Fall 2019 A&M Magazine

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FALL 2019

























LAYOUT AND DESIGN Jaymee Smith Brion Eason WRITERS LaNedra Carroll Veronique George Yanela G. McLeod, Ph.D. Keith Miles April Simpson Andrew Skerritt Simone Williams Jasmine Nichole Thomas PHOTOGRAPHY Adam Taylor Vaughn Wilson azure77.com COMMUNICATIONS STAFF Carol Angela Davis, associate director Britney Smith, assistant director , publications Andrew Skerritt, assistant director, media relations Keith Miles, senior projects manager Vernon Bryant, special events Adam Taylor, photographer/videographer Veronique George, social media Jaymee Smith, senior graphic designer Brion Eason, graphic designer Tawanda Finley, executive assistant Lawana Clark, administrative assistant FOR MORE INFORMATION (850) 599-3413 Twitter: twitter.com/FAMU_1887 Facebook Search: Florida A&M University YouTube: YouTube.com/FAMUTube1887 www.FAMU.edu www.FAMUnews.com

The A&M Magazine is the official magazine of Florida A&M University, and is designed to inform alumni, supporters, and friends about issues of importance about the University. This public document was promulgated at a total cost of $7,735 or $1.35 per copy. FAMU is an Equal Opportunity/Equal Access University.

message Greetings Students, Alumni, Friends and FAMU Supporters:

Welcome to the Highest Ranked Public HBCU listed among U.S. News & World Report’s Top Public Schools. It is the time of year when we look forward to the Rattler Nation’s return to the Tallahassee campus for one of the University’s most exciting shared experiences: the annual Florida A&M University Homecoming. Whether you have traveled to Florida’s Capital City or you are with us virtually, the message is the same. Welcome home, Rattlers! During this year’s “The Experience,” you will see, hear and feel many new and different things. You will also experience the commitment of our faculty, staff, students and senior administrators to “excellence with caring” as we launch our Customer Service Excellence strategic initiative. Every interaction with the University – whether a telephone call, an email or attendance at a University event – must be conducted at the highest level of performance by members of our team. You will read in this issue of A&M Magazine what we are doing at the University to serve all of our stakeholders. You will also read about alumni who are changing the world through research, contributions to sports and medicine, and personal truths expressed through literature. On these pages, read about Dr. LaSalle Leffall’s journey from FAMU to his impactful career as one of the nation’s pre-eminent oncologists and esteemed medical educators. You will learn more about my recent trip to represent our University at a tribute to FAMU alumna Althea Gibson, one of the world’s most amazing athletes who rose to world championship status on the tennis courts right here on The “Hill.” It was thrilling to be present at the national tribute and unveiling of a statue in her honor. I am looking forward to another proud Rattler moment in November when the photo of Marching “100” Founder William P. Foster and members of the Marching “100” (pictured on page 7) will be displayed on November 15 and beyond in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Exciting stories include one about Rattlers who are laboring in the University’s science labs and making international headlines because of the work they are doing with 3D cornea implants; one day, countless people with eye injuries will be helped by their work. Tune in to the message and the sound of a son of FAMU, Darryl Tookes, who considered several other prestigious opportunities before he looked homeward to FAMU -- where he is now bringing his talents, teachings and life experiences to the Music Department as the Director of Music Research and Music Industry Studies. When we asked Head Rattler Football Coach Willie Simmons to come home to take on the job that he is in for the second season, we got a package deal: His wife, Shaia Simmons, is a lifetime Rattler who spoke with the A&M Magazine team. In a question-and-answer session, she gave us all a glimpse of what “football and FAMUly” are all about for the Simmons family. In closing, we hope you enjoy this issue that looks at the culture of FAMU – who we are and what we do. Enjoy “The Experience.” Rising Together,

Larry Robinson, Ph.D. President


message Welcome back, Rattlers! It is our pleasure to welcome you all back for Homecoming. As you participate in “The Experience 2019,” we wish you good times, reunions with friends and great memories of your times at Florida A&M University. LaNedra Carroll Project Manager

Homecoming is certainly the time to return for reflections upon the old and to create new memories. It is also a time to give back to the university that has given its best to you over the years. It is all of that and so much more. We, at A&M Magazine, have worked to give you our best in this special Homecoming issue. We chose to shine the light on “The Culture of FAMU” -- in the broadest sense – through the lenses of the arts, traditions, the sciences, sports legends, history and more. It has been rejuvenating to look at new alumni faces who are heating up the airwaves, stages and television screens; to celebrate the significant research that is taking place right here on The “Hill,” for cutting-edge solutions to today’s challenges in health care; and to give a silent Rattler strike to fallen alumni who have made their mark on the ages.

Andrew Skerritt Editor

Dr. LaSalle Leffall Jr., MD, renowned oncologist and medical educator, is recognized for a life of major firsts and his global contributions to his field. The late Althea Gibson, phenomenal tennis champion, has been gone for decades now, but not forgotten. FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., traveled recently to New York City for a national tribute to Gibson and the unveiling of the Gibson statue.

This was a good time to catch some of the heat that alumnus Ibram X. Kendi is generating nationwide with his latest book, “How to be an Antiracist.” His name and thoughts are everywhere. If you aren’t familiar with his name, don’t sleep on it: He is featured in publications such as the New Yorker, the Guardian to the New York Times Bestseller List and others. We hope that you will also enjoy reading about one of FAMU’s sons, Darryl Tookes, who has returned home to share his life lessons and professional knowledge from the music industry with students in Music Industry Studies. He says coming home is his legacy. FAMU legacies, tradition and culture mean everything to us. That’s why we reached out to Shaia Simmons, wife of Head Rattler Football Coach Willie Simmons. In her own words, she lets us into her personal FAMU locker room, sharing traditions, history and upcoming plans for Game Day weekend. In closing, when you think of the FAMU culture, of course, whose thoughts don’t have The Set, The Charge, the Snake Walk and countless other FAMU traditions surface? We trust that, in this issue of the A&M, your experience at FAMU – as a student, alumnus, family member, friend or supporter – will be called to the front during this year’s celebration. So, as is the FAMU way, let’s unpack that Rattler Spirit and get to work on some great orangeand-green memories at “Homecoming: The Experience 2019!”

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR The A&M Magazine welcomes letters to the editor about stories in its issues. We reserve the right to edit emails and letters for clarity or spacing. Emails may be sent to: communications@famu.edu or letters may be mailed to the Office of Communications, Florida A&M University, 1601 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite 200 Lee Hall, Tallahassee, Florida 32307-3100.

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By LaNedra Carroll

CULTURE is the set of ideas, behaviors, attitudes, and traditions that exist within large groups of people (usually of a common religion, family, or something similar). These ideas, behaviors, traditions, etc. are passed on from one generation to the next and are typically resistant to change over time. Florida A&M University (FAMU) has been a lighthouse for Black education and uplift for 132 years. From its earliest days to its glorious presence as one of the nation’s top public Historically Black Universities – as just announced by U.S. News & World Report – it has been a place where Olympians were bred, historic “firsts” occurred, scholars were nurtured, high-stepping performers changed the marching world and stars of all genres were born. FAMU is foundational to Black political, economic and cultural success in Florida and beyond. To be a Rattler is to be imbued with confidence not just in your own ability, but also in the education, mentoring and training you have received. That confidence, like the hill students climb from Foote-Hilyer to Lee Hall, is part of the culture of FAMU. Effort is a virtue. Winning is a gift. Overcoming is mandatory. Standing for something meant something. Raising a voice with a message that resonates nationwide is welcomed. Establishing bonds that lasts for a lifetime and seeded in the red-clay hills, undying. Yes, FAMU has been an orange-and-green shimmering light, a symbol of change, hope, charity and victory for more than a century. Whether “on gridiron, diamond, track and field” generations of Rattlers have been formidable. For most, as far back as your childhood dreams can take you, FAMU has beckoned “Come, I am your mother, your alma mater” where neither color nor creed nor neighborhood nor purse strings define whether you are allowed to grab hold of an opportunity like no other: to obtain a college degree. Here, we have what you need: a range of academic choices, cultural opportunities and a wealth of first-time experiences. That’s right. FAMU has been shining the light. Bathing in the comfort of that light are generations of students who are now alumni. The messages they heard, the mottos they recited, the pride they felt, the rituals they rehearsed, the occasions they celebrated . . . the songs they sang, the hopes they dreamed of and the stories they told themselves and the rest of the world are woven into an orange and green tapestry we call culture. To see it, to hear it, to feel it is to know it. To know it is to embrace and love it. FAMU culture is, has been and will always be. By now it should be easy to see that FAMU culture is all dimensions of who we are – and what we are. We are FAMU culture.


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Intractable Issue Washington, D.C.

Ibram X. Kendi is running behind on a recent Tuesday

morning after his now 3-year-old daughter, Imani, refused to get into her car seat. The historian and New York Times bestselling author knows, however, that, like debating with folks about race, negotiating with toddlers can be frustrating. Carrying a leather messenger bag over a muscular frame, and casually dressed in a maroon polo and dark denim jeans, Kendi resembles a graduate student. It’s tough to hear him in this noisy café on the American University (AU) campus in a well-heeled Washington, D.C., neighborhood. He teaches history and international relations at AU, where he founded the Antiracist Research and Policy Center. At that moment, Kendi is on the verge of going global. His latest book “How To Be an Antiracist” (One World) was about to be published in London, England, ahead of the August launch in America. He was prepping for the book tour, which would take him across the Atlantic and, to cities across America. He explains a key idea in the book.

The most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind. THE NEW YORK TIMES

“In this society, we are raised to be racist,” Kendi says. “Being an antiracist is looking out at the world and seeing the world of inequity as abnormal, seeing the cause of that inequity as racist

policies, and seeing the racial groups as equals.” No one who knew Kendi during his undergraduate years at FAMU is surprised by his success. Back then, he was named Ibram Henry Rogers. (In 2013, he changed his middle name to the Zulu, “Xolani,” meaning peace, and took the last name Kendi after he married Sadiqa Kendi, a pediatric emergency physician from Albany, Ga.) When he first came to FAMU dreaming of being a sportswriter, Kendi entered the School of Journalism & Graphic

Communication. After internships at the Mobile Register and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, by his own account, he soured on sports journalism and began focusing on the issue of racial justice. He graduated from FAMU in 2004 with a second major in African-American Studies. “I took courses in African and African-American history with Dr. [David] Jackson my senior year and I would have taken them much earlier to get a head start,” Kendi says. “I would have been writing about race all along and not just by my senior year.” The former Tallahassee Democrat intern and journalism student was always thoughtful and interested in the big questions about racism, injustice and inequality. David Jackson, Ph.D., is now associate provost and dean of Graduate Studies. Over the years, he has encountered his former student at professional conferences and on campus when Kendi came to discuss his award-winning book. “Ibram has blossomed into a distinguished scholar,” said Jackson, who saw Kendi’s potential when Kendi was a double major. “He is doing some dynamic work in the field. One of the things that I respect about him is that he recognized the value of that degree at FAMU.” Even though Kendi was interested in history, he still had to get newspaper journalism out of his system. He worked as a reporter for The Virginian-Pilot before leaving in 2010 to pursue his master’s and a doctorate in African American Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia. His first teaching assignments were at the State University of New York Oneonta and SUNY Albany. He later taught at Ivy League Brown University and the University of Florida before his current role at American University. His first book, “The Black Campus Movement,” (Macmillan), won the W.E.B. Dubois Book Prize. He followed up with “Stamped from The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” which the Guardian described “as a timely history of racist ideas in America.” For his work, Kendi won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. At 34, he was the youngest recipient of the award. In 2017, he founded the Antiracist Research and Policy Center

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at AU. The seminal center pairs scholars, policymakers, journalists and advocates to examine racial problems and propose policy solutions. The nontraditional pairings reflect Kendi’s background as a writer and academic who’s delved deeply into activism and policy studies.

bandages when we got home in solidarity with Daddy,” Kendi wrote. “It all started looking up.” Back then the book project, still in gestation, was on his mind. The drive to finish pushed him to get well.

“Kendi is a part of a cadre of scholars I have had the pleasure to teach,” Jackson said. “I am glad to see him fly, and I look forward to seeing him reach the highest heights.” A prolific writer and public intellectual, Kendi’s op-eds and essays have appeared in such national publications as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post and the Atlantic, for whom he is an ideas columnist. Behind his buttoned-up and quiet persona, Kendi is relentless about defending his opinions. This is a dude who argues his point, even if unpopular, according to friends. In college, an innocent debate almost came to blows when Kendi, a die-hard Knicks fan, argued that Allen Houston, a New York Knicks shooting guard, was a better player than Michael Jordan. “The guy is fearless,” said college buddy G. Devan Tripp, who is now a human resources executive in Atlanta. Still, from graduation to academia to marriage to fatherhood and to national recognition, Kendi has stayed grounded, his friends say. He’s always humble and gracious about his work – just not about the Knicks. He’d never share his accolades with strangers unprompted. “In the midst of talking trash, he’s working,” says former roommate Jean Brunache, now a seventh-grade science teacher in Fort Lauderdale. Brunache, Tripp and Kendi all lived together in a two-story townhouse in Tallahassee while attending FAMU. In 2018, though, life took a serious, near-tragic turn. Kendi was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. Kendi kept his cool. Despite the dismal survival rate, friends tried to talk to him as if everything was OK. Sometimes, it seemed the diagnosis hit them harder than Kendi. “I remember the lack of care that he had about himself and what might happen with his career,” Tripp recalled. “The only thing he cared about was his wife, Imani, his parents; the things that he wanted to do for the world and society.” CANCER SURVIVOR In early September, to celebrate the anniversary of his successful surgery, Kendi took to Twitter to remember the ordeal accompanied by photos of him while in the hospital. Back then, his daughter gave him a reason for hope and optimism. “My prognosis looked bright as my daughter’s eyes who held my hands through the pain in the hospital and demanded to wear



“I started thinking in the hospital that, when I regained my strength, I could finish the book. I feared Stage 4 cancer would not let me finish. (yes, I was already preparing to write again through reading great prose in the ICU). A year later that book, “How to Be An AntiRacist,” is a bestseller and inspiring people. Incredible the radical difference a year makes?” he wrote on Twitter. Kendi wasn’t telling his story just for retweets. Like the fight against racism, he was trying to encourage others in the battle of their lives. “It was too painful to share these pictures last year, and it is still painful,” he said of the pictures with him in hospital garb. “But I share them first and foremost for anyone in this cancer fight, for anyone nursing someone in this cancer fight, so they can know there is another side to the pain.” Among Kendi’s other missions is to make history – especially the story of Black America – more widely accessible. He’s working on an African-American history book of text and pictures tentatively titled “400 souls,” which spans 1619 to 2019. Eighty writers will cover their expertise over five-year periods. Ten poets and 10 painters will create original works focused on 40-year stretches. The academic, who has enthralled readers with his deep thoughts and hefty arguments, understands that the progress of the past 65 years could be endangered if the common man or woman doesn’t know the true story of how far we’ve come. “I’m trying to figure out ways to make history and ideas accessible to everyday people,” Kendi says. “Instead of me blaming people for not knowing, I’ll always ask myself, ‘What is it that I can do to create a product that will cause them to want to know, or cause them to know?’”



2019 MEAC Baseball Championship Special to the A&M Magazine By Dan Ryan, B-CU Athletics Staff Historian and Senior Staff Writer DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.

days’ rest. He scattered six hits, walked one and struck out nine while keeping the Spartans off-balance after they registered their lone run in the first inning, “Unbelievable,” Shouppe said of Coleman. “He had life in his arm, his pitches were well-located.”d.

Florida A&M’s motto of “grind to greatness” resonated

during an incredulous run to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Baseball Championship. The score was 27-32.

Coleman smiled when asked if he could continue throwing on just two days’ rest. Of course. “If it works, don’t change it,” Coleman said. “[Anything else] wasn’t an option after we came this far. Everyone fought.”

Five runs down in one elimination game, and down to the final pitch in another, the Rattlers somehow, someway went from surviving to thriving as they downed Norfolk State 5-4 and 8-1win their eighth conference championship overall (and first since 2015) at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach.

Norfolk State was in prime position to take its first ever title in the first game, breaking a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh after Alsander Womack and Caleb Ward went back-to-back over the wall in left field. That put the Spartans up 4-2, but the Rattlers answered with one in the top of the eighth to cut the lead to 4-3.

Brett Maxwell’s two-out, two-run single in the ninth gave the first game to the Rattlers, who found themselves down 4-2 after Norfolk State launched back-to-back home runs in the seventh.

“Outstanding Performer” honors went to Kaycee Reese, who batted .455 with six runs scored and six RBIs in the tournament. The senior was that batter for FAMU with two strikes and two outs the ninth inning of Saturday’s first game.

In the second game, Florida A&M capitalized on three Spartans errors to put six runs on the board, seizing complete control after being one strike away from going home.

He kept alive, fouling off four pitches before drawing the walk to keep the inning going. Maxwell followed with his game winner.

Even Florida A&M head coach Jamey Shouppe thought his team’s four-game run through the elimination bracket was “an all-timer.” But it fit in with what he preached to a team that started 0-6 and went through a seven-game skid midway through the season.

“I was comfortable and relaxed. You have to stay loose,” Reese said. “If you would have asked me if we would win the tournament when we were down five runs to Delaware, I would have said ‘it would be tough, but I know we’re going to fight.’”

“Some teams sit back and enjoy success, others work harder,” Shouppe said. “We kept practicing, kept working even though there wasn’t much success.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMER: Kaycee Reese, Florida A&M OUTSTANDING COACH: Jamey Shouppe, Florida A&M

“Down 6-1 to Delaware State [Florida A&M would win 9-8 in 10 innings to start the run], we were starting to point fingers and fuss,” Shouppe said. “We got together and said if we go out, we go out together.”

ALL-TOURNAMENT FAMU TEAM MEMBERS Kyle Coleman, Florida A&M Willis McDaniel, Florida A&M Tucker Rayburn, Florida A&M Kaycee Reese, Florida A&M

Shouppe got two complete games from Kyle Coleman in the tournament, the second in the championship game on just two

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Q&A ’

By Veronique George While Karamo Brown, alumnus and star of the hit Netflix series, “Queer Eye,” is blazing his own trail in Hollywood, he recently turned his attention to his alma mater. With a “passion to help others and give back to his community,” Brown partnered with HomeGoods to make a difference at FAMU. By way of Coral Springs, Fla., Brown, 38, attended FAMU from 1999-2000 and majored in general studies. He transformed the Gibbs Hall student lounge into a Zen-inspired wonderland. Complete with a “Zen” nook and several study zones, this new space is sure to be the “mood” for both students and faculty. With a 2019 release, Brown’s book, “Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope,” shares how the Rattler-turned-celebrity transformed his own life into one of power and purpose. As a student, Brown was a member of the FAMU Student Government Association and the Royal Court, who lived in Palmetto South. He decided to help upgrade Gibbs because he would visit his friends there, and wanted to create a space for students and their friends. A&M Magazine Staff Writer Veronique George recently had a chance to connect with Brown for a few questions.

Karamo Brown strikes a pose in the redesigned Gibbs Hall lounge (Left and above) . Brown immerses himself in Gibbs Hall dorm room (Below to the left). PHOTOS: MATT HARRINGTON FOR HOMEGOODS

Q: What does your name, Karamo Karega Brown, mean? A: My name means Educator: “Karamo,” educated and” Karega,” rebel. It’s Swahili. My father is Rastafarian and wanted his children’s names to have meaning. Q: What was it like returning to The “Hill” to spruce up Gibbs Hall? A: Returning to The “Hill” was exciting. I have nothing but fond memories of attending FAMU and going to the different dorms to study and hang with friends. FAMU nurtured the belief I have in myself and my culture in a way that still inspires me today. Q: How did FAMU prepare you for your career? A: Working as a social worker, you must be able to connect with people from all different walks of life and be empathetic

to their needs. The tools I gained from being in student government and on the royal court aided me in feeling confident to connect with anyone, no matter what our perceived differences. Q: How has working on “Queer Eye” helped you fulfill your passion? A: My goal has always been to help people have the hard conversations with themselves so they could engage in the hard conversations with others. I can do that each episode in a way that not only impacts the person I am helping, but [also] the millions of viewers worldwide. Q: How do you keep your #BlackBoyJoy? A: I keep my #BlackBoyJoy by always scheduling time in my day to focus on my mental health. We live in a world where Black men (and women) are under attack physically, emotionally and mentally. Understanding the reality of our world,

I find time to check in with my feelings, create space to reflect and heal, and do something daily that brings me happiness. Q: What advice do you have for young Rattlers and the youth of today? A: The relationships you establish during your time at FAMU are important. Nurture healthy relationships that feed your soul and purpose and feel confident in letting go of those relationships that make you feel less than who you are. And remember: Your mental health matters. So, check in with yourself and never be embarrassed to ask for help.

Note: At press time, Brown was starring on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

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the Florida A&M University (FAMU) President’s Convocation 2019, after the speeches, after new deans and administrators and staff had been introduced, after the Rattler Strike, Shelby Chipman, Ph.D., director of Bands, stood at the podium. Chipman wanted to introduce the freshmen who had joined the 270-strong Marching “100” Band. One hundred and twenty students rose from their seats on the floor of Gaither Gymnasium. “Will all the freshmen who entered FAMU with a GPA of more than 3.0 remain standing?” Hardly any of the students moved. “Will all the students with a GPA of 3.5 and above remain standing?” A few students sat. “Will all the students with a GPA of 4.0 remain standing?” About a dozen students remained standing.

President Larry Robinson honoring Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn, better known as Common, during Spring Commencement 2019. PHOTO: ADAM V. TAYLOR

Chipman made one more request. “Will all the valedictorians and salutatorians remain standing?” About half a dozen students remained standing. The crowd cheered. Tears filled eyes as Rattlers in Gaither Gym savored the moment. The class of 2023 boasts an average high-school GPA of 3.56, the highest on record. That is noteworthy as the University is trying to attract higher achieving students as part of its five-year FAMU Rising Strategic Plan 2017-2022. The plan is a roadmap for moving FAMU forward. That plan includes the goals of Exceptional Student Experiences; Excellent and Renowned Faculty; High Impact Research, Commercialization, Outreach and Extension Services; Transformative Alumni, Community and Business Engagement; First-Class Business Infrastructure and Outstanding Customer Experiences. It is a part of a push for higher four-year graduation and licensure passing rates; more students pursuing degrees in professional programs and high-earning science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and is designed to transform the culture of FAMU. 14 // FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY // A&M MAGAZINE

“The stakes in higher education have changed, and we have developed an action plan with measurable goals. This is critical to enhancing student success and ensuring that FAMU meets state performance metrics that are used to fund higher education,” wrote Board of Trustees Chairman Kelvin Lawson in his message accompanying the Strategic Plan. “We are focused on continuous improvement in all practices and processes. We believe this plan puts us in a position to compete not only with other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) but any other university in the state and the nation as we produce highly trained undergraduate and graduate students with the purpose of helping families attain their educational and financial dreams.” In the 2020 U.S. News & World Report Best College Rankings, FAMU was the top-ranked public HBCU among national universities and the No.7 HBCU. The University is ranked 123rd among public universities and was 45th in the social mobility ranking – signifying the number of Pell Grant recipients who receive degrees and go on to earn more than their family income when they entered college. President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., said FAMU Rising is designed to

facilitate the University’s giant leap forward. The goal is for present and future generations of Rattlers to tell a different narrative about their experience on The “Hill.” Stories of Set Fridays would remain, but those of long lines at the Financial Aid Office would be banished. Gone would be the tales of financial aid delays and unanswered phones. In 2018, the University sought the services of a renowned higher education customer service change agent, Neal Raisman, Ph.D., to work with Human Resources to launch the “Service Excellence” initiative, which has already yielded results.

and seniors to participate in some of that research and pursue internship opportunities. “This future, Robinson said, “will be realized by focusing on the essential elements that contribute to student success, productive and engaged faculty, innovation stemming from research and extension, highly effective business processes and exemplary customer service grounded in our core values.”

“We have made great progress,” Raisman said. “We have mission statements and performance standards for everyone. Phones are answered. Venom vans are running on time. Training is underway. We are ahead of schedule.”

The new strategic plan provides the basis for a transformational future. FAMU will rise to set new benchmarks among our peers and become an aspirational institution for others.

The overarching goal is to have fewer students with excess credit hours, which leads to higher student debt and lower six-year and four-year graduation rates. Students get advised by trained staff


who monitor their academic progress and keep an eye out for those who are struggling and falling behind. Administrators said the drive to attract more higher achieving students does not conflict with the University’s historical role of welcoming and educating many first-generation college students. Thanks to $13.7 million in Performance Funding from the Florida Board of Governors, it means the University can provide support services so that those students can excel and graduate in four years to successful careers in the field of their choosing. Beginning fall 2020, many of those services will be available – not in the Foote-Hilyer Administrative Services building down the hill on the east end of campus, but in the new 80,000-square-foot, $40-million Center for Student Access and Success (CASS) Building on Wahnish Way.

Diamonde Cruz, a fourth-year political science student at FAMU standing tall with Rattler Culture as a representation of FAMU moving forward with our Strategic Plan.

On the faculty side of the ledger, the University has nearly doubled to $182 million the amount of research grant applications in 2018-2019. In September, the Office of Undergraduate Research was created to encourage freshmen, sophomores, juniors

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By Simone Williams

Mandip Sachdeva, Ph.D. and his research assistants Shallu Kutlehria and Paul Dinh. PHOTO: ADAM V. TAYLOR


you’ve ever had the chance to tour Florida A&M University, odds are you probably missed the Dyson Pharmacy Building.

The building itself is visually unremarkable -- practically a relic overlooking an impressively modern College of Pharmacy building just a few feet down the hill; however, the work done inside is some of the most remarkable in the world. It was here that Mandip Sachdeva, Ph.D., and his research assistants Shallu Kutlehria and Paul Dinh became the first people in the United States to 3D print a human cornea. The team’s design improves on British designs released in May by more accurately mirroring the collagen concentrations found in a human eye. Additionally, the team has developed a process that allows corneas to be printed faster and with greater outputs. This was undoubtedly the dream team of pharmaceutical research. In his 26 years of teaching at FAMU, Sachdeva has acquired more than $25 million in grants from such organizations as the Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health and the Florida Department of Health. With these funds, Sachdeva has been able to make significant contributions to the knowledge of drug delivery through various membranes of the body in relation to lung cancer, triple-negative breast cancer and topical delivery of neuropeptides. Sachdeva was then joined by some top-notch research students. Kutlehria is a graduate student in the College of Pharmacy and


Pharmaceutical Sciences whose knowledge of cells created the optimal bio ink for the corneas to be printed. Dinh is a senior biological sciences major who, in true “Gen Z” fashion, used his digital prowess to become a bona fide expert in 3D printing. In this capitalist society, a natural question always arises from any scientific discovery: How much money will this make? However, Sachdeva has little interest in the means of monetizing these discoveries and sees the real prize as being a chance to make a major impact on the world. “I believe that money is secondary,” Sachdeva said. “The goal is to do something in my lifetime that benefits human welfare.” Dinh shares a similar sentiment: “One of the best things I think can come out of technology is giving people who are underprivileged access to health care that they otherwise wouldn’t have,” he said. Born in Hanoi, Vietnam, Dinh moved to Tallahassee as an infant. He learned about FAMU via his friends’ parents who were professors in Tallahassee and had his first experience with research in 10th grade when he worked with Ramesh Katam Ph.D., for the Undergraduates Experience. Now, as an undergraduate, Dinh has contributed to one of the most groundbreaking scientific developments of our time. However, at the same time Dinh was rising, his grandfather was losing his battle to lung cancer back in Vietnam. Dinh explained

Paul Dinh holds 3D printed cornea on the tip of his finger PHOTO: TORI SCHNEIDER, TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT



how this enlightened him to the realities of health care disparities between nations and became his call to action in the field of pharmaceutical sciences. “It’s just such a drastic difference between the health care available here and in Vietnam. Seeing him go through the chemo made me feel like I had some sort of duty to contribute in some way.” One major cause for these disparities is the limited supply of necessary resources, which in turn drives up expense. With a 98-percent success rate, cornea transplants are among the most successful tissue transplants. However, Dinh explained that due to a lack of donors, there is only one cornea available for every 70 needed worldwide. In the end, this research has the possibility to help minimize some of these disparities by increasing supply. Additionally, printed corneas can increase supply to drug testing sites, allowing for more rapid testing and virtual elimination of animal testing in the industry. After making a nationally applauded scientific breakthrough, most people would be inclined to take a break to bask in the glow of their success. However, widespread news of the team’s achievements has resulted in an onslaught of requests for new projects. Recently, the team has been contacted to print a muscle tendon, a retina, tumor scaffold and an apparatus for dental drug delivery.

Still, Sachdeva and Dinh say they are happy about the attention this research has brought to FAMU; they hope that all the exposure will help attract even more hardworking students to FAMU’s pharmacy program. “The biggest desire is to recruit more students to FAMU,” Sachdeva said, “So this work can be moved forward. Science keeps changing so you should not rest on the laurels of yesterday. Plan for the future. So, the biggest challenge is to recruit more students.” In fact, the turnover of students just comes with the territory of doing research at a University, he said. Students graduate and move on to the next chapter of their lives. But when this happens, there must be new students to pick up the baton. Sachdeva sees this as an opportunity for something great. “(It is) good in the sense that you get new blood with new ideas,” said Sachdeva, “but, you have to make sure that the knowledge is transferred from one person to the second. That is why it’s important to get new students in -- so they can overlap and learn from each other.” “People already knew our lab very well across the nation,” Sachdeva said. “People from this lab have gone to great places, but this has given us more visibility and more credibility (to prove) that FAMU is doing really good work.”

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By Jasmine Nichole Thomas any stories begin with a girl on a farm, but none quite like this. Jennifer Taylor, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Florida A&M University (FAMU), coordinator of the FAMU Statewide Small Farm Program and a proud farmer.


Taylor accepts National Award at the Rodale Institute. PHOTOS: RODALE INSTITUTE

Taylor owns Lola’s Organic Farm, which she describes as “a great, great joy.” The land, which was once owned by her grandmother, encompasses 32 acres, with only four to five acres being used for farming, is a USDA certified organic farm in Glenwood, Ga. An array of fruits and vegetables including ginger, kale, turmeric, garlic, strawberries and more are produced there.

Taylor earned a bachelor’s in agronomy from FAMU, a master’s degree in agronomy from Iowa State University (Ames) and a Ph.D. in vocational and technical education from Virginia Polytechnical University (Blacksburg). She later worked with the Peace Corps in Niger, where she concentrated on sorghum and millet.

Growing up, Taylor’s family would often receive what she calls “care boxes” from her grandmother’s farm filled with fresh produce. Her mother, who grew up on that farm, instilled in her daughters the importance of eating fresh food.

Recently, Taylor travelled to Kutztown, Pa., to attend the annual Organic Pioneer Awards at The Rodale Institute, where she received an award for her work in organic farming. The Rodale Institute grows the organic movement through research, farmer training, and consumer education. Taylor impressed them by epitomizing all of that.

“My mother was all about fresh food,” recalled Taylor. “She was all about finding farmers all around the Tallahassee area. She would buy their milk to make butter and their peas to shell. She felt that was better than a hamburger -- and we wanted so badly to eat a hamburger.” Even though her family benefited from the grandmother’s farm, they associated farming with a hard life. “Everybody didn’t want to return to that hard life kind of thing,” she said. “You know, growing your food wasn’t as appealing as the work that they had chosen to do with their lives.” However, the work was appealing to Taylor. She began teaching organic farming during a time where it wasn’t as popular as it is now. She said she doesn’t really remember how her focus sharpened. “The life of the soil and growing healthy food is what I was interested in early.”


“We were struck by Dr. Taylor’s family’s connection to the land she farms and her commitment to regenerative, organic agriculture in a region where organic farms still make up only a small portion of the landscape. Dr. Taylor isn’t just a farmer; she’s an educator, an advocate, a pioneer, and a connector to the long history of organic farming,” said Jeff Tkach, chief impact officer at the Rodale Institute. “We felt that Dr. Taylor embodies Rodale Institute’s mission of research, farmer training, and consumer education, and we are so thankful for the work she has done and continues to do to innovate and move organic agriculture forward. It was because of this, we were honored to present her with the 2019 Organic Pioneer Award.” Taylor said she has planned to use her allotted time at the ceremony to advocate for indigenous and other minority farmers who would benefit from receiving information and assistance, and to highlight the roll of the FAMU Statewide Small Farm Program, which is to identify

the needs of farmers and provide relevant education. As coordinator of a participatory program that focuses on organic farming systems, alternative market development and sustainable living, Taylor also planned to discuss possible partnerships. “I also want to talk a bit about the success of the program at FAMU and why it is that they should want to engage and become partners with us as an institution,” Taylor said. “That would be so great for our college to have a globally renowned partner that’s at the forefront of the organic movement.” The FAMU Statewide Small Farm Program has aided multiple farmers in the Tallahassee area and has hosted capacity building workshops that provide information, training and technical assistance to underserved farming populations throughout the state of Florida and the nation. Taylor’s research in organic farming and her interest in creating programs for communities is what brought her back to FAMU to develop the Statewide Small Farm Program, along with a series of academic courses. “How do you engage people and develop programs that they want to be a part of, that they take and own for themselves,” Taylor said, “and can run with it, without you leading the way? If they have the skill and the knowledge, they can take it and run with it. So that became my interest.”

FLORIDA’S 2019 “WOMAN OF THE YEAR IN AGRICULTURE” By: Jasmine Nichole Thomas This just in: “Farm girl” turned professor reaps more accolades for her pioneering work in agriculture. On Sept. 23, Jennifer Taylor, Ph.D., was named “2019 Woman of the Year in Agriculture” by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried had this to say about Taylor and her most recent award: “Your service as an educator; your development of a statewide small-farm program with a focus on food systems and sustainable agriculture, and the hands-on-training and technical

assistance you provide in alternative [agriculture] systems, organic farming systems, alternative market/food systems development and sustainable living for underserved farming communities, makes you the perfect recipient of this award.” Taylor, who is considered a pioneer in organic farming, said she didn’t always know what career path she’d take. While growing up, her grandmother’s positive account about her farm and her farming experiences inspired her. “All of my grandmother’s stories about living on the farm were good ones,” Taylor said. “Her joy and love for her farm and the life that she was living on the farm -- that was where she wanted to be. She was happiest there. In the back of my mind, it was painting a good picture. . . a picture that could be a good thing, if you wanted it for your life.”

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By Keith Miles

Tallahassee, Fla.

Seven unarmed black men. Seven last words. . .

When the Florida A&M University Concert Choir collaborated earlier this year with the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and Morehouse Glee Club from Morehouse College in Atlanta, audiences were rendered largely paralyzed with emotion. Over a few hours, those at Ruby Diamond Concert Hall at Florida State University that afternoon became eyewitnesses to Composer Joel Thompson’s musical commentary on the killings of seven, dead African-American men in the “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.” Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo...


Their names are tragically engraved in the minds of multitudes after extensive coverage of their deaths, protests and legal battles that ensued. Their last utterances led to Thompson’s unique compositions and the riveting performances that have been described as “remarkable for the timely, social-justice content” that resulted. “When I wrote the piece, it was really just a diary entry for me. I was just trying to explore my own grief in response to these events,” said Thompson, who was present at the Tallahassee performance, “but since then, I’ve committed myself to using it as a way to start dialogue and build community through music.” Thompson’s music explores current events in our country and the problem with gun violence, particularly toward African-American

“Seven Last Words of the Unarmed”

Eric Garner

Amadou Diallo

Trayvon Martin

Kenneth Chamberlain

“Why do you have your guns out?” - Kenneth Chamberlain, age 66 “What are you following me for?” – Trayvon Martin, age 16 “Mom, I’m going to college.” – Amadou Diallo, age 23 “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.” – Michael Brown, age 18 “You shot me! You shot me!” – Oscar Grant, age 22 “It’s not real.” – John Crawford, age 22 John Crawford

Oscar Grant

Michael Brown “I can’t breathe.”– Eric Garner, age 43

men. Not only was the concert the first time an all-black chorus had performed the work, as a part of Tallahassee’s series of concerts called “Ode to Understanding,” but it was one of the earliest performances nationwide, and also was the first time in history that the Morehouse Glee Club and FAMU Concert Choir collaborated and performed together. Mark Butler, DMA, director of FAMU’s Concert Choir, said the historic collaboration was said to be “a plea for this nation to understand social justice.” “For the Trayvon Martins and many other young African Americans who were silenced when they were killed, it provided an opportunity to speak out for those who will remain silent. Perhaps, they feel they don’t have a significant voice. Who will speak for them?” He added that, at FAMU, “building community through music” is not a new endeavor. For countless decades, FAMU’s Lee Hall has been the site of such efforts. “After viewing a wonderful performance of ‘The Seven Last Words,’” Butler recalled, “I realized not only how compelling and passionate this piece was, but also how it, too, is important and much needed, especially in the time in which we live. “

FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., following the Tallahassee performance, said: “The Ode to Understanding is really the right message. It was about getting to understand the different perspectives we have on various things, and to allow us to see the things that we all have in common, as well.” He added: “Here, at FAMU, we have some of the most outstanding students in America – no matter what they are doing. This choral group today demonstrated that they are excellent at what they do. This is spectacular.” Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, John Crawford, Kenneth Chamberlain. . . At the performance, as the audience listened, a panel, including Thompson, the composer, addressed the issue of gun violence targeted at African-American males. The panel was facilitated by Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil along with Thompson, Byron Greene and Patrick Slevin. Thompson said, “Conversations happened as a result of the experience. [As a result], people who are on different sides of issues can actually come together and explain their feelings concerning controversial issues -- so that we can do away with the divisiveness that currently exists today.”

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Darryl Tookes listening to the notes dance on the piano. PHOTO: CHARLES R. COLLINS


Tookes is the most unassuming of legends. His office is at the end of a dimly lit hall in Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) Foster-Tanner Music Building. He’s still deciding what to hang on his bare, cream-colored walls. One piece of décor, a black, 7-foot Yamaha grand piano, is a must-have, he says. It’s in the band room waiting to be moved. For now, he makes do with a portable keyboard that is hooked up to his Mac. With the touch of his fingers, the simple set up becomes orchestral. When he plays a sample of a project “Symphony of Love” he’s working on, the room instantly feels warm and full of life. As you take it all in, you suddenly remember that this is a man whose talent has opened studio and concert hall doors to work with such musical greats as Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, George Benson, Jennifer Holliday and Billy Porter. “My role is to help students keep their head in the clouds and their feet on the ground,” Tookes says of how he uses his experience of working with the greats to impart wisdom to his students. “I would rather them never be a famous person than crash and burn. I don’t want them to buy into the twisted narrative.” With the words of caution also comes the opportunity to connect with big projects. Among the projects in which Tookes is including his students is “Cuba Gooding’s Main Ingredients,” a recording of some of the hit songs by the 1970s R&B group, The Main Ingredient. Tookes is executive producer, musical director and lead singer. Other than a few surviving members of the group, family members of Cuba Gooding Sr. -- Omar Gooding -- “100 percent of the arranging, playing instruments and background singing is done by FAMU students,” Tookes said. The project was recorded in New York, Los Angeles and in Studio 214 at FAMU.

“It’s about connectivity,” he said. “My class is a laboratory.” During his 40-year career, Tookes served on the board of directors for the Recording Academy, taught voice at New York University and performed for U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Then, in August 2018, Tookes turned down an offer to teach voice at Berklee College of Music in Boston for a chance to return home. After living in the Northeast for most of his adult life, he decided to head south to his hometown to become FAMU’s new director of Music Industry Studies. “My task is to help students who all want to be in the music business find out what they want to do, what that means and where they fit in,” Tookes said. There are opportunities to be agents, lawyers, managers, promoters, publishers, singers and musicians, he said. “Whatever they want to do, we have a curriculum that fits all those needs,” Tookes added. “There are various pathways and we want to help them create new pathways in the music business.” THE PRODIGAL SON RETURNS Of all the places his talent and connections could have taken him since his graduation, Tookes says he is “deeply honored” to have the opportunity to return to his alma mater.


I am home, with a chance to be a part of this journey with our students as they invent the future,” he says. “It’s a great time to be here. A great time to be alive. - DARRYL TOOKES

By all accounts, the University is overjoyed to have him back, as well.

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tender and delightfully festive accomplishment of new chamber music” - about his family. Songs like “One Summer Day” and “Mama” are filled with musings about lessons learned from his parents. His father, Hansel E. Tookes, Sr., was the legendary FAMU football coach and administrator who created the Florida Classic and, for whom, the Student Recreation Center is named. In remembrance of his father, each workday, Tookes parks his vehicle at the Recreation Center and takes a nine-minute, 0.4-mile walk to his office. His mother, Leona Washington Tookes, was a professional singer who filled their home with music. Her work as FAMU’s PBX switchboard operator made her the unofficial voice of FAMU for decades. Classic Founder Hansel Tookes Sr. takes the field with his son Darryl.

“He was the No. 1 choice,” said Lindsey Sarjeant, chairman of the FAMU Department of Music. “The music industry has changed tremendously within the last few years. I wanted somebody who transcended all those changes. His influence and his experience working with all these different artists in all those different genres – he brings that to the table for our students.” Sarjeant has long been impressed with Tookes’ musical talents. He had tried to recruit him to the music program as a student. Instead, Tookes accepted a physics scholarship. Yet, as Tookes matriculated at FAMU, he never lost touch with music. Tookes graduated magna cum laude, with a bachelor’s in physics in 1977. Almost immediately, he turned his back on a career in science. He moved to New York and began his career as a commercial jingle singer. Throughout his long and varied musical journey, Tookes has never lost his passion for knowledge nor lagged in his search for meaning. A typical Tookes conversation danced gracefully from jazz to marketing to spirituality and the Law of Vibration. Although he seemed able to talk about anything, he kept returning to one topic: family. THE FAMILY LEGACY For Tookes, family is everything. For proof, look no further than his discography. He wrote “Travels of an Ordinary Man,” described “as a


Tookes says there was never any pressure to follow in the footsteps of either parent. Instead, they taught him “to share love with others” and always give back. Those values drove Tookes to return to FAMU. He sees his current role as an opportunity to repay the community that raised him: Tennis legend Althea Gibson was his older brother’s babysitter when she was in Tallahassee. One Saturday morning in August, Tookes received a standing ovation following a solo of “Precious Lord” at the funeral for a longtime family friend, Charlotte Griffin, widow of former FAMU football Coach Robert “Pete” Griffin. CREATING MUSIC, CONNECTIONS AND DIVINE VIBRATIONS As a director, Tookes said he wants to be “a galvanizer, a unifier, a catalyst for synergistic advancement that is right here for us.” He is already doing just that for junior vocal performance major Kimani Jackson. This summer, Tookes told Jackson about an opportunity at the world-famous Apollo Theater in New York City. That tip resulted in Jackson earning an internship with Broadway actor Lelund Durond Thompson and Tony award-winning Musical Director Jason Michael Webb, creator of “Choir Boy.” Jackson said he was awed by the level of support and mentorship Tookes offers to him and all of his students. “Above all, I think people should know that (Tookes) is truly about ministry, because ministry really means speaking into others’ lives, and that’s exactly what he does on a daily basis,” Jackson said. “We are so gifted to have a teacher like him.”

Sentiments like Jackson’s come as no surprise to Tookes’ daughter, Tessa Tookes, who graduated with a degree in Music and Meaning from New York University and with her brother Christian are a New York-based singer/songwriting duo who perform under their surname, Tookes. “My dad is a mentor to all the people he meets, and I think that pure, genuine connection he makes with everyone is what really puts him in a class of his own,” she said. “He’s just a real connector and really believes in humanity.”

Young Darryl performs on the “Baby Grand” for his brother Hansel Tookes.

TAKING A CLOSE LOOK AT ‘ALL THAT JAZZ’ By Simone Williams Jazz, as a genre, has its own unique way of speaking to the heart of our universally human experiences. Unfortunately, these deeper meanings are being missed by younger generations. According to Neilsen’s ratings, jazz had become America’s least popular music genre by 2015, and things haven’t improved much since then. However, FAMU professor and Director of Music Industry Darryl Tookes is defying these stats by making jazz come alive for students of his Jazz History class. “I tend to think it’s more important to embrace many voices,” he added. “I think what made music so exciting for me and my generation was being able to hear so many different types [of music].” Indeed, Tookes’ own musical background is a broad musical palette full of diverse artistic role models. As he grew, his musical influences ranged from jazz legends Errol Garner and Art Tatum to Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind and Fire. However, when it comes to truly masterful storytelling, Tookes says the late, great Nancy Wilson reigns supreme. Tookes attended her funeral service last March, but her ties to FAMU go much deeper than that. In her younger years, Wilson was known to rehearse at the edge of the Florida A&M campus, in the basement of brothers and renowned jazz greats Nat and “Cannonball” Adderley of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” fame.

the opportunity to sit in on one of Tookes’s classes. While anybody can talk about the great legends of jazz, Tookes took things a step further, offering up personal stories about his interactions with some of these legends and even singing their songs to students. Another thing Tookes encourages in his students is to remain open to all genres of music, which affords a wider range of shared experiences. This diversity of influences is ever present in Tookes’ professional discography. Many music critics have acknowledged that Tookes’ music exists in the grey areas between genres. What remains is his constant ability to tell a story that gets straight to the heart. And he put his entire heart into his upcoming project, “Symphony of Love.” The project began as a request to publish a memoir. After writing down the bulk of his life story, his manager asked if he could put this story to music. These songs of his life the story of the people, places and experiences that come together to illuminate a life filled with great love. More than any project, Tookes said, the project is his greatest legacy, both as a musician and as a man. The words are “my enduring truth.’’ This is the kind of passion for storytelling that Tookes is trying to introduce to his students.

Lindsey Sarjeant, Chairman of the Department of Music, recalled A&M MAGAZINE // FALL 2019 // 25

By Yanela G. McLeod, Ph.D. When the lights go up in Florida A&M University’s Charles Winter Wood Theatre, a hue of theatrical and cultural excellence is exhibited on its acclaimed Edmonds stage. Not largely reflected in general society, the full spectrum of the African-American experience has played out on that stage – the beauty, the tragedy, and everything in between for decades. “FAMU Essential Theatre is a source of pride that showcases our talent and unlimited intellect,” said John Haugabrook, who, along with his now late wife Della, has been a longtime Essential Theatre subscriber. “It helps preserve the history of theatre and of acting as part of the African-American experience that goes rather deep.” Whether classics like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, culturally meaningful pieces by black playwrights such as Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” or original works by HBCU students and professors including 26 // FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY // A&M MAGAZINE

“Bad Man” written by FAMU theatre pioneer Sheppard Randolph Edmonds Ph.D., FAMU Essential Theatre productions showcase the breadth and capacity of African-American talent on stage and behind the scenes. “In terms of the cultural impact on the university, Tallahassee, and the southeastern region of this country, I’ve long felt FAMU has two unpolished gems that deserve larger promotion: the Black Archives and the Essential Theatre,” said Haugabrook, who counts “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” among his favorite Essential Theatre shows. “The quality of productions with the resources they have is incredible. Can you imagine what they could provide if they really had resources?” In addition to providing “good entertainment,” Valencia E. Matthews, Ph.D., dean of the FAMU College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, which houses the program, said the Essential Theatre helps expose the broader community to African-American culture,

associate director of the Essential Theatre. “It became a cycle of allowing the culture to continue, to be explored and voiced, but also allowing the professionals to thrive and exist.” Since their start in the late 1800s, theatre programs at historically Black colleges and universities(HBCU) have enriched society through their artistic and educational contributions, Matthews said. These programs have also provided communities access to high caliber entertainment that enhances lives.

“Some who have not been exposed to black theatre are often surprised at the quality of production and level of performance,” said Matthews, who also serves as director of the theatre program. “It changes perspective about African-American experience and capabilities. They come back because they then expect it.” Theatre has long had a distinguished history at FAMU. Dating back to 1913 with a production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” the program has mounted productions that added rich culture to the Tallahassee community and surrounding areas. It has maintained a local, national and global impact, having launched productions in Ethiopia in 1958 and most recently Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2018. Historically, the American Black Theatre movement was a platform used to elevate the histories and traditions of African Americans and the diversely rich heritage that surrounds the culture. Group and improvisational performance of song, dance, recitation and prayer were enduring African traditions retained by men, women and children captured during the Atlantic Slave Trade and enslaved on plantations in the Western World. “The arts, like religion in many ways, were survival mechanisms for our people,” Haugabrook said. “For all of the tension and stress of everyday life, it was an escape for us during some very difficult times in society.” Theatre has also played an integral role in reshaping society’s perceptions about African Americans. Playwrights used theatre to counter prevailing negative stereotypes and depictions in mainstream media and theatre.

Kimberly Harding, associate professor of theatre and head of theatre management, added theatre also affords audiences a cathartic encounter that helps bridge cultural gaps by providing a shared experience that transcends race, gender and circumstance. “They see in their own lives the experiences that play out on stage,” Harding said. “They can connect because they are dealing with the same life issues, desires, wants and needs.”

experiences, and talent.

“These spaces were central to exposing the community to the arts and the culture of African Americans,” Matthews said. “That is what FAMU still does today. As cultural ambassadors, we make sure we are a part of the community, not apart from the community.”

This was a place where artists came to do their work and feel safe. They stayed at professors’ homes and moved freely on campus. They needed each other in order to survive. So that’s why we say we are essential.

- Dean Valencia E. Matthews, Ph.D.

FAMU’s theatre program evolved from several organized dramatic troupes that merged into the Little Theatre Guild. A formalized program, which eventually became the FAMU Essential Theatre, was established in 1937 under the leadership of Winter Wood, a classically trained professional actor and educator who came to FAMU from Dillard University. So respected by his academic and professional peers, Winter Wood, born in 1870, was dubbed dean of African-American Educational Theatre.

Today, African-American theatre continues to be one of the remaining channels where the nuances of black life — the struggles, triumphs, tears and laughter — are told from the black perspective, a dynamic often lacking in television, film and mainstream theatre.

African Americans’ foray into formal theatre productions began during the minstrel era of the 1820s, where white actors performed in black face for white audiences. Providing an environment for black actors to perform outside of minstrel caricature, a group of free blacks in Greenwich Village, New York, established the African Grove, the country’s first black theatrical company.

“We are able to tell our stories in our own way instead of someone else trying to tell our stories for us,” said Luther Wells, professor and

“Black theatre artists, if they wanted to perform, had to do plays that were demeaning or not written by black artists,” Wells explained. “Only

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FAMU Essential Theatre is taking “From the Mississippi Delta” to Scotland. FAMU is the first HBCU to participate in the world’s largest arts festival in the world.

black theatre companies were allowing those voices to be heard.” During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s, black theatre companies blossomed. Community theatres emerged during the 1930s as a result of the Federal Theatre Project. “Many of our greatest African-American personalities came out of the arts — Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson,” explained Haugabrook, who recalled fond childhood memories of attending traveling tent shows that toured in African-American communities. “My dad would never miss them. They made you laugh, told you jokes, and we were exposed to things we didn’t know black people could do. We saw them acting but also in other roles like putting up tents and selling shirts.” By the 1960s, there were nearly 300 black theaters, including those operated by universities. During the period of segregation, FAMU’s theatre program provided entertainment for African-American audiences who were not permitted to frequent local theatres that served the public or who had to sit in segregated sections. HBCUs also served as a haven for black theatre professionals who desired to write, produce and perform creative works without social limitations or boundaries. “This was a place where artists came to do their work and feel safe,” Matthews said. “They stayed at professors’ homes and moved freely on campus. They needed each other in order to survive. So that’s why we say we are essential.” Generations of African-American performers, producers, writers, set designers, stage managers, technical and marketing


professionals and public school drama teachers have been trained in HBCU theatre programs. “While there may be limited exposure to black writers at predominantly white institutions, students at FAMU and other HBCUs get training that relates to their own experience and under the direction of people who understand and are sensitive to issues in ways that others may not be,” Wells said. FAMU’s list of successful theatre alumni is extensive, including: Ted Williams, a popular recurring character on the iconic television show “Good Times,” Meshach Taylor of “Designing Women” acclaim, Tony-Award winner Anika Noni Rose who also voiced the Princess Tianna character in Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog,” and Angela Robinson of Tyler Perry’s hit series “The Haves and the Have Nots.” Toi Whitaker created the set design for the “Let’s Make a Deal” daytime game show and Xavier Pierce is one of Hollywood’s top lighting designers. Haugabrook, who as a Sumter County Florida high school student performed in a dramatic arts competition at FAMU in 1948, said exposure to theatre helps offer FAMU students’ educational enrichment that goes beyond academics. “Theatre helps students complete the canvass of their personal mosaic because it brings so much of your experience to the stage. To see the classics demonstrated and illustrated by such sophisticated people on stage helps raise the level of expectation for yourself. It suggests they can be almost anything if they work hard enough.”

From the small stage on The “Hill” to the small screen, from Broadway to the big screen and from set design to “lights,” FAMU’s alumni have done it all. FAMU’s list of successful theatre alumni is extensive. Here is a quick roll call of some of the stars:

• Ted Williams, a popular recurring character on the iconic television show, “Good Times”

• Angela Robinson of Tyler Perry’s hit television series “The Haves and the Have Nots”

• Meshach Taylor of “Designing Women” acclaim

• Toi Whitaker created the set design for the “Let’s Make a Deal” daytime game show

• Tony-Award winner Anika Noni Rose, who also voiced the Princess Tianna character in Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog”

• Xavier Pierce is one of Hollywood’s top lighting designers

FAMU Alumna Noelle Strong on stage.

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DID YOU KNOW? George William Gore, president of Florida A&M College (1950-1968), was at the helm during one of the institution’s greatest achievements. The Florida Legislature changed the name from college to university in 1953. He was also president during the turbulent years of social unrest and change when FAMU students established a legacy of social involvement and responsibility. What many Rattlers may not know is that Gore originated the “Rattler Charge,” which has made its way into the annals of FAMU history and culture. The popularity peaked as former President Frederick Humphries (1985-2001) brought it from Gore’s quiet delivery into the light of the 1970s, with his rousing, iconic delivery. President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., and other University presidents have continued the popular recitation that strikes pride and spirit into Rattlers everywhere. Strike on, FAMU! 30 // FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY // A&M MAGAZINE

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By Keith Miles

Florida A&M University (FAMU) President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., was in New York City on a late summer morning in August when a statue was unveiled of alumna and tennis trailblazer Althea Gibson at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.


“It is a great honor for me to represent all Rattlers in saluting our distinguished alumna Althea Gibson at this event,” said Robinson. “Without question, she was a trailblazer who opened the doors to tennis for the likes of Venus and Serena Williams, and emerging superstars like [Cori] “Coco Gauff.” Gibson entered FAMU in 1949 on a full athletic scholarship. The following year, she became the first African-American player to receive an invitation to the Nationals, where she made her Forest Hills debut on her 23rd birthday. Although she narrowly lost in the second round to the reigning Wimbledon champion and former U.S. National winner, she received extensive national and international coverage. While still a student at FAMU, Gibson won her first international title in 1951, the Caribbean Championships in Jamaica, and later that year, became the first African-American competitor at Wimbledon. In the spring of 1953, she graduated from FAMU and began teaching physical education at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. Gibson became the first African-American Wimbledon champion in the tournament’s 80-year history in 1957. She was also the first

champion to receive the trophy personally from Queen Elizabeth II. The U.S. Tennis Association commemorated Gibson’s 11 Grand Slam titles by dedicating the statue on the southeast corner of Arthur Ashe Stadium. During its August board meeting, FAMU’s Board of Trustees approved a resolution to name FAMU’s tennis courts in honor of Gibson. Additionally, the City of East Orange, New Jersey, final home of the star, recently dedicated a park in her honor. Upon her return home from the Wimbledon tournament in 1957, Gibson became only the second African-American, after Jesse Owens, to be honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City, where she was presented the city’s highest civilian award, the Bronze Medallion. A month later, she won her first U.S. National Championship. Gibson wrote, “Winning Wimbledon was wonderful, and it meant a lot to me. But there is nothing quite like winning the championship of your own country.” In 1958, Gibson was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, garnering over 80 percent of the vote, after successfully defending her Wimbledon and U.S. National singles titles. She also became the first African-American woman to appear on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time.

A&M MAGAZINE // FALL 2019 // 33


WITH SHAIA SIMMONS Wife of FAMU Head Football Coach Willie Simmons By Andrew J. Skerritt

Q: What are two things people need to know about the life of the wife of the FAMU Rattler Head Football Coach?


A: It’s a full-time job! We have five kids, ages 20 to 2, and we are expecting our “grand finale” in the spring. So, our lives revolve around football and family. Coach can work some long days during the season, and I maintain home life so that he can focus on his craft. Secondly, it’s the most amazing feeling to watch the love of my life run out on the field wearing orange and green, doing what he absolutely loves. It makes all the sacrifices worth it! Q: What did it mean to you to come back home with your husband as FAMU Football Coach? A: It meant that our children get to watch their dad do what he loves at an institution that is at the core of who their parents are. My husband tells it as a joke, but when we got married, I was not joking when I told

him I wasn’t missing a FAMU homecoming, even if it meant missing one of his games each season! The first year he watched me pack all my orange-and-green gear with a little feigned disappointment that his “lucky charm” was headed to Tallahassee instead of his game, but he honored my loyalty to FAMU and my intention to make sure our little ones understood what made FAMU a part of our family’s “fabric.” Our youngest kids haven’t missed one homecoming in their short lifetimes, because I was adamant that they’d understand what “THE Florida A&M University” meant to our family’s heritage and legacy. Q: As a Gadsden County native, what was it like growing up as a Rattler fan? A: I often tell folks that every game day at Bragg was an unofficial family reunion for us. My grandmother and her three sisters were all graduates of FAMU (FAMC back then)


and they all married FAMU graduates. As soon as the football schedule was released, travel plans were put in place. Many of my maternal family members would converge at our home before games. The ladies would cook some of our favorite Southern delicacies to enjoy potluck; then we’d all head to Bragg, usually in the big conversion van my uncle bought just for game day. I’d sit on the floor for the 30-minute ride listening to the pre-game show on 90.5, most often with a friend. In the stands, I can still vividly recall sitting between my Uncle Jack, who used “colorful” language (that I was NOT allowed to repeat) to describe plays both good and bad and my doting Uncle Al “Dunky” Miller, who played for Jake Gaither and got a little extra pep in his step on game day despite his “football knees.” I’d eat boiled peanuts my grandmother had packed in her purse and, sometimes, be allowed to tail my older cousins over to the “students side” for a gander at how all the co-eds were enjoying the game.

My family often bragged that I never missed a home game from the time I was born, and I hung on to that like a medal. For that reason, Coach and I maintain the same season tickets my grandparents, Walter and Louise, purchased more than 40 years ago in Section F at Bragg Stadium. Those seats and the people who have watched me -- and, now, our children–grow up season after season represent the essence of FAMUly. Q: You have been active on social media. Can you discuss the role of social media in rallying support for the Rattler Football team and the Athletic Program? Social media can be a double-edged sword. Currently, I am hoping to rally support from the University and fan base to create a continual and transparent giving program that will go for summer scholarships for our student athletes. I do, however, have social media rules I govern myself by just to avoid controversy and conflict no matter how badly I want to respond to “bleacher critics and coaches.” The rule is: I DON’T. There is such a dynamic set of circumstances in each situation that fans aren’t always privy to and so I chalk up some posts as their passion and desire to win as the reason behind statements that can sometimes tear down the morale of our

coaches and players. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs whenever we suffer loss. It is always hard to listen and read where people question the integrity and ability of our coaches and players, but it goes with this life. I feel like a Mama Bear when it comes to them because I really see them as “our kids” because my husband and his coaches looked parents in the eye when they recruited their kids and said their son would be taken care of. These are 18- to 22-year-olds under tremendous pressure to perform athletically and academically while balancing their personal lives. Unfortunately, some people forget that. Q: Describe Your Game Day for Rattler Home Games? A: This question makes me laugh. Nothing is typical when you have five kids, one big fur baby and a ton of family. We generally have BBQ brought in that we eat before we go to games. I have called our BBQ guy for so many years now it’s just become a weekly expectation. Our local BBQ king, Flookah, shows up about four hours before the game like clockwork to bring a spread of traditional Southern BBQ with all the fixings. After having BBQ, we try to get to the stadium about 30 minutes before kickoff to get a minute in with our Coach for our pregame tradition of family prayers and a little gentle

ribbing. My oldest son, Tre, who’s a junior here at FAMU, faithfully teases Coach before every game that he’s going to lose, which is apparently their strange version of “break a leg.” If Tre’ doesn’t say it, my husband actually thinks it’s bad luck and we all get a kick out of this announcement before he runs onto the field. Coach and I have a secret gesture before kickoff, and we sit back as the “Shotgun Show” commences. When the clock strikes all zeros we head down, I try and steal a stroll down Perry Street to enjoy the camaraderie and vendors, until we finally head out to the designated family member’s house, for a post-game FAMUly gathering where we savor the moment and get ready to do it all again the next week. When we say Faith, Family, and Football… we live it!

The Shaia Simmons Rundown • Florida A&M School of Business and Industry • Class of 2002 (business administration) • Master’s Degree in 2010, College of Education • Currently enrolled in Educational Leadership, seeking a doctorate • As a student: • Lived in McGuinn Hall • Modeled for Epicurean • Today: Wife and mother of five, soon seven • Former teacher and public information officer who now volunteers weekly for Gadsden County Schools


Popular football standout now slays off the field, on the ‘mic.’

By Keith Miles and Kathy Y. Times

It’s Friday night in downtown Bradenton, Florida. A band plays popular tunes at a restaurant along the city’s riverfront on Florida’s west coast. The breeze off the water makes the summer night cool and perfect for a performance from retired National Football League (NFL) great and Florida A&M University Hall of Famer Henry “Killer” Lawrence.


Dressed in a crisp matching shirt and pants, still fit, the 6’4” former tackle for the Oakland Raiders, struts toward the restaurant’s patio. Guitarist Rick Fass, who also serves as Lawrence’s bandleader and producer, announces his entrance. Lawrence smiles, waving off the applause. Minutes later, he accepts Fass’ invitation to join the band on stage, where the smooth tenor sings familiar hits, ranging from the soulful sounds of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” It’s a family-like atmosphere near Lawrence’s hometown of Palmetto, Fla., which is just a few miles from Bradenton. His sisters and cousins are in the audience singing along. Lawrence moved home in December 1997. He lived on the West Coast for more than 25 years, playing for the Oakland Raiders for 13 of those years. He also launched successful businesses and made his mark in plays and on stage, singing with such R&B legends as Dionne Warwick in Los Angeles. He has opened for George Benson, Bobby Womack, Eddie Money, Bobbi Humphries and Charlie Daniels. He even starred Off Broadway in the Theater Play “Hair,” directed by Ben Vereen. Making big hits on the field or the stage, he still has winning moves. Lawrence could have chosen a career as an entertainer, but two calls and caring coaches changed his life. He jokes that, in 1970, his high-school football coach, Willie Clemons, threatened him, ordered him to go to FAMU. On The “Hill,” he excelled as an honor student, was elected the director 36 // FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY // A&M MAGAZINE

Henry ‘Killer’ Lawrence performing at his concert. PHOTO: MONTIE OWSIANY-SUAREZ

of student activities and attorney general for the Student Government Association, and he performed in plays. The political science major had little down time. “I had to open and close the ballroom and concerts on campus,” he said. “All the girls would be gone by the time I finished.” Lawrence did not plan on becoming a professional athlete, but he excelled, earning three Super Bowl rings. He wears two -- one on each finger – for the Raiders. “I didn’t go to school with the thoughts of playing in the NFL, because I did not really relate to the NFL,” said Lawrence, “because when I was growing up, on Sundays, almost from the womb at the age of 5, 6 or 7 years old, I was out in the tomato fields, the orange groves, strawberry fields, in the packing house. I was working. I did migrant farm work up to my sophomore year at FAMU.” Lawrence’s close college friend and teammate Emmitt Alexander also picked crops before coming to FAMU to study electrical engineering. He recalls bonding with Lawrence because they shared the same humble beginnings and had good study habits. “He (Lawrence) was gracious and didn’t meet a stranger,” said Alexander. “He was very thankful. We were hard workers. We worked in the fields and harvested. When we went on the football field, it was a like a vacation.” In fact, memories of that hard work kept Lawrence from dropping out of college. His mother told him if he came home, “the tomatoes would be ripe for his picking.”

Lawrence persevered and had his sights set on law school. He was accepted into Florida State University’s law school as a junior. At the time, the law program was a co-op with FAMU. Then, he became an All-American, and scouts took notice. A trip to the Senior Bowl, an all-star game for draft prospects post-college, changed his life. “I went to the Senior Bowl, and I practiced against Ed Jones, Freddie Cook, all these high-profile American guys. Of course, Ed “Too Tall” Jones had already been designated to be the No. 1 draft pick. Well, I played him in my senior year in Tennessee, and I played him and did OK in the Senior Bowl. I blocked those guys. Coach (John) Madden said, ‘We know we can’t get the best player in college football,’ but he was at the Senior Bowl and saw me blocking (Jones) and said. ‘I want the guy who can block him.’” Lawrence played for the South Team coached by legendary Coach John Madden and his Oakland Raiders staff. Lawrence held his own during the week’s camp, mostly notably against Tennessee State’s star defensive end, Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Madden called during The NFL Draft, and a few hours later, Lawrence said he was on a flight to the West Coast. Today, he is the only FAMU football player with the first-round draft pick distinction. After Lawrence was drafted in February 1974, he graduated from FAMU a few months later, earning his bachleor’s degree in political science with a minor in economics. Lawrence always praises his parents for his success and thanks FAMU for creating a “level playing field” for him to succeed beyond sports. In today’s world of instant Internet stars and 24-hour sports channels, Lawrence is convinced it’s “easier” today for a Rattler to make one big play that can catapult him into the limelight for a shot at playing pro football.

Hill said Lawrence serves on committees, attends monthly meetings and even performs during chapter programs. “It’s amazing to see him sing,” said Hill. “You can tell that’s one of his passions. . . because he’s really into it.” Lawrence is still singing the same note wherever his journey takes him. He sings every year with the NFL Gospel Choir prior to the Super Bowl. He says he is always an athlete taking it to the highest levels – and he is always a bit of a gardener who enjoys planting seeds of excellence in people of all ages, wherever he finds them even in prison as a part of prison ministry. “Every once in a while, I get an opportunity to throw a no-hitter and, every once in a while, I get a chance to hit a grand slam,” said Lawrence, “and when I get that opportunity, I do so. Every opportunity I can, I encourage a young person. I just don’t think it’s right to tell a kid they can’t. I would never tell a kid he couldn’t do it.” Lawrence was inducted into the FAMU Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Florida Sports Hall of fame in 2012. The former offensive tackle, who said he believes in “FAMU Forever,” is off to sing a different song for a crowd that awaits the star, who is now killing it on stage.

Visit FAMUTube1887 to see Lawrence’s interview with FAMU’s Executive Director of Communications, Kathy Y. Times.

“In terms of playing (football), I just didn’t know how to do it any other way. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it good. And that’s what happened. Someone noticed,” said Lawrence. Lawrence says he is a Raider for life. He’s also a Rattler for life and continues to recruit talented students to come to FAMU. He has been a Life Member of the National Alumni Association (NAA) since Life Membership started, and he continues to recruit talented students to FAMU. That’s one reason the president of the Sarasota-Manatee Chapter of the FAMU NAA, Floyd Hill, said he nominated Lawrence for the Distinguished Alumni Award, an award he received last May in Birmingham, Ala.,“He doesn’t act like a celebrity. He’s selfless,” said Hill. “It’s nice to have someone in the crowd who’s been at the highest level of their field. When it comes to our scholarship program, he always supports that financially. He [donates] out of his own pocket.”


A&M MAGAZINE // FALL 2019 // 37


Charles Weatherford, Ph.D., a physicist who shepherded Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) venture into industrial hemp production and research, has been named vice president for research. “Research is as foundational to our mission as is teaching and preparing students to go out and make a difference in their communities,” said President Larry Robinson, Ph.D. “Professor Weatherford’s track record of research and mentoring the next generation of FAMU researchers gives us confidence that we are moving in the right direction.”

Allyson L. Watson Ph.D., an innovator and an expert in urban education, is the new dean of the College of Education. Watson previously held the same position at The University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

Florida A&M University (FAMU) is among an alliance of five Florida universities that has secured National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to increase the number of women of color on university faculty in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The $2.4 million grant was authored by Watson. The grant is being spearheaded by the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Under the terms of the grant, the Florida AGEP (Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate) Pathways Alliance will


Weatherford, who has taught at FAMU since 1978, had served as interim vice president for research. He was also Title III executive director and a former chairman of the Physics Department. The Louisiana State University graduate is credited with securing millions of research dollars. “I am honored and gratified by this appointment and this important opportunity to lead the FAMU Research Enterprise in this critical time in the University’s history,” said Weatherford, who is also director of the FAMU Center for Plasma Science and Technology. “Over the past number of years, the FAMU faculty has exhibited tremendous professional expertise in grant writing and research as they produce new knowledge and train our talented students to create the future for us all.” FAMU has signed agreements with three firms for the planting and production of industrial hemp.

work with 300 doctoral, post-doctoral and early-career minority women faculty to advance their careers in STEM. “Dr. Watson is a dynamic and innovative leader,” said Maurice Edington, Ph.D., provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “She will be a great addition to our team, and I have no doubt that she will provide excellent leadership and vision for the College of Education.” After earning her bachelor’s degree at BethuneCookman University, Watson completed her master’s and doctoral degrees in educational administration, curriculum and supervision from the University of Oklahoma. As a full professor and graduate faculty member, she taught courses on educational research, advanced educational measurements and statistics, public school relations and instructional strategies.   “FAMU has been a beacon for preparation in teacher education and I look forward to promoting the education profession with vision and vigor,” Watson said. “I wholeheartedly look forward to contributing to the institution’s mission, vision and values.”

Micheal Johnson, veteran educator and administrator in the Denver (Colorado) Public Schools (DPS), has been named the new superintendent of the Florida A&M University Development Research School (FAMU DRS). Johnson was the senior adviser for equity for DPS, where he supported and collaborated with school leaders to improve their equity strategies and initiatives. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff graduate was also responsible for the district’s Black Male

Joseph K. Maleszewski began in the spring as the University’s vice president for Audit. He most recently served as the city auditor for the City of Tallahassee. Denise Wallace, J.S.D., was also appointed in the spring as FAMU’s vice president and general counsel. She served in the same role at Dillard University in New Orleans; she is licensed to practice law in Louisiana and Florida. “I am honored to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Robinson and to provide legal advice and counsel to the Board of Trustees and senior administrators,” said Wallace. “I look forward to helping FAMU achieve its goals set forth in its strategic plan.” Maleszewski will oversee FAMU’s audit team in providing independent evaluation and other services regarding University operations and finances to the Board of Trustees and President Robinson. These services are designed to add value and to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of University risk management, control and governance processes. “It is a distinct honor to be selected for this important oversight and accountability role at the nation’s top public historically Black college or University,” said Maleszewksi. “I look forward to joining the team and continuing the fine work of my predecessor and the FAMU audit staff.” President Robinson thanked the FAMU leaders who stepped in to assist the University during the transition of two significant positions during the national search for applicants last December.

Initiative program, which encourages, motivates and uplifts African American males. Johnson previously served as an instructional superintendent, executive principal and a high school principal while at DPS. “His experience as an educator and administrator will serve our students and faculty very well,” said Provost Maurice Edington. Johnson holds a Master of Arts in Administration, Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Colorado. He completed the Public Education Leadership program at Harvard University and is a 2019 graduate of the National Superintendent Academy.

He said, “I appreciate the work and dedication of Shira Thomas, who served as general counsel in the interim, and Rica Calhoun who stepped in to assist with the auditor’s duties after the retirement of Rick Givens.” Wallace and Maleszewski have extensive experience working with public entities in Florida. Prior to becoming city auditor, Maleszewski served as the inspector general and director of Compliance for the State University System of the Florida Board of Governors. Maleszewski holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Marketing and a master’s degree in business administration from Florida State University. He is a Certified Internal Auditor, Certified Information Systems Auditor, Certified Inspector General, Certified Inspector General Investigator, Certified Inspector General Auditor, Certified Government Auditing Professional and Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional. Wallace has served as assistant city attorney for the City of Miami; assistant school board attorney for Miami-Dade County Public Schools; and general counsel for Palm Beach State College. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism/English from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and her master’s degree in intercultural leadership and management from the School for International Training, Brattleboro, Vermont. Wallace’s juris doctorate is from Southern University Law Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she graduated cum laude. She received her Master of Laws from St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami Gardens, Fla, where she graduated summa cum laude and valedictorian with a Doctor of Laws in Intercultural Human Rights/International Law at St. Thomas, focusing on transnational corporations, corporate social responsibility and human rights.

A&M MAGAZINE // FALL 2019 // 39


All-MEAC tennis star Haleigh Porter led a squad of 13 FAMU student athletes who had perfect 4.0 grade-point averages for the spring semester. In all, 134 FAMU student-athletes scored above a 3.0 GPA.


“The first phase of our mission is to strike in the classroom,” said FAMU Director of Athletics John Eason, Ph.D. “What these student-athletes have demonstrated is an understanding that academics is the first order of business. We are a university first and an athletics department second and that order can never be forgotten. I salute all 13 of our student-athletes with perfect semesters and all the coaches and academic staff who assisted them in getting to this point.” The student athletes that achieved the perfect semester are: Alelee Figueroa (Track & Field), Renaldo Flowers (Football), Joshua Lowder (Track & Field), Sharon Kibiwott (Track & Field), Randall Leath (Men’s Basketball), Brett Maxwell ( Baseball), Haleigh Porter ( Women’s Tennis), Mercy Rotich (Track & Field), Zach Saffold (Football), Illya Skoromnyy (Men’s Tennis), Bradley Weatherington ( Football), Raekwon Webb (Football) and Jared Weber (Baseball). Anthony Williams, Assistant Director of Athletics for Academic Support, is pleased with the growth in this category. “These are our high achievers on the field and in the classroom,” Williams said. “Our coaches have continued to express that the core reason they are at Florida A&M University is to get an education. These perfect grade-point averages indicate that these student-athletes have aspirations outside of athletics and they are using the platform of sports to achieve their goals.”



Our coaches have continued to express that the core reason they are at Florida A&M University is to get an education. These perfect grade-point averages indicate that these student athletes have aspirations outside of athletics and they are using the platform of sports to achieve their goals.

ANTHONY WILLIAMS Assistant Director of Athletics for Academic Support

All-MEAC tennis star Haleigh Porter sets the pace on the courts and the classroom. Courtesy: Florida A&M Sports Information

A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2019 // 41

Applause FAMU Broadcast Students Seize Top Associated Press Awards FAMU Alumnus Appointed Leon County Judge Anthony Miller, general counsel and chief ethics officer at Florida’s Agency for State Technology, was appointed June 4 by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Second Judicial Circuit-County Leon County Court. Miller graduated from FAMU in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. In 2000, he received a law degree from Florida State University (FSU). Miller’s previous experience includes working at the Florida State Retirement Commission, Florida Lottery and state Department of Financial Services, Corrections, Management Services and at Tallahassee Community College.

FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication broadcast students won top awards at the recent Florida Associated Press Broadcasters Association 2018 Awards ceremony. FAMU students competed against the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of Miami and Florida State University, among others. Students were awarded top awards in four of the 16 categories: First Place: Best Digital/Website Content: Monica Myrick, FAMU-TV, Tallahassee, “Walk with Me.” First Place: Best Hard News Feature Short Format: Morgan Martin, FAMU-TV, Tallahassee, “Florida’s Red Tide.”

Second Place: Best Light Feature: Short Format: Cierra Richardson, FAMU-TV, Tallahassee, “Farm Share Hurricane Michael.” Second Place: Best Light Feature: Long Format: Giselle Thomas and Kiah Lewis, FAMU-TV, Tallahassee, “Loneliness: the Solution.”

Alumnus Strikes Winning Four ADDY Awards Charles Collins, owner and chief creative officer of Azure Aesthetics, and an alumnus, is leaving his mark in the advertising industry. Collins, a former staff member in the university communications office, won four awards from the American Advertising Federation. • Gold ADDY for the FAMU President’s Inauguration Website • Gold ADDY plus Best of Show Digital overall for the new FAMU Mobile Design and advertisement locally • Silver Award ADDY for the President’s Inauguration on the state level


The American Advertising Awards is one of the industry’s largest, creative competitions, attracting nearly 35,000 professional and student entries each year through local club competitions. The mission of the American Advertising Awards is to recognize and reward the creative spirit of excellence in advertising.

famu rattler BOOSTERS 2.0

Boosters Revamped, Retooled To Win For FAMU Athletics

Pictured at the field house from left to right: Rattler Boosters Executive Director Tommy Mitchell, FAMU Associate Head Coach James Spady, Rattler Booster Board Member Brenda Harris and Rattler Boosters President Selvin Cobb. PHOTO: VAUGHN WILSON

By LaNedra Carroll


ommy Mitchell is not new to the game. He has been a part of Florida A&M University athletics – in one way or another – since he was a student-athlete, as No. 14, on the late Head Basketball Coach Ed Oglesby’s team several decades ago. Always a skilled player whom leaders and teammates, could call on to make big things happen, he accepted the challenge yet again. In May 2017, it was then-Athletic Director Milton Overton asking Mitchell to step up as the “playmaker” for the newly revamped booster club at his alma mater. It was only a short time before Mitchell was hired as the executive director of the new Rattler Boosters. “My role was to activate the Boosters,” Mitchell said, “as well as to use the funds we were able to raise specifically for the athletic department. We were going to work hard to ensure that we got the deficit cleared in athletics.” He explained that the new Rattler Boosters fundraising machine is designed to support the entire athletics-program, not only football. He said to balance the budget, more than $2 million must be raised – beyond football season tickets. “We now have about 400 members,” Mitchell said. “Currently, we have 122 life members and 20 subscribing. 0ur goal is to secure 11,330 donations that will result in $4.1 million annually for five years for the $20 million campaign.” Recent Rattler Boosters activities included the following: On August 17, the new Boosters hosted 850 people at the Lawson Center during the annual football kickoff. Ret’d. Col. Ron Joe and his committee of 14 members planned the event. At one football game last year, Selvin Cobb said, “The game was lost because the coaches could not communicate with the sidelines.” The Rattler Boosters paid $60,000 for the Rattler football headsets for all coaches. The Rattler Boosters raised approximately $10,000

of the FAMU Track & Field $11,000 budget for the FAMU Relays (held March15). This year, the organization has raised $15,000 to broadcast the first three football games. They also fund the FAMU Football Show with Willie Simmons. To help resolve the financial challenges of the FAMU Athletic Department, the Rattler Boosters have launched a five-year, $20 million Campaign. Rattler Boosters hosted a basketball reunion in February, where male and female players attended and voted to create a basketball booster club. Plans have already been made to return to Homecoming 2019. Cobb, president of the Boosters, said that “our only mission is to raise funds for the athletic program. The athletics department is in dire need of assistance,” Cobb said. “We are running a deficit in excess of $2 million. If we want an athletic program that we can all be proud of, we are going to have to support the program.” With Homecoming Week approaching, Mitchell and Cobbs would like to emphasize that FAMU is not the only State University System Athletics Department facing a deficit. However, other institutions help cure their deficits with support from boosters and others. “You have to have an adequate budget to fund the athletics department, and we have to have a budget that supports all 11 programs. . . with expenses for equipment, uniforms, travel and hotels,” Mitchell said. “We can’t use state funds for athletics. We are going to do what all others do. We are going to have to make a difference with our boosters, alumni and supporters.” All funds raised by the Rattler Boosters go directly to the athletics department to support all 16 sports. For more information, visit famurising.com and go to athletics.

A&M MAGAZINE // FALL 2019 // 43

Dr. LasalLe

Leffall, jr. By LaNedra Carroll University presidents, professionals from the Tallahassee area medical community, former students and friends all eased into FAMU’s Lee Hall to say goodbye to the late Dr. LaSalle Leffall, Jr., a university legend and major benefactor. After all, Leffall was coming home to The “Hill,” just up the street from his birthplace, and to his beloved alma mater, where he began his educational journey at 15 years old. The scholar and distinguished physician died May 25 at the age of 89. At his memorial service at FAMU, President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., said,” It is an honor to share my thoughts with you. . . about an alumnus of the then-Florida A&M College, who was imminently brilliant, who went on to achieve his personal and professional goals, a man who never forgot from whence he came and never failed to give back. In 1997, he and his wife Ruth and sister, Dolores C. Leffall, donated $350,000 to FAMU to create the Martha J. and LaSalle D. Leffall Sr. Endowed Scholarship in honor of his parents.” At that time, his gift was the largest individual donation to the University. Leffall graduated summa cum laude in 1948 from Florida A&M College, before he went on to Howard University College of Medicine, where he was ranked first in his class when he received a medical degree in 1952. As president of the American Cancer Society, he launched a program about the challenge of cancer among Black Americans with special attention to the disproportionately increasing incidence and mortality of cancer in this population group. It also examined the implications for similar studies in other racial and ethnic minorities. It was the first program of this type in the nation.


Dr. LaSalle Leffall Jr., beloved educator, a gifted surgeon and renowned oncologist was remembered at a FAMU memorial.

The Fallen Rattlers JEREMY BROOKS March 2019 Jeremy Brooks was an outstanding student who was a first-year law student at the FAMU College of Law in Orlando. Brooks had a desire and interest in helping people, which resulted in his dream of wanting to become a lawyer. Brooks was also a veteran who was honorably discharged after serving 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, which included a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

SAMAR ELSHEIKH March 2019 Samar Elsheikh was a pharmacy student in the FAMU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She was committed to high academic achievements and excelled as a pharmacy major. She was scheduled to graduate spring semester. She was a member of the FAMU Chapter of Student Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists, Muslim Student Association and Rho Chi. Elsheikh was personable and a role model to many of her classmates.

left a positive impression upon his family, friends, students and others who knew him. He was a devoted son to Sarah Dempsey, and a loving brother to Kenneth, Anthony, Leslie and Donna.

JAYNE THOMAS SCOTT March 2019 Jayne Thomas Scott was a retired educator in the Madison County School System, where she was employed for 39 years. A 1953 alumna, Scott earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics from Florida A&M College. She was a member of the Nu Omega Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; the Household of Ruth #16, Areme Chapter of the Order of Eastern Star #128; the Madison County Democratic Party; Retired Teachers of Madison County; and, the FAMU Boosters.



Samuel “Sam” Hunter was an ardent supporter of his alma mater. A native of Apalachicola, Fla., Hunter, was a Vietnam combat veteran. He attended Florida A&M University.

March 2019


Hezekiah Ford, III, was a mathematics instructor in the College of Science and Technology before becoming an instructor of mathematics at the FAMU Developmental Research School. He earned a Master of Education degree in mathematics in 1999 from the College of Education at FAMU. Ford

April 2019 Maude Ford Lee, a native of Midway, Fla., earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1958. She was a long-time civil-rights activist and public servant. As a student, she participated in the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956, which

ignited her passion for activism in the Civil Rights Movement. Ford Lee made history as the first African American elected to the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners. During her 10-year tenure, she was the first African American chairperson of the board. She championed efforts to help students attend college by raising more than $50,000 in scholarships for the Delta Epsilon Zeta Chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. of which she was a life member. In 1999, she was awarded FAMU’s Distinguished Alumni Award in Government. Lee was a life member of Zeta Phi Beta, life member of FAMU’s NAA; life member of the NAACP and former president of the West Palm Beach Branch of the NAACP (2002 – 2008). She was also a charter member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., West Palm Beach Chapter.

IRIS BROOKS SMOAK April 2019 Iris Brooks Smoak, a native of Quincy, Fla., received her bachelor’s degree in 1950 and a master’s degree in 1956, both from FAMU. She was an educator and assistant principal for more than 40 years in the Gadsden County School System. Smoak’s abiding love for children and educating them led to the creation of the Iris B. Smoak Scholarship, which was established to assist a Gadsden County student who also wanted to attend FAMU.

WILLIAM RUSH May 2019 William Rush was affectionately known as “Mack” by all who knew him. He received his bachelor’s degree in business from FAMU, where the Tallahassee native distinguished himself as editor-in-chief of the FAMUan, a student-run newspaper. He was the first Black graduate of Florida State University to earn certification from the National Council for Interior Design. Rush was also a community leader who was instrumental in enhancing the Frenchtown Neighborhood.

SHERLYNE JOSEPH June 2019 Sherlyne Joseph was scheduled to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in education from the FAMU College of Education on December 14, which was one of her goals. Her ultimate dream and goal were to, become a lawyer. Yet, her University family and acquaintances were saddened by her unexpected early departure, as were all who were touched by her generous spirit and kindness.


Department at FAMU. The younger McKinney graduated in 2010 from Malone High School and later attended FAMU’s School of Architecture and Engineering Technology. He also completed the barbering program at Lively Technical College. The young father, well known for his quiet demeanor and infectious personality, was also viewed by many as a role model.

TERRY LUCAS June 2019 Terry Lynn Lucas, 71, of Tallahassee, died unexpectedly on June 11. Born in Lakeland, Fla., Lucas grew up in Tallahassee and graduated from Florida A&M (FAMU) DRS High School. where he was an outstanding athlete.He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from FAMU, where he also excelled as a FAMU student athlete. He was a longtime assistant principal in Leon County. He worked at Godby High School, where he served as coach and athletic director over the years. He is survived by his wife, Sabrina W. Lucas; children, Sean and Terri Lucas and George (Monica) Burns; grandson, Gabriel Lucas; and sister Marleta Clayton.

June 2019 An outstanding and determined young man, Tyras J. McKinney, was a master barber at Clippers Barbershop. Friends, family and co-workers called him “T.J.” He was the son of Maverick McKinney, an electrician in the Plant Operations and Maintenance Electric A&M MAGAZINE // FALL 2019 // 45