Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A living history book in the heart of central Minnesota

I spent a lovely Monday evening with St. Cloud State University's associate multi-cultural dean Dr. Carolyn Ruth Williams. A simple interview turned into a thoroughly history lesson which I was a very attentive student.

Her office inside the school's College of Education building is windowless. Stepping inside, you step into history that no book could rightfully tell. Pictures and letters of gratitude from former students. Memories from her travels overseas. Overflowing bookshelves. Awards that somehow got lost in fully recognizing her numerous accomplishments.

Look up multi-cultural in the dictionary and you'll see Williams, a proud woman whose family roots intertwined through Cherokee, Greek and African. Her uncle is a Tuskegee Airman. Her grandfather started a church down south.

I never met someone who worked at NASA, which Williams once ran a special program.

I never met anyone whose father once studied under Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, which Williams proudly allowed to slip out during our discussions.

I never met a granddaughter of a woman who once served meals to President Abraham Lincoln.

I never met a Black person whose family got their repartition, their "40 acres and a mule" rightly promised to Blacks after slavery -- Williams' family got several acres of land in northern Alabama, which still today belongs to her family.

I never met anyone who loves school as much as she -- Williams has three Masters degrees, a Ph.D., studied in England and China. "I always loved going to school," she unabashedly admits. Her parents fully supported her, as did her husband James, who allowed his wife to take sabbaticals from their marriage as she pursued her educational and professional aspirations, living in separate quarters, several states apart at times.

I never met anyone who after our official interview officially ended, wanted to continue to talk. She wouldn't allow me to leave without giving me something; as hard as I tried, she wouldn't take no as my answer. Dr. Williams gave me a new book on Black politics.

We continued our discussion at a local eatery, which one of Williams' students once took her, and the dean fell in love with it. We talked and talked even after it closed its doors for the business day, sharing family stories and personal recollections. The couple of hours seemed like a few minutes.

Williams later e-mailed me, thanking me for the interview, saying I was a God-send. This again is a first for me -- typically I believe that most interviewees rather have root canal work than having to endure my sometimes rambling questions. I am one of those rare reporters, who act like I don't know anything and that the person or persons I am talking with is the expert.

Something that I did not do during our first encounter, I totally disagree with the longtime educator. Instead, Williams was the God-send, a refreshing cap to a day, that up to that point, was rather long and tedious. I sincerely hope that St. Cloud State University students, faculty and staff soon realize this as well, and give Williams her proper respect, which has been long overdue and her work long underappreciated.

(Williams' interview is in the September 27 print and on-line edition of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder -- www.spokesman-recorder.com)

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