today in black history

October 20, 2020

Jomo Kenyatta, African nationalist and first president of Kenya, was born in 1893. He would lead Kenya from 1964 until 1978.

To My Friend, Walter Stafford

POSTED: October 15, 2008, 12:00 am

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I can hardly believe that you are gone. For years now I put your illness in the back of my mind because I did not want to think about the possibility of losing you to that fate we must all face. It seemed inconceivable that you would be taken away, with still so much for you to do, lessons for you to teach, and ideas for you to put forth, and injustices to confront.

I know you would laugh to hear me suggest that words are difficult for me to come by, but at this moment they are given the great sense of loss I feel with your departure from this earth. I so valued your wisdom as my professor, your patience as my mentor, and your kinship as my friend. We shared the same name and many of the same personality traits, and you above many other people, really understood me for who I am. I will always appreciate that and thank God for your presence in my life.

You shared more than your knowledge with me, you allowed me into your life and I am all the more better for it. Always humble, you introduced me to one of my childhood heroes, Dr. Robert Weaver, your mentor, and I recall with great joy the many conversations and laughs the three of us shared. You connected me two of my comrades-in-arms at NYU, Flores Forbes and Earl Simons, as the three of us worked collectively to make certain that you would receive the appointment as the first full-time Black faculty member at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. When I was prepared to leave graduate school and immediately seek my payday, you pushed me toward a non-profit organization, lecturing me that I had other work to do. And you introduced me to the person who would later become my wife, Donna, who you predicted was what I needed to be more complete as a person.

So much of my development since meeting you has been about you; always wanting to prove that I could measure up to your expectations but knowing that your only real expectation was that I did not underestimate the contribution I could make to my community. You renewed in me a sense of the possible at a time when I had begun to doubt whether the injustices heaped upon Black Americans, and people of color, could ever be adequately addressed and reconciled. You were one of the smartest people I have ever met and I will always admire your ability to connect scholarship to advocacy in a way that the academic community never fully appreciated or valued.

Most of all thank you for keeping it real. Despite your many accomplishments and accolades, you were always Walter or Billy. You never let your Ph.D. separate you from your community and you instilled in others a sense of self worth that the academic community often suffocates. If more students had the experience of learning from you, or individuals like you, our public policy would more accurately reflect the type of interventions that could actually result in a just society.

My friend your life was not lived in vain. Those of us who knew you are far richer by the experience of being in your orbit. I thank you from the depths of my heart for all that you did for me. I will never forget you and love you dearly. May God bless you on your journey and be well, until we meet again.

- Walter Fields is Executive Director of 

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