Dr. Tonya Thames- Taylor, an Associate Professor of American History at West Chester University, delivered a dynamic, educational, and inspiring presentation to members of the student body on February 28th. Dr. Thames- Taylor’s visit was part of the school’s continuing Character and Leadership Development Program and in recognition of Black History Month.
Dr. Thames- Taylor is the founding Director of the African American Studies Program and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Frederick Douglass Institute at West Chester University. She also serves on the Board of Directors at the Friends Historical Association and Friends Publishing Corporation. Dr. Thames- Taylor is also active in the American Association of University Women.
That would be very impressive for anyone but is especially impressive for the granddaughter of former sharecroppers born into a less than ideal situation.
“I wasn’t born an accident...I had to keep moving forward because the only person I knew who was going to be with me for the rest of my life was me,” Dr. Thames- Taylor said.
That simple message was an underlying theme in the presentation as she encouraged the students to be their own protagonist.
“I just kept putting one foot in front of the other,” she explained as she marched from her humble beginnings.
The energetic professor likened her visit to Glen Mills as being on her grandmother’s porch back in her native Gulfport, Mississippi. There, her grandmother would always welcome visitors and guests to her small but inviting porch- where the welcomes were always big. Her welcome to the students was similar, as she led a sing along of “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Make it Shine.”
That bright light set the tone for the spirited presentation.
Dr. Thames- Taylor, who recently returned to Pennsylvania after a speaking engagement at Tuskegee University in Alabama, was “overwhelmed” with her impression of the Glen Mills Schools student body, staff members, and culture.
“I came in trying to be impactful, but I have been impacted,” Dr. Thames- Taylor said. “When I first walked onto campus, there was a respecting, hopeful, and encouraging energy. This visit I am having is absolutely incredible…There’s just good energy here.”
Dr. Thames- Taylor, who spent several hours on campus and in the dining hall with students and staff members after her presentation, was impressed with the students at the Glen Mills Schools.
“There’s a greeting in Kenya that asks, ‘How are the children?’ Well, my impression is that the children are well,” Dr. Thames- Taylor said.
During the presentation, she touched on several giants in African American history, and history in general, including Booker T. Washington. However, she also highlighted lesser known historical figures such as Henry “Box” Brown and Paul Robeson. Brown was enslaved in Richmond, Virginia and had himself mailed to Philadelphia, in a box. After the arduous 27-hour shipment to the free North in the undersized box, he had essentially mailed himself to freedom. Brown was indeed a great example of being your own protagonist.
Robeson, meanwhile, was an All-American football player at Rutgers in the early days of the sport and later became a star on Broadway and on the big screen. He was also the son of a freed slave but was also his own protagonist.
“I want you to be the protagonist in your life,” Dr. Thames- Taylor encouraged the students. “You are your own champion, your own protagonist, your own hero.”
She also talked about the solidarity in the room.
“We have a mutual interest as we both want you to do well,” she explained.
She also cited two extraordinary Langston Hughes poems, “A Dream Deferred” and “I Too,” as inspirational examples.
Always with an infectious smile, Dr. Thames- Taylor inspired, and impacted, the students.
“I enjoyed the presentation very much,” Glen Mills student Irijah Harris said. “I liked how she encouraged us to be our own protagonist, be our own hero, and shape our own future.”
PHOTO: Dr. Tonya Thames- Taylor from West Chester University gave a dynamic presentation to members of the student body. She also was impressed with the positive campus culture. “When I first walked onto campus, there was a respecting, hopeful, and encouraging energy. This visit I am having is absolutely incredible…There’s just good energy here.”