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A bigger and better Community and Campus Day honors Francine Childs

May 26, 2004
By George Mauzy

In its third year, Community and Campus Day was officially off and running after the traditional opening ceremony held at Margaret M. Walter Hall during the Black Alumni Reunion weekend.

Amber Tabler paints the face of Marqus Byrd. Photo by Rick FaticaThe ceremony included addresses from University President Robert Glidden; Athens Mayor Ric Abel; Chesterhill, Ohio, Mayor and Professor Richard Wetzel; Executive Director of Alumni Relations Ralph Amos; and Chair of African American Studies Vibert Cambridge.

Marie and Ada Woodson Adams, daughter and wife of the late co-founder of Community and Campus Day, Alvin Adams, took time to pay tribute to the man who earned a living as a news reporter for more than 30 years. Some of his most notable work came while he was a reporter for Jet magazine in Chicago during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. As one of the co-founders of the Multicultural Genealogical Center and Community and Campus Day, he has left his mark in southeastern Ohio forever. In 1959, he became the first black graduate of Ohio University's journalism school, now known as the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Patrons of Community and Campus Day, the multicultural event that was created in 2002 to celebrate the history of people of color in Appalachia, were entertained, captivated and educated by short films, musicians, singers and choirs, along with a plethora of table displays featuring artwork, memorabilia, paintings, photos and published materials.

One of the exhibitors was 83-year-old Chicago historian Timuel Black, who was visiting Athens for the first time. In addition to hosting a brown bag discussion on Friday at the Athens County Historical Society and Museum, he hosted a table display which featured his recently published book "Bridges of Memory: Chicago's First Wave of Black Migration," which is the first of a trilogy of books he will publish about the history of African Americans in Chicago.

Black collected many of the stories while he was working as a history teacher for more than 15 years at three Chicago public high schools, DuSable, Dunbar and Hyde Park. Now retired, Black shared stories about famous and non-famous Chicagoans, including former Chicago Urban League Executive Director Bill Berry. Bill Berry is a descendent of Edward C. Berry, the Athens hotelier who was honored posthumously throughout the weekend. Berry, who died in 1931, was honored along with his wife, Martha Madry Berry, with commemorative plaques at Ohio University's Alumni Gate and the Court Street site of the now-demolished Berry Hotel.

"Most people don't know that Chicago produced the first 12 black CPAs in America," Black says. "They also don't know the name of Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, an African-American who became the first non-native American settler in Chicago in the 1770s. I taught black history in the schools when it was prohibited. I got around the rules by calling it American history."

Wonderful performances were given throughout the day by an assortment of singers, musicians and actors, including Patricia Thomas-Wilson, who performed an act from her one-person play about the travel of fictional slave Jane and her seven children on the Underground Railroad, "The Escape of Jane."

Aside from the entertainment, the day reached its apex during a nearly two-hour tribute to longtime Ohio University Professor of African American Studies Francine Childs. She has recently hinted at retirement after 30 years of serving as a mother figure to hundreds of Ohio University students, faculty and staff and many members of the Athens community.

As the line of emotional speakers made their way to the stage to share heartfelt stories about Childs, who also pastors Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Athens' oldest African American church, tears and shouts of "amen" were in abundance. Assistant Professor of Communication Patricia Cambridge played a special song on the piano to pay tribute to Childs amidst the speakers.

"She gives us all what we need, when we need it," says former Ohio University trustee Donald Spencer. "She is the glue that holds us together."

"She has always been a bridge between students and home," says Ohio University trustee Patricia Ackerman. "You can't count the number of lives she has impacted."

"Dr. Childs brought us together as an African American Studies faculty in the '70s" says Robert Rhodes, a retired Ohio University faculty member.

Francine Childs thanks attendees at the portion of Campus and Community Day in her honor. Photo by Rick Fatica.Pastor Walter Moss, one of the six founding members of the Gospel Voices of Faith choir, says he had to show up for Childs' tribute. "Her love for people of all colors is awesome," he says. "She is the reason I am a pastor and I love her." The Gospel Voices of Faith was founded in 1974 by Ohio University students who wanted to worship God in song. The choir's first performance was in 1975, the same year it became an official University student organization and Childs has been the group's sole adviser.

"At a time when I thought I wouldn't live after being diagnosed with cancer as a doctoral student, Dr. Childs went to my home and prayed a prayer of healing with me and my parents," says Ohio University alumnus Rex Crawley. "To this day, I don't allow my college students to call me 'Doc,' because in my mind, that title is reserved for one person, Dr. Francine Childs."

Many of the other Ohio University alumni in attendance made it clear that the tribute to Childs was the primary reason they returned for the reunion. Gospel Voices of Faith alumni Johnny Jenkins, now living in Scranton, Pa., and Terrie Ray Logan, a resident of San Diego, Calif., both professed their love for Childs by saying that when they heard that she was being honored, they knew they had to make it back.

Childs finally took the stage and said she was both honored and humbled by the kind words.

"It was because of the students that I came to Ohio University and it is because of the students that I stayed," Childs says. "Many years ago during an interview for a job at another college in New York, I began to talk about my relationship with the students at Ohio University and one of the interviewers told me that as much as they wanted me to come to their university, they knew that they would never have my heart. She said, 'Ma'am, your heart will always be back in Ohio.' I have been so happy to have been a servant to Ohio University and the people in the community. I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

"This day marks a new beginning at Ohio University," says Vibert Cambridge. "It was an epiphany when the Gospel Voices of Faith and the Ohio University Singers performed gospel music together. The crowds have been larger this year and the whole day has had lots of energy. I am very pleased with the outcome."

George Mauzy is a media specialist with University Communications and Marketing.

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