made it through with room to spare, while others squeezed out by the skin of their teeth. Some never made it across the stage at graduation.

Yet all of these brothers are a part of the family of MXI.

When you spend time here you make memories and build relationships you never forget. You’ll cross the campus and remember someone who would stand under a certain tree or walk with a certain gait or wear a particular hat everyday of the year no matter the temperature. You remember parties in the "house" where the music was so loud and the dancing so hard that the floor literally shook. You remember Horace fixing your car or Mrs. [Jasmine] Robinson feeding you at her table when you needed a home-cooked meal to keep you sane.

I have so many memories like these and despite the fact that my degree bears the name of another institution on the other side of the state, I am a daughter of Wabash. I grew up on this campus and made my way into womanhood among the loving, brash, cocky, idealistic, brave, smart, savvy, trash-talking, life-loving men of Wabash who called the Institute home. These brothers of the MXI are my brothers for life and I’m proud to be a member of the family.

Marta D. Collier is associate professor in the College of Education and Health Professions at the University
of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Read more about her work there at http://coehp.uark.edu/5312.htm

 


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