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  • Writer's pictureVernita Brown

The Black History in My Backyard

It's always nice to go back to my alma mater for a visit. On my most recent visit, I went to support my husband, Juston, in participating on an alumni panel for the National Scholars Program.  He had been a part of the program when we were at Clemson and he tries to go back and support their efforts as often as our schedules will allow.  The big aim is to have alumni present to speak to the Clemson experience as well as the unparalleled resources the NSP program provides its participants.  These students are the very best in the country and Clemson lays it all on the line to convince them to join our big orange family.


At the networking dinner, Juston made his way to one of the prospects, a young Black man standing with his parents. After introductions, the mother began asking us about what our experience had been like as Black students attending a predominantly white institution.  At some point in our conversation, my husband mentioned that he'd been the first Black student in the National Scholar program at Clemson, a fact that I'd never known in our 10+ year relationship.  In shock, I interrupted him to clarify what he'd just said and he politely shrugged it off. As he continued to tell this family about the rich experience their child could have in spite of cultural differences, I continued to think about why he'd never shared this information. I mean, he'd been a trailblazer! He was leading the way for others. I thought, "This is a really big deal...why did he never say anything?"


I pressed him on it when we got home. His response? "It wasn't something I hung my hat on...I never wanted to put that pressure on myself." He added, "I just tried to do my best, put one foot in front of the other, and stay humble."  And that's when it hit me, as it has so many times before-- that part of the reason I love him is because he doesn't lead with a megaphone.  He leads with a quiet, steadfast strength. He's a show don't tell kind of leader who never gives up and always keeps a level head.  He's the guy that is going to be there when the smoke clears and he's the guy who can lead without position or title, without exception. He exemplifies a type of leadership I could stand to let roll down my hill a bit more.


We live a pretty modest life. Juston works a modest job. We're usually both home in time for dinner and try to be active members of our community. We try to make time for extended family gatherings too. At the end of the day, he says, "Sure, some people are off doctoring or lawyering...and I know I come from just as good of stock as them, but what's important is how I define success and how I move towards that."

What great perspective from a leader who is wise beyond his years. I'm truly grateful this man is leading my family. He is Black History in the making.

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