The Presidents Round Table: Living Our Legacy In Real Time

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On October 7, 2022, 13 retired African American Presidents, Chancellors and Senior Executives gathered early on a Saturday morning to discuss contemporary issues in higher education, examine the looming impacts of current politics across local communities, while simultaneously discussing the then and now of as the Presidents Round Table approaches 40 years of leadership, service and commitment. Why was this significant? Because these “retired” leaders in community colleges were either founders of the Round Table or very significant in its continuing journey from 1983 to the present.

The way in which thirteen former active members of the Presidents’ Roundtable (PRT) convened was very different brought on by the advancements of technology and the ways in which communication has changed over the past two-three years! We relied on videoconferencing/zoom technology to greet one another, engage in conversation, share, and learn. Among those present were Dr. Richard Turner, one of the founders of the PRT. Additionally, the group was joined by Dr. Belle Wheelan, the author of the first curriculum for the Thomas Lakin Institute. The topic of the day was connected to a professional development activity centered on the topic of Legacy. 

As we always do, in the ways of our ancestors, the current convener, Dr. L. Marshall Washington welcomed those present and turned to Dr. Andrew Jones and Dr. Jennifer Wimbish to honor those who led beside us but no longer walk this earth. began with an African American tradition of honoring and respecting those no longer with us, and we continue to stand on their broad shoulders. Our Heroes and Sheroes were bold enough to care and give time to building an organization that we are proud to be a part of today. Homage was paid to many who made significant contributions to the PRT. Among those mentioned were founders, Dr. Roy Phillips, Dr. Wright Lassiter, and Dr. Abel Sykes. 

We said their names and many others, followed by the tradition of speaking ‘Ashe (ahh-Shay) for the time they walked the land, led our community colleges and contributed mightily to the organization. It was a powerful moment as we considered those we lost because we could, simultaneously, celebrate the many African-American community college presidents and senior executives because they were the first.

The first portion of the assembly was devoted to a discussion of Legacy that focused on the individual goals of the participants – the reasons for joining the Presidents Round Table and the reasons for remaining connected. Many asked how they could continue to support and contribute to current efforts by capturing the past, present, and future in such a way that it fully denotes the contributions of individual leaders through authorship. The possibilities to extend the written history of the Round Table and, concurrently, project its future are endless. Many believe that writing is necessary to build upon the first publication – The Chocolate Truth, authored under the leadership of Past Convener, Dr. Helen Benjamin and to tell their individual stories, including what motivates them today. The session ended with the group defining the past legacy of the organization, as they developed combined thoughts on the future legacy of the organization.

The second topic was devoted to the actual “thinking about retirement.”  What is necessary to know and do to ensure it is the retirement one desires and works toward while working. There will likely more statements of fact, questions, and things to ponder – how do I want to live in retirement, where do I want to live, and what do I want to do, how do I stay connected to this profession where I have spent the majority of my thinking and doing, and lastly, what do I have to contribute, and where can it be accepted?

Finally, the third topic emerged – consulting, coaching, and mentoring across the wide diaspora of higher education and all it touches – community colleges, four-year publics and privates, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Predominantly White Institutions, community advocacy, and social justice in all of its many forms. There was not a retiree in the session who had not engaged in at least one of these efforts, and many were doing all three in addition to writing! The one constant refrain was how this work could support the PRT, its members, and others who have similar commitments to carry the torch of equitable and just communities.

Retirees have emerged as a new population for the PRT. There are continuing efforts, and rightfully so, to remain attentive to new and emerging members. There is mutual benefit in defining and acknowledging the ways in which this category of membership can thrive and contribute to the organization’s tremendous success. There is immediate recognition that as we live and learn, the importance of knowledge transfer is especially critical as we face the potential of a brave new world and build a legacy that provides direction for new generations of leaders who remain committed to the values, principles, and goals and exercise the need for more contemporary translations that advocate for the care and support of the Black community.

From California, to Texas, to Alabama, to Michigan, to Georgia, to South Carolina, to Maryland and Missouri and all the states in between, the attendees recognized that our commitment to and work with the Presidents Round Table is not over; it continues! The mission of the organization is clear – support each other as institutional leaders, provide professional development resources, coaching, and mentoring opportunities; ensuring equal access to opportunities for fellow members and Black CEOs by leveraging their combined knowledge, networks, and experiences, and; identifying and responding to challenges affecting African-Americans in community colleges.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the Legacy of the Presidents Round Table stands strong and continues to serve as a resource and connection for senior executives and retirees. 

 

Dr. Andrew Jones, Retired Chancellor Coast Community College District

Dr. Jennifer Wimbish, President Emerita, Cedar Valley College, Dallas College

Dr. Sharon Blackman, Retired Vice Chancellor, Dallas College

Dr. Charlene Mickens Dukes, President Emerita, Prince George’s Community College  

Dr. Edward Valeau, Superintendent-President Emeritus, Hartnell Community College

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