According to jbhe.com, professor and writer John Warner Smith has been appointed by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the state’s Governor, John Bel Edwards, to serve as the next Poet Laureate of Louisiana. This appointment makes Smith the first African American man to hold the position.
“John Warner Smith’s writing captures the human experience through meaningful, passionate poetry that moves your emotions. John is not only a talented and gifted poet, he is a trailblazer who devotes himself to education and the greater good of the community,” Gov. Edwards said.
“He is making history today as the first African American male appointed as Louisiana Poet Laureate, and I’m confident that John will serve our great state well. I want to thank the LEH for leading this search, and I congratulate all of the nominees whose writings tell the unique stories of Louisiana, the place we call home.”
Currently, Smith teaches English at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He has published four collections of poetry: Muhammad’s Mountain(Lavender Ink, 2018), Spirits of the Gods (University of Louisiana Lafayette Press, 2017), Soul Be A Witness(MadHat Press, 2016), and A Mandala of Hands(Kelsay Books-Aldrich Press, 2015). His fifth collection, Out Shut Eyes: New & Selected Poems on Race in America, is forthcoming this year from MadHat Press.
The University of California Berkeley is naming its newest residence hall in honor of David Blackwell. Dr. Blackwell, an accomplished statistician, was the first African American to be grant tenured at the university. He joined the mathematics department at Berkeley in 1954 and stayed on the faculty there until retiring in 1988. Dr. Blackwell died in 2010.
The new residence hall will house 750 undergraduate students and is expected to be ready to open this fall. Chancellor Carol Christ said that Professor Blackwell is “an exemplar of what Berkeley stands for: scholarly excellence of the highest caliber tied to a mission of social justice and inclusion.”
A native of Illinois, in 1935 Blackwell entered the University of Illinois at the age of 16. By 1941 he had earned bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics. He then joined the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton but left after one year. Professor Blackwell taught at Southern University and Atlanta University before joining the faculty at Howard University in 1944. At Howard, he became a full professor and chaired the department of mathematics. In 1965 Dr. Blackwell was the first African American to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.
Kim Hunter Reed has been appointed by President Barack Obama as Deputy Under Secretary of Education. Dr. Reed will be a member of the senior leadership team at the Department of Education that oversees higher education in the United States.
Dr. Reed is the former chief of staff for the Louisiana Board of Regents and the former executive vice president of the University of Louisiana System. Earlier, she served on the faculty at Southern University in Baton Rouge and was executive assistant to the president and interim vice president of student affairs at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.
Dr. Reed earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalist and master of public administration degree at Southeastern Louisiana University. She holds a doctorate in public policy from Southern University.
Joseph “Gabe” Sonnier is now the principal at the Louisiana elementary school where he served as a janitor for 27 years. Sonnier had been working at Port Barre Elementary for over 30 years when he was selected as their new principal last November. He originally began his college education at Southern University, The Advocate reports, but dropped out in 1979 after one year to help support his mother and four siblings.
The inspiration to complete his education degree came in 1985, when the principal at the time approached him about becoming a teacher, reports CBS. The former custodian began studying in his free time and working towards his degree, which he earned and began teaching in 2008, according to The Advocate. Sonnier continued his education and completed his masters degree through Arkansas State University.
The newly appointed principal recognizes his accomplishments, and even still cleans his own office. “Don’t let your situation that you’re in now define what you’re going to become later,” Sonnier told CBS. “I always tell them it’s not where you start, it’s how you finish.”
In December 2012, Polite Stewart Jr. earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While a very small percentage of bachelor’s degree awards in physics go to African Americans, Stewart’s achievement is all the more remarkable given that he is only 18 years old.
Stewart got offers from colleges and universities across the country but decided to attend college near his home, about 10 miles from the Southern University campus. When he was high school age, Stewart took college-level classes at Southern University’s Timbuktu Academy. He had been home schooled.
During college he conducted summer research at North Carolina State University. He plans to start graduate school in the fall and pursue a career in biological and physics engineering.