Not longer than a few weeks ago, we lost our Chancellor due to a long battle with cancer.
I can only recall brief memories of her while she was still on earth with the rest of us. I remember her walking into the cafeteria with that same bright and perfect smile as she passed by, greeting students and Sodexo employees alike.
The other memory is a quick “hello, how are you?” as I passed her on the way to a class near the Greek bowl.
I went to the vigil for the Chancellor and as I gazed up at the photo of her in dressed in ceremonial robes, I couldn’t help but notice she had that same expression.
I expected the vigil to be a gloomy affair with tears and sporadic sniffling, but the choir busted into uplifting and joyful songs.
Even still, I had to fight back a tear and some sniffles myself.
The speeches given and songs by the choir complemented what was an indomitable and strong spirit, which reminded the students to continue to have fight left in us to pursue our personal goals and be great examples for those who will come after us.
This is what Debra Saunders-White managed to do with her life, and this is her legacy that will continue to exist.
I never got to know her personally, and can only give all of these observations based off of my glimpses of her in person and in a tribute video they made for her.
I managed to complete this sketch before we were ushered outside.
We were each given LED candles that we held toward the sky as the choir songs dipped into a more heavy, somber mood.
Aside from having that fighting spirit, no matter what challenges or disappointments occur in life, we also have to honor those not-so-happy moments where we pause to think and reflect; Debra Saunders-White is one who will never be forgotten.
On November 26th, N.C. Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White died after a long term battle with cancer. On November 28th, a memorial service and candle light vigil was held in her honor at NCCU.
The following documentary is an in-depth look into the entire event, from the setup to the very end.
On Nov. 26, N.C. Central University and others received sad news that Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, 59, died after a long battle with kidney cancer.
To honor and celebrate Saunders-White’s life, the university arranged a memorial service at B.N. Duke Auditorium Monday evening. By 5 p.m., there was only standing room for students, faculty, and staff in the 250-capacity auditorium.
Attendees were greeted with an uplifting and powerful gospel performance from the NCCU Worship and Praise Inspirational Gospel Choir. Several student volunteers stood in front of the stage with baskets of ribbons, offering attendees maroon and gray ribbons to pin on their clothing for the memorial service.
At the service, Student Body President Alesha Holland, Miss NCCU Dajah Johnson and others spoke about their relationship with Saunders-White and her legacy.
A video tribute portrayed Saunders-White’s spirited personality and dedication to the university’s students, faculty and staff. Attendees witnessed several moments of Saunders-White dancing and laughing with students, hugging new NCCU alumni on graduation day, and cheering on the football team from sidelines of the field.
Keenan Farr, an NCCU junior, said he remembered having a deep conversation with Saunders-White during his freshman year while he was going through a difficult time. When Farr heard about her death, it shocked him.
“When I heard the news, it took me by surprise when it happened because I know what kind of lady she is,” said Farr. “Saunders-White was a very hard-working woman. She was dedicated to making sure the students on campus succeeded in whatever they wanted to do. She was a strong support system at every campus event. She encouraged us to do our best every single day. She is someone who motivated everyone on campus to strive for excellence in the classroom every day.”
One of his fondest memories of Saunders-White was when she appeared at Homecoming’s annual event, Late-night Breakfast, during his freshman year.
“The way that she was interacting and engaging with the students at that time of the day, it was just amazing,” he said. “At that point, she came as if she was one of us and that’s what really stood out to me. She was interacting as a regular person and not just ‘Chancellor Debra Saunders-White.’ ”
He said he also encourages students and others to “just remember her legacy and remember what she stood for as a person.”
After the tribute video, the audience was led out of the auditorium row by row for the vigil lighting. Each person received a tea light candle as they made their way to Hoey Circle, which was decorated with bright white Christmas lights, pictures, notes, and white flower bouquets and wreaths.
The NCCU Choir sang somber gospel tunes as everyone circled around the James E. Shepard statue. The speakers at the vigil asked everyone to hold their candles up to the evening sky in memory of Saunders-White, which was followed by a long moment of silence. Toward the end of the vigil, candles were placed near the flowers. Attendees comforted each other after mourning the loss of Saunders-White.
NCCU senior Nathanial Dunn said he understood what it was like to lose a loved one to cancer. In his experience, he lost his mother to breast cancer.
“When I think of my mother, I realize there’s some peace that comes after suffering,” said Dunn. “It was comforting to know that [Saunders-White] isn’t suffering anymore. It was very devastating. It was unbelievable because she seemed in good health when I last saw her.”
For Dunn, he said that he will always remember the chancellor’s “brilliance” and “charisma.”
“When I was able to speak with the chancellor on one occasion, she seemed so pleasant. She was very encouraging,” he said. “I think that made her unique. She was a wonderful person.”
Saunders-White was NCCU’s 11th chancellor and she was the first woman to hold a permanent position of chancellor.
Before becoming the NCCU chancellor, Saunders-White served as a deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs in the Department of Education.
The university will be holding the “Celebration of Life Tribute” for Saunders-White on Friday, Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. inside the McDougald-McLendon Arena.
N.C. Central University students who aren’t cut out to be physical athletes can rejoice now because there’s a new sports club in the making. The club’s name is NCCU eSports, which focuses on competitive gaming. The group was established in 2015.
The student leader of the club is Travis McCorkle. He is a senior studying political science and currently serves as the club’s president. McCorkle said it all started with an interest meeting.
“We had an interest meeting last year. They sent out a flyer. I was like ‘I play League of Legend, so I’m going to show up.’ Next thing we knew we had eight people last year,” said McCorkle.
Those eight people met Monday through Thursday at Leroy T. Walker Complex. League of Legend and Super Smash Bros set the tone for the club’s journey into eSports. Jon Childress, the club’s competitive sports coordinator, said he was currently trying to get more tournaments off the ground for the future.
“I have a meeting with [Derrick Garrett] on Monday. We’re supposed to be setting up some tournaments,” said Childress.
Childress mentioned that other games they would like to run tournaments for include Madden, 2K, and even Mortal Kombat. Last year on April 10 the club held a ”Super Smash Bros 4” tournament. McCorkle thought the event went okay but said he felt as if it could have been a little better.
“It was a step in the right direction,” said McCorkle. “It wasn’t negative but for what we were going for, it’s like we wanted so much but we got a modest amount. We were okay with that.”
Childress agreed with McCorkle about the club’s steady progress.
“We’re just taking the proper steps right now, trying to get there,” he said.
College eSports are not unique to college campuses. Several universities have their own version of an eSports club. They all compete for the same thing: scholarship money.
NCCU eSports is trying to level their club with other organizations from universities, such as Robert Morris University in Chicago, which has paved the way for the competitive gaming on school campuses.
According to ESPN, it is said that eSports “scholarships will cover up to 50 percent of tuition and 50 percent of room and board. That’s worth up to $19,000 per student.”
“We’re trying to get it to where we get people who are coming here, they’re coming here to play those games,” said Childress.
Both Childress and McCorkle are working toward getting the eSports club at NCCU to this level, “step by step.”
“Hopefully we can reach our ultimate goal to be like other schools where students that come here and maybe get scholarship money, but they come to school for eSports,” said Childress.
McCorkle added that he would like for the club to offer incentives for future gamers to be a part of NCCU’s eSports community.
He said he wants the students to “get some kind of benefit of coming here.”
By establishing the NCCU eSports Club, both McCorkle and Childress’ goal is to have competitive video gaming recognized as a sports club.
If the two manage to get the club off the ground, NCCU will be the first HBCU to have an eSports team competing with other universities.
Childress said that they are planning to have a tournament sometime in January for either Madden or 2K. There has never been a better time to be a competitive gamer than now.
Frank Rodriguez, a newly-arrived assistant professor at N.C. Central University’s Department of Criminal Justice, never expected to become a role model for others and youth.
He’s been a taxi driver, a kindergarten teacher, and apolice officer before coming to teach at NCCU. In addition to his academic background, he has a wealth of “real world” experience.
He’s a third-generation Mexican American who grew up in Donna, a south Texas town of about 15,000 near the border with Mexico.
In the early days, his family moved between Texas and Colorado as migrant farm workers, never losing sight of the big picture despite experiencing hardship.
“When we came back to Texas, we lived in a shack made of wood and dirt floors with no indoor plumbing. My dad and my mom both decided in their early 20s, that there’s nothing bright in their future if they didn’t go to school,” said Rodriguez.
They stressed to Rodriguez that getting an education was key. Eventually, his father became a 6th grade English teacher while his mother worked at Montessori’s Children’s Cottage.
Rodriguez wanted to work in juvenile justice, helping rehabilitate at-risk youth. This inspired his guiding principle “kids need a chance.”
To continue this principle, he attended Prairie View A&M for his Ph.D. in juvenile justice.
His dissertation, “Unaccompanied Latino Youth on the United States-Mexico Border: A Qualitative Study,” examined the life experiences and hardships faced by 12 undocumented Latino youth who had crossed the border without their parents.
One Latino youth he interviewed named “Dynamo,” who was 22 years old at the time, was 18 years old when he left Mexico. When Rodriquez first interviewed him about his experience, he noticed “Dynamo” wasn’t comfortable with inviting Rodriguez into his home.
“Dynamo” lived in small trailer home with several other family members. “Dynamo” was still an undocumented immigrant and was working in the fields to help support his family.
According to Rodriguez, “Dynamo” had to give up going to college because he wasn’t able to afford it. “Dynamo’s” mother also was suffering from cancer, but the family couldn’t take her to the hospital to get help.
Rodriguez’ dissertation followed several stories such as “Dynamo’s” that touched on the hardship of coming to America alone.
Rodriguez presented his research at conferences and conventions around the country, meeting people such National Institute of Justice director Nancy Rodriguez, “Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys” author Victor Rios, and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and his twin brother, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.
Rodriguez says he’s thrilled to be working at NCCU and to be able to dedicate himself fully to the cause of juvenile justice.
He’s completed one chapter in his book “Handbook for Foster Youth,” so far. It will be published through Routledge Taylor and Francis Book Company.
During the presidential campaign, N.C. Central University was buzzing with an unmistakable energy.
In October, former Vice Presidential Candidate Tim Kaine along with Durham basketball legend Grant Hill visited the verdant green to get students excited about early voting. They convinced students that North Carolina could sweep the election for democratic candidates.
And then on Nov. 3 Hillary Clinton made a surprise visit to the W.G. Pearson Cafeteria with music icon Pharrell Williams. For students pulling for a Clinton victory, it seemed as if everything was panning out perfectly.
Then Election Day came. And the Donald Trump who many said had no path to victory became the president-elect overnight, thanks to a surprising come-from-behind victory.
In the days following the end of one of the most politically divisive election cycles in American history, the Campus Echo reached out to the NCCU community to find out how Eagles are reacting to the prospect of a Trump presidency.
First of all, how did he do it?
Criminal justice and psychology junior Ashley Hurst said that Trump’s victory was set up by many American’s animosity towards President Barack Obama.
“I feel like it was a ‘white lash.’ People were very mad at the fact that there was a black president in office,” she said. “It really just shows how much hate and how much oppression and how much — just discrimination is circulated in the country.”
Hurst called Trump’s campaign “strategic,” adding that Hillary could have done more to secure a victory.
“If I can’t call him any other good name, I can call him a businessman,” she said. “He made sure to hit the states that he knew he would win, but he also hit states where he knew he was on the brink.”
An art senior who wished to go by “Peace” said that Trump’s election reveals “how Americans really feel.”
“This is the first time our president has had no experience,” he said. “It’s a big shock to the world. He was saying what others wouldn’t say.”
On campus, a feeling of surprise was a common reaction among students and staff.
“I pretty much thought Hillary had it locked in,” said political science junior Xavier Guions. “I really didn’t think he would have as many voters turnout as he had. And all the polls had her leading.”
Eric Morris, a government documents technician at the James E. Shepard Library said he was feeling confident in a Clinton victory leading up to Election Day. Then the results started coming in, making him nervous.
“I was down towards the end, but I was still hopeful that we would pull something through, at least the Senate. But that went awry, as well,” Morris said. “I had some hope, but I was really surprised — just devastated.”
Then, surprise gave way to worry.
“I have two strikes, personally, because he’s sexist and he’s racist. I’m black and a woman, and so that really scares me,” Hurst said.
Morris, who said he followed the election online as it played out, said “I think we’re headed for complete disaster in this country.”
And while every student the Campus Echo talked to was hoping for a different outcome, some students said they are still feeling somewhat optimistic.
Political science senior Chase Norwood said he doesn’t think Trump’s time in the White House will be “as bad as everyone thinks.”
“Trump was originally registered as a Democrat. In terms of ideology, when it comes to economics, he’s more liberal than Hillary is, and lots of people don’t understand that,” Norwood said. “Of course, I was devastated because I voted for Hillary, not because I actually liked her; I just felt like she was the lesser of two evils.”
Guions said he is hoping Trump “does a good job.”
“Maybe he’ll get in there and turn things around, try to make things better,” he said. “He’ll have a lot of influence around him that could help him do some good for the country. So, I’m kind of optimistic.”
Norwood said that some of Trump’s policies that he has laid out during the election cycle, such as building a wall on our border with Mexico and banning Muslims from entering the country, will not actually happen during his term.
“I feel like once he gets into office and realizes some of the implications of the nonsense he’s been saying, he’ll tone down,” said Norwood. “He’s already the president, now. He doesn’t have to lie anymore.”
Though “devastated” when he realized that Trump would assume the highest office in the country, Morris said he hopes Trump succeeds, “but I hope he succeeds in a nice way, a good way.”
NCCU Acting Chancellor Johnson Akinleye told students via email that “regardless of your position regarding the outcomes of the election, the election cycles represented the democratic process at work,”calling it “something that we must all embrace.”
The Eagles, undefeated in conference play, face their toughest competition as they host the North Carolina A&T Aggies on Nov. 19. The winner of the match will claim the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.
The rival matchup will be the 88th between the 20th-ranked Eagles and the 9th-ranked Aggies (9-1, 7-0 MEAC).
“This is school history, just the possibility being able to beat A&T three times in a row means a lot,” said senior quarterback Malcom Bell.
Malcom Bell had 223 yards on Nov. 12 against Howard University. This moved him to second on NCCU’s career passing list with 5,916 yards. Bell became second in the school’s career leaders with 7,258 yards of total offense thanks to his performance against the Bison.
Bell’s 122 rushing yards versus Howard were the most by an NCCU quarterback since 1999.
“We’re going to face a very talented lineup coming up; so we have to be ready and understand how important is to execute at a high level,” NCCU football Head Coach Jerry Mack said during a press conference after the Howard game.
“It is very important that we take the next seven days very seriously to refine our play since it all matters next Saturday.”
Offense played a key part in helping the Eagles to a victory over Howard. Wide receiver David Miller had three grabs for 36 yards, including a diving catch in the end zone.
“This win is just another step in winning the national championship, we have been waiting for this rematch since last year,” said Miller.
Last year around November, the Eagles won the Aggie-Eagle Classic, but they tied with N.C. A&T for the National MEAC Championship.
Both universities had to share the title last year. If they win Nov. 19, they’ll remain undefeated in the conference play and will be sole champions.
“Coach told me last year when we beat A&T and tied for the championship that he wanted us to win it out right next year.
So I took it upon myself and the defense to make sure we are ready for anything, next Saturday,” said red shirt senior linebacker LeGrande Harley.
Telling players not to jump ahead and focus on each game day by day, Mack is trying to prepare the teams for its showdown with the Aggies.
He said he hopes his team can make improvements, before the matchup.
“Every week presents a different challenge, and finally it all leads up to this final challenge where our guys have put it all on the line,” said Mack.
The Aggie-Eagle Classic is set for Saturday, Nov. 19 at NCCU’S O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium at 2 p.m.
For many African Americans, basketball and football are the sports of choice. Swimming doesn’t usually fall into that category.
But during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Simone Manuel of the United States was an exception to this rule. She was the first African American woman to win gold in individual swimming. She noticed the lack of black representation in swimming.
“I hope I’m an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming,” Manuel said.
Here at N.C. Central University, in the Walker Complex sits a large, often-unused, 13-foot-deep swimming pool. Lifeguards look over the few occasional swimmers who come for recreation. There are diving boards, lane markers, and empty bleachers.
“They [students] don’t want to know where it is,” Thornton Draper, NCCU associate professor of physical education and recreation laments. “They know where to find the weight room and the basketball court.”
Beyond just NCCU, the history of African Americans and swimming is a grim one.
“It goes back to slavery time. They didn’t want to teach us how to read and write,” NCCU Associate Professor of Mass Communication Charmaine McKissick-Melton says.
“They didn’t want us to know how to swim so we’d be unable to escape. When we get to the desegregation era after slavery, most of our facilities – when we did have recreation places – didn’t have swimming pools. Even when we integrated, that was one of the last places to integrate. The park might be integrated so people could play on the swing. But swimming pools weren’t 90 percent of the time in Durham.”
Before integration, blacks who attempted to enter whites-only pools were assaulted and beaten. And even after integration, swimming pools were often a hostile environment for black children.
As a consequence, generations of African Americans have never learned to swim.
Today, the CDC reports that young African Americans are three times more likely to drown than white children. And seventy percent of African Americans say they can’t swim at all.
A 2010 report estimated that if a minority parent can’t swim, the chances of their children being able are less than one in five. And in a study where 2,000 parents and children were interviewed, African Americans reported to be especially suspicious and fearful of swimming activities.
Water not only takes the lives of young children but also of powerful athletes. In 1983 Joe Delaney was a star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs. The 24-year-old didn’t know how to swim, yet he jumped in to rescue three young boys in the water, one of them survived.
McKissick-Melton, herself a swimmer, made it a priority to get her children swimming at an early age. She feels swimming ability should be part of the fitness curriculum. It wasn’t long ago that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill required its students to demonstrate their swimming ability to graduate.
Chemistry junior Kinaya Brown-Bass has several family members who swam competitively for years. She has taken several lessons, but in a family of competitive swimmers, she has not learned how to swim.
“I personally feel I have a fear of water,” Kinaya says. “Whenever I try to float, I think I’m going to drown.”
Draper recommends that those who have a fear of water should think about taking classes at the YMCA, rather than taking classes on campus.
NCCU student Kimberly Thompson, the youngest of five siblings, said she is determined to swim. When she was little, her mother kept her from going in past her waist. After graduation, she wishes to join the military along with her fiancé who is also a swimmer.
“I have to learn how to swim. My fiancé wants to move to South Carolina and live near the beach.”
Thompson urged others to learn, too.
“It’s a necessity. It’s a life lesson, everyone should have,” she said. “You never know when your life would count on it.”
For senior tennis player Tamara Jeremic, the past four years at N.C. Central University have been tough with “a lot of blood, sweat, and tears left on the court,” but entirely worth it.
Jeremic’s journey to NCCU, like that of most students here, started with a college search. But unlike others, she was living thousands of miles away in her home country of Serbia.
“It was a bit weird in the beginning,” Jeremic (pronounced YEH-reh-meech) admitted.
“I had to make a video of myself playing to pinpoint the major shots and everything. Then it was emails to coaches at any school I could find telling them who I was and what I was interested in studying under a full scholarship.”
She had offers with full scholarships from schools other than NCCU, but all of those schools had something she or her parents didn’t like.
“It took a while, but I’m glad I’m here,” Jeremic said.
What stood out to Jeremic and her parents about NCCU during the recruiting process was former tennis head coach David Nass, who Jeremic credits with bringing her here and being “a parent to every one of us (tennis players),” especially as she adjusted to living in the United States.
“The (difference between Serbia and the United States) that got me first was that people say ‘hello’ to you and they don’t even know you,” Jeremic said.
“I was so confused the first few times. People holding the door for you and everyone being so apologetic and polite was so strange.”
Jeremic, better known to friends as Tam, says that what comes easiest to her in tennis is her serves because it’s “on her own terms.”
“It takes one second, but it’s still the first shot and you have to make it. Focus is important to me as well — I have to keep my mind on the courts.”
Fellow senior Lynsey Cover, who has played doubles with Jeremic throughout both of their athletic careers at NCCU, said that her teammate is a perfectionist.
“She is very hard on herself because she wants to be the best she can be,” Cover said. “(Tam) loves order.”
Jeremic’s hard work has paid off — outside of doubles wins with Cover every year she’s been at NCCU, Jeremic is a two-time member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Tennis All-Academic team (2015 and 2016) and the 2016 recipient of the Coach’s Award in women’s tennis at the 2016 NCCU Athletics awards ceremony in May.
“Tam is extremely conscientious in everything that she does,” NCCU Women’s Tennis Head Coach and Coordinator of Tennis Operations Tom Schrecengost said. “In terms of her leadership qualities, she’s more of a quiet leader.”
Reflecting on her time here at NCCU, there was one thing that she struggled with throughout the years.
“I miss home. I don’t really get to say it much and I’m usually not a homesick person, but it’s been over a year since I’ve been at home and I’m really feeling it,” she said.
“Especially my little brother Luka and for things like my birthday, which at home is St. Luka’s Day.”
Jeremic’s advice to future international student-athletes that come to NCCU is to try not to think about missing home and “stay optimistic.”
As for where Jeremic is headed after graduation, she plans to enter either a physician’s assistant or graduate program.
“I’m ready to see what’s out there for me. I’m still going to play (tennis) for myself, but we’ll see how it goes.”