Monthly Archives: June 2022

Faith Journey: Who Tells Your Story

Guest blog by Florence Dungy

I was very pleased when Gwen asked me to write a piece on any subject that I wanted for her blog….

When I was younger, I thought life was basically random. I grew up in southern Illinois in Carmi, located on the Little Wabash River. The population was around 5,000 people.

Carmi was my dad’s hometown. He was born in 1914 and grew up attending a segregated school and the segregated Mitchell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. My mom met my dad when she came to Carmi to visit her uncle who lived in nearby Maunie. My parents married in 1943.

My mother had been born in 1919 and raised in Whiteville, in western Tennessee. She also attended segregated schools and was raised in the Bartlett Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church. The name was changed to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1954.

My brother Charles and I were both born in St. Louis, Missouri—he in 1944 and I in 1947. Our family moved back to Carmi in December 1947.

There were very few Black people in Carmi. Charles would integrate Washington School by going to the first grade at age 6. My mom took Charles to school on the first day. When she went back to pick him up, she said she met him already on the way home, happy and skipping down the street. After Charles passed away, several of his classmates wrote me that they remembered meeting him in the first grade.

Growing up, Charles was much more self-assured than I was. He excelled in math and science and played basketball. He was outgoing and everybody liked him. I was concerned with being nice and polite and modest. I liked reading and writing and English.

Our lives in Carmi were integrated in every way except for church. This was a time when most people went to church, which at that time was largely identified as mainline Protestant denominations. I do remember going to Vacation Bible School, concerts, and programs at the White churches, but on Sunday we went to Mitchell Chapel AME Church.

While the theme of the Civil Rights Movement was “We Shall Overcome,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s oft-repeated observation in 1963 that 11:00 Sunday morning was “the most segregated hour in this nation” was certainly the reality in Carmi.

Mitchell Chapel was located a block off Main Street across the river in East Carmi. The church must have had a guardian angel, for in today’s world it would certainly be condemned as a fire and safety hazard. The church leaned to one side, there was only one entrance, and there was neither running water nor a bathroom. We had an old-fashioned coal stove and one of the men who lived across from the church would go early and make a fire when it was cold.

Not all of the Black people in Carmi attended the church, but they would come to funerals and also to fundraisers. There were probably 15 to 20 of us attending Sunday services, for which I remember getting dressed up and having new outfits for Christmas and Easter programs. We became part of a circuit with two other AME churches in Harrisburg and Carrier Mills, Illinois.

We were pioneers. My mother was the church recording secretary, and my dad was the lay reader and taught Sunday School. On Communion Sunday, we put up the white cloth around the altar and served communion with a chalice, using the silver communion set for the grape juice and wafers.

I remember the Sunday the minister “opened the doors of the church” and Charles walked forward to the altar to join. I followed him, joining the church because he did. Charles was in high school, and I was in junior high. Everybody cried.

We never invited any classmates to the church, and I am sure most people did not know the church existed because of the isolated location. When classmates asked where I went to church, I remember answering in a low voice and not with any pride. I do not remember any of the ministers as being special or giving outstanding sermons. We did not have a choir, but I do remember students from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale coming to sing.

 In the late 1960s, Mitchell Chapel was allowed “to die” with the changing times. My family would be joyfully welcomed into the Carmi First United Methodist Church (FUMC). We had many friends at FUMC and would make new ones. My mom was especially happy and would become very involved in church activities.

When I graduated from Carmi Township High School in 1965, I did not have a plan beyond knowing that I would leave Carmi. I was encouraged and expected to leave by everybody including my parents and teachers. I moved to Champaign, Illinois, to stay with my aunt and attended Illinois Commercial College.

In Champaign, I attended Bethel AME Church. The church had a choir and a good minister, and I could get involved in activities of my own choosing. I knew a few people and made more friends. Most of all I knew the AME liturgy and songs having learned them at Mitchell Chapel AME. I became an usher and taught Sunday School briefly.

Charles was at Eastern Illinois University in nearby Charleston. He would come to Champaign on weekends and practiced teaching math at Champaign Central High School.

There were just a few Black students at the Commercial College. Just before graduation the man who was in charge at the school sent me to talk with the State Director at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farmers Home Administration State Office in downtown Champaign. He offered me a job and I accepted. I had just turned 19 years old. The office was small and convenient to where I lived, was with the federal government, and the employees were friendly and welcoming.

I would at times have challenges working with USDA but it was very beneficial to me overall. I worked with many smart and helpful supervisors and co-workers and made life-long friends. I felt rewarded and USDA enabled me to transfer from Champaign to St. Louis and Washington, DC. I received training, took business trips, and was able to retire after 41 years of service with a pension and health insurance.

When I moved to St. Louis, I joined Centenary United Methodist Church, which was part of the Plaza Square apartment complex where I lived downtown. Centenary was an elegant and historic church. I became a greeter and served on the church board for a year and participated with other programs and activities.

Charles and Gwen had met in college at Eastern, and married in 1967, when I was 20. They now lived not too far from me in suburban St. Louis with their young son Dan, but would later move to the Washington, DC, area. When an opportunity and encouragement came for me to also move to DC three years after they did, I wanted to move but also felt uncertain about doing so.

It would have been easy to stay in St. Louis. The move would take me away from the Midwest and my family, but I also knew I could easily fly home for vacations. DC was expensive and I wondered if I would be able to find an apartment and live in a safe and nice part of the city. I prayed and knew I wanted the transfer. I found a nice and very small apartment in a pleasant part of the city with the help of a friend. Being on the bus route and convenient to the Metro, it was a short commute downtown to work.

I had read about Metropolitan AME Church before I moved to Washington. The church was convenient to where I lived. It was a beautiful and historic church with a storied history and prominent members. Walking in the church, you feel the ancestors. I would come to understand that the AME Church, which was founded in Philadelphia in 1816 by Richard Allen, was about so much more than just segregation. I joined the church and became involved in many activities including ushering, the Love and Peace Missionary Society, the food bank, and serving as a chaplain for a seniors’ club. I took my co-workers to the church on weekdays when the seniors prepared a soul-food lunch.

I came to feel I was following God’s plan for me, which had always been there from the beginning. I would never have joined Metropolitan AME if I had not been raised in Mitchell Chapel AME Church in Carmi.

Watching the Communion Sunday church service online during Covid, I would use the Mitchell Chapel chalice my mom had given me before she passed and really feel the connection between the two churches.

I had been in Washington for 12 years and Metropolitan AME was going through changes. I was ready for a change also. The Washington National Cathedral was close to where I lived in northwest Washington. I had visited and toured the Cathedral and was awed by the beauty and peacefulness of the church and the grounds.

I liked the idea of the Nation’s Church which welcomed everybody. I did not expect to become a Cathedral volunteer or think it was even possible for me. I was not an Episcopalian. I made friends and met with the volunteer coordinator to find my place. I could volunteer at the Cathedral and still keep my membership and participation at Metropolitan AME. I would start as a greeter and become an usher, a lay reader, and volunteer in the gift shop.

My last time with Charles a week before he passed away would be attending a Sunday morning service in the Cathedral. Most people did not know Charles was seriously ill. When he passed away from a rare disease, I wondered why it had been him instead of me. At the end of the play Hamilton, there is a song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” I felt I survived to tell Charles’ story. I was the only connection to Carmi and our classmates.

I belong to a grief support group and recently we discussed how we would like to be remembered. I would like to be remembered as a Christian hopefully for kindness and outreach and inclusiveness and for understanding and forgiveness for myself and others. I feel blessed for the ways in which God has led, and I pray he will continue to guide me along my journey. 

 Florence Dungy is Gwen Dungy’s sister-in law.

Reflecting on Top Gun: Maverick

I was eagerly looking forward to the release of Top Gun: Maverick since it was postponed more than once during the height of the pandemic. I’m a huge Tom Cruise fan and I don’t care if he jumped up on Oprah’s sofa in excitement when he appeared on her talk show eons ago.

As I’m still taking some precautions regarding the transmission of COVID, I wanted to see the film when the theater may not be as crowded in order to have some distance between myself and other moviegoers. The movie was showing at the largest theater on the largest screen in the area. I waited until the movie had been out a few weeks and went to the box office on a Saturday afternoon for a 4:10 showing. You know what happened: Sold out!

I bought advanced tickets for the following Wednesday at 1:10 p.m. since some very senior people in front of me chose that date and time. I figured that there would not be many of us in the theater at that time. After all, those not retired would be at work or at the gym or doing something else that more senior people might not be interested in doing.

You know what happened. Every seat was filled in this huge theater on Wednesday at 1:10 p.m.! And there was a wide diversity of ages. I, like everyone else I’ve spoken with, thought the film gave us what we wanted from it, meeting our expectations. The images and accompanying sounds were so intense that there was very little time for eye-blinking. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had dry-eye when this vivid and visceral experience was over.

Clearly, dialogue was not the heart of this film, and I doubt if anyone other than me listened for words to ponder following the experience. However, when I left the movie theater and images of the aerial scenes and the intense emotion portrayed by some of the characters began to fade, I recalled three short sentences from the dialogue.

Admiral Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, played by Val Kilmer, says to his friend Maverick, “It’s time to let it go.”

And when Maverick responds, “I don’t know how,” I thought that this movie was about to exceed my expectations.

At some point during this same exchange, the Admiral said, “It’s not what you are, it’s who you are.”

I’ve heard that evidence of a good musical is when you leave the theater humming the songs. For me, a good movie is one that allows me to reflect on something someone said that made me think.

My Personal Hall of Fame—and Shame

Guest post by Marguerite M (Maggie) Culp

I spent some time recently chatting with doctoral students about the evolution of student affairs in the community college. The conversations reminded me of the profound impact that our profession has had on America’s community colleges since the 1960s. They also helped me realize that, in many respects, I owe my career in student affairs to an army of colleagues in colleges and universities throughout the country who served as guides, sounding boards, and—occasionally—rescuers. On the flip side, there were a few people along the way who did their best to make me feel inadequate or powerless.  Spoiler alert: their efforts failed. When I read your blog last week, I thought it might be fun to share my list of the first five people in my personal hall of fame. As you can imagine, it was challenging to settle on just five; but I met these people early in my career, and each had a profound and lasting impact on me as a person and as a professional. They deserve to go first.   

Hall of Fame: The first member of my hall of fame is the vice-chancellor of the Virginia Community College System who sat next to me in a graduate class at the University of Virginia in 1966, convinced me to consider a career in community colleges, and cheered me on when I obtained a counseling position at a large community college near Washington D.C. When my best friend was killed in Vietnam, he checked on me weekly, helped me to continue to function professionally, and set an example of courage and friendship that I will never forget. The entire time the man was helping me, he was battling cancer—and never said a word. When he finally told me, I was furious: the man was only thirty-five years of age and just beginning to make a difference in the world. When I voiced my thoughts, he looked me in the eye and said something I will never forget, “It’s not the time you have, but how you use the time that matters. I will continue to make a difference because you and many others like you will carry on the work I started. Make your life count, Maggie.”  

Ten months after I started work, the college hired a new president: a young, innovative educator from the Florida Community College System. After the president assembled his leadership team, he asked me to orient the team to the programs and services provided by student affairs professionals. He also gave me four pieces of advice that I never have forgotten.  Educate your colleagues: most community college leaders are familiar with academic affairs because they are former faculty members, but they know very little about student affairs. Focus on teaching and learning: help the leadership team understand how partnerships with student affairs have the potential to increase every student’s ability to learn and every faculty member’s teaching effectiveness. Speak with confidence: student affairs professionals may be junior partners, but they are essential junior partners.  Keep it real: use facts and figures to introduce the team to their students and to remind them to pay attention to the whole student.  That conversation alone would have earned the president a spot in my Hall of Fame; but he sealed his selection by nominating me for an NDEA Fellowship and providing numerous opportunities for me to grow professionally, acquire new skills, build positive relationships with faculty, and try out new ideas.       

While attending a series of national conventions, I kept running into an interesting guy whose brain seemed to generate an idea a minute. When I first met the man, he was a dean of students in Florida. The next year, he was a higher education professor at the University of Illinois. Seven years later, he became the executive director of the League for Innovation. Every time I met the man—whether at a formal presentation or over drinks and dinner—I left with dozens of new ideas. My commitment to educating the whole person, student-centered learning, helping students understand who they were and providing them with the tools to lead a good life and earn a good living grew out of our early conversations. Our paths continued to cross over the years. We recently collaborated on a book, and—over fifty years after our first meeting—he still managed to teach me a few things. 

At another convention in St. Louis, I suspected that the speaker was drawing conclusions not supported by data and raised my hand to ask a question. When the presenter skillfully evaded the core of my question, I raised my hand again and asked how he planned to reconcile the inconsistencies between recently published research and the conclusions he was drawing. As I finished my question and started to sit down, the gentleman seated in front of me turned around, extended his hand, and said, “I do not know who you are, but I love you.” And that is how I met the dean of students at a large community college in Texas who, over the years, offered me sage advice—even when I was not sure I needed it. He taught me how to deal with difficult people and effectively read—and navigate—complex political landscapes.   He also introduced me to dozens of student affairs professionals in colleges and universities across the country who played starring roles in my professional life.

There is no better way to close out the list of my first five hall of fame candidates than by including my trusted friend, frequent collaborator, and valued writing partner.  We rarely worked in the same time zone: Virginia, Florida, and Texas for me; Illinois, California, and Arizona for him.  But we always stayed in touch, celebrated the good times and offered support when times got tough. For over forty years, my friend never was more than a phone call away, elevated every book we wrote with his keen insights and finely-tuned prose, motivated me to look for innovative solutions to some challenging problems, and had a knack for seeing through bull****. Whenever I found myself in a professional hole—as I did in 2020 when Covid  prevented a writing team from submitting  a chapter on time for a book I was co-editing—he handed me a shovel and helped me dig my way out. In 2020, the “shovel” was agreeing to work with me to research and write a replacement chapter in three weeks.     

Hall of Shame:  The only thing I can say about the following list is that I rarely think about these people. Remembering them occasionally, however, reminds me what life was like for many women of my generation and how some of our time and talents were squandered dealing with Neanderthals, opportunists, and saboteurs—and the negative force fields that seemed to surround them.   

Neanderthals proudly lived in the past.  My first run in with a Neanderthal occurred when a university professor told me to “get laid, get married, and have children” because no reputable university would waste a seat in a doctoral program on a young, attractive female.  Then there was the dean who, when the president decided that the college would remain open four nights a week until 7:30 p.m., ordered the single women to cover the extended hours because the men had family responsibilities.  My favorite Neanderthals, however, were the deans of three institutions who interviewed me—in different years and in different states—for counseling or leadership positions. One asked if my husband approved of my working. Another wanted to know if I planned to become pregnant in the next few years. The third asked where I worshipped each Sunday, if any of my ancestors had fought for the Union, and if my hair color was natural or came from a bottle. The Neanderthal who left me speechless, however, was the female faculty member who, when I gently reminded her that Jesus would have said that slavery was immoral, cheerfully replied, “Yes, he would have said that. But Jesus would have been wrong.”

Opportunists had no principles except “me first,” liked to build their reputation at someone else’s expense, and saw work as a zero sum game where only one person could win.  Charter members of this group include every administrator, faculty member, or student affairs professional who took credit for programs that worked and publically blamed others when something went wrong as well as those who took credit for another person’s ideas or accomplishments.  Card-carrying members also included staff members who “butted” ideas to death, made supportive statements in meetings and derogatory comments in private, and were absolute artists at denigrating colleagues while insisting they were only trying to help.       

Saboteurs appeared to be honest and above board on the surface, but they had their own agendas. I will never forget the reporter for a weekly newspaper who interviewed me about a new program the college was launching for mature women. He was pleasant, asked solid questions, and then wrote a front-page article that focused almost exclusively on the fact that I wore a pants suit, came from Boston, and probably was trying to bring women’s lib to the county. There also was the seasoned counselor who casually would chat with me about a class I was teaching, or a project I was coordinating, and then go straight to the dean to outline what “the new girl” was doing wrong.  I will never forget the vice-president who, when he saw me working every day in my office during spring break, seized the opportunity to criticize my boss and my colleagues before offering me a position in academic affairs where my talents would not be exploited.

Why the Stroll Down Memory Lane? The surface explanation is that I am trying to stay sane in a world that increasingly resembles the holiday fruitcakes I receive every year: wherever you cut them, there are too many nuts! Remembering all the wonderful people I met during my career and how I managed to educate or isolate the Neanderthals, inactivate the saboteurs, and neuter the opportunists motivates me to continue to fight the good fight; to make a difference every day no matter where I am; and to trust that, in the end, the views of people who are thoughtful, kind, and decent will prevail over the views of the negative and nasty, the power-hungry egotists, the conspiracy theorists, and the data-deniers who seem determined to destroy this country.

The slightly less flattering explanation is that I was disappointed in myself last week.  Workers repairing my sprinkler system started to spout “truisms” like a college degree is worthless because the curriculum has been watered down to allow women, Latinos, and Blacks to graduate; the events of January 6th never happened;  and Putin has the right idea—take what you want. I patiently tried to help them rethink their “truisms.”  When they doubled down, I verbally eviscerated them and fired the company. Later than day, I could hear my dad telling his nineteen year old daughter that “The toughest battle you will fight in your life is not the battle to change the world, but the battle to make sure the world does not change you.”  Creating a personal hall of fame was an attempt to remember who I was, work harder to prevent the world from changing me, and not disappoint my dad.          

Marguerite M (Maggie) Culp is a higher education consultant and former faculty member, counselor, dean, and senior student affairs officer. She is co-Editor of six books including the recently published Student Success in the Community College: What Really Works?

Mementos for a Rainy Day

If you’re like me, it’s easier to recall the slights, humiliations, put-downs, and general meanness experienced than the kind, gracious, generous, and loving messages received.

In my quest to clear my memento cache, I discovered that I had squirreled away some of the kind messages that I’d received.

For me, this blog serves as a way to preserve parts of these messages kept for a rainy day. It is my hope that this encourages you to not only reflect on such messages you have received, but also to be the giver of such encouragement. Such messages go a long way in countering the negative messages, and often are treasured by the receiver far more than we know.

For instance, when I faced challenges in my leadership role, Mike affirmed that, “You, more than any single person, are responsible for the success of NASPA. I thank you for your amazing service to our Association and for your friendship over the years.”

And KC took it to another level:

Thank you very much for another year of progressive and excellent leadership at NASPA. You have had a wonderful and lasting impact especially with the new and young professionals who have become a part of the organization. Your leadership has been very “Heroic” meaning it is visionary, energizing, passionate, enduring, courageous, and loving. During my undergraduate years, I always heard and witnessed the Jesuits speaking and going on about “Heroic Leadership,” and I thought it was something unique to them as an order or religious organization. However, after witnessing you, your presence, and your leadership at and with NASPA, you too have it and are a “Heroic Leader.” You and your presence touch thousands in a very positive manner year in and year out. Thank you very much for leading and creating an organization that all members can be proud of and develop full ownership in. (December 31, 2007, KC)

Indeed, the messages from and about the young professionals like RW that I sought to mentor hold a special place in my heart:

Bless you! Thank you so much for supporting my efforts to pursue my education. I am very thankful for you taking time out of your hectic schedule to support me…. You are an amazing role model and mentor.

And when I wasn’t always sure how well a presentation had been received, messages like these made all the difference:

I can’t begin to describe the passion and sincerity with which luncheon participants described your presentation. They were deeply moved, and they were moved because you told them the truth in a manner that allowed them to hear it. However, after telling them the reality of these times we live in, you gave them reasons for and ways to keep hope alive. (December 2000, GE)


I really enjoyed my one-on-one visits with you and was grateful beyond words that you were our group leader. Your presentation Thursday really got me thinking, and I have been working hard on articulating my personal formula (which we hope to have our staff do as well later this summer). (July 30, 2007, JC)

And in those times when you wonder if others see the vision toward which you’re working as the leader of an organization, messages like the one from XR let you know that the sacrifices are paying off:

During your tenure NASPA has expanded internationally, grown in membership, significantly expanded its financial assets, and has become “the” voice of student development nationally. In addition, under your vision and leadership, NASPA has become our collective voice in Washington and on Capitol Hill—a role that becomes stronger as the years pass. (November 3, 2005)

And, finally, there are the messages that convey more than collegiality, but a true friendship and understanding of one as a person (down to the use of “integrity” as part of my FIRE mnemonic):

It is a pleasure working with you, Gwen. In addition to your high level of competency, and even, rational approach and warmth with people, you have a tremendous integrity that underlies all your work. I am so proud that you represent NASPA to the world—you make us look really good, and I consider myself fortunate to have this opportunity to come to know you and work with you. (December 17, 1998, KRH)


I just wanted to sincerely thank you for your support and friendship over the past few years. I truly enjoyed my time on the Board and have always been so impressed with the amount of passion and grace with which you do your work. I have learned so much by simply watching you and I sincerely hope we are able to stay connected. Thank you for everything and know how much you are appreciated. With much gratitude. (March 16, 2010, Pauline)

I am truly grateful for the support and friendship of so many over the years.


I called the cab stand and Miss Henrietta, the operator, answered saying, “Orange Mound Cab Stand.” As always, without giving a name, I asked, “Is my Daddy there?” I heard her yell, “James, your baby is on the phone!” When Daddy came to the phone, he asked, “Are you alright? Where y’all at?”

I was seven years old going on eight, and my little brother was one going on two. Reflecting on what happened in 1951 and 1952, it’s as if the ring of the call I made was a bell tolling for the demise of our fragile family. Except for during the first months of my life when James rented a room in a boarding house to which he could bring Lottie Mae shortly after I was born in 1944, it was during 1951 and 1952 that we lived together as a family.

It wasn’t long before we were once again living with our mother’s parents on Hollywood Street. Sometime before my eighth birthday in 1952, our mother’s father was called to Chicago to help take care of his gravely ill brother. After being in Chicago for a short while, he sent for our grandmother to join him.

Because our mother, Muhdear, also was gravely ill with what had been diagnosed as terminal, our grandmother insisted that Muhdear, my brother, and I go to Chicago with her. Muhdear did not tell our Daddy that she was leaving Memphis and taking us with her. She was too sick to remain on her own with us in Memphis, and she knew that Daddy would never allow her to take us to Chicago. He didn’t know where we were until he received that fateful call from me.  

 In Chicago, my grandparents were able to rent what was called an attic “apartment,” in the same building where our grandfather’s sick brother lived. The apartment was one long room under the eaves with enough space for a small bathroom, a stove, and refrigerator. The eating table was at the foot of the bed, the only space available.  

Leaving her baby boy with her parents in the “apartment,” Muhdear and I were essentially homeless, sleeping on couches and makeshift floor pallets at the homes of various cousins, aunts, and uncles. During the day, Muhdear sometimes took me with her while she looked for work.

Life in Chicago made me long to go back to Memphis. Because our condition was so bad and she was so sick, I frequently asked Muhdear if I could call Daddy to come get us. Years later, when I asked what made her change her mind to allow me to call our Daddy that day, this is what she told me:

Snow was deep and the street cars would not wait for you to get on with children.  One day, I got up on the streetcar and paid my seven cents. When I looked around, you were still on the platform. This really scared me, and I began to wonder if I could take care of my children in my condition. I knew that if anything happened to you all, I would rather be dead, and I knew if anything happened to Rabbit’s (James’) children, he would kill me because I left him and took you all with me.  

So, when Daddy arrived to take us back to Memphis, she got in the car for the sake of her children to make the risky but necessary trip back to Memphis.