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7 February 2008
Dr. William A. Meehan:
Looking Back to Move Forward

By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - The Jacksonville News

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Just as we reflected on the 365 days of 2007 in January to celebrate successes and evaluate direction, we can look back at African American history to move forward for the future. Though it remains unchangeable, history is not static.

This month, Jacksonville State University’s Student Government Association (SGA) has numerous events planned centering on the importance of remembering African American culture and heritage.

Through movies, poetry, song and theatrics, JSU and its surrounding community glance back at Black history to better understand who we are today and where we are determined to go tomorrow.

Dr. Felgar, head of the Department of English, says, “Studying Black literature provides us with the other side of the story, a side that affirms what should be self-evident humanity of African Americans.”

According to the United States Census Bureau in 2000, more than half of the nation’s black population lives in the South. Abiding in Alabama, we are surrounded by the other half of the story. The question is, are we reading it?

Golf champion Tiger Woods and award-winning television host Oprah Winfrey are present household names who had valiant predecessors: African Americans who first paved the path.

Six of these little known heroes will be introduced in the two-person theatrical presentation Portraits of Courage: African Americans You Wish You Had Known at 7 p.m. in the Leone Cole Auditorium Wednesday, Feb. 20.

As the two actors change clothes and become different characters, the audience will be able to read the struggles and triumphs across the faces of historical heroes such as Ida B. Wells, a fearless journalist who wrote about lynching and was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement.

“What’s happened (in the United States) over the last 400 years can’t be understood without a knowledge of it,” says Dr. Felgar. There are many student and youth groups planning to attend the 65-minute Will & Company theater production — all community members are encouraged to attend.

On Tuesday, Feb. 26, the SGA is hosting a Coffee House/Open Mic Night featuring acclaimed poet, Travis Watkins. Brittney Cunningham, vice president of student activities for the SGA, said she saw Watkins, a 6-foot-4-inch-300-pound former Division I football star, at a national conference this year.

“When I first saw Travis at the National Association for Campus Activities Conference this past fall,” says Cunningham, “I immediately noticed that he was a powerful motivational speaker and poet. He is unique because his appearance strays away from what some people would stereotype a poet to be.”

One of Watkins’ platforms is to do just that: break the societal molds of judgment and supposition, which can form around a person. However, I dare anyone to try and confine this star football player carrying strong and lofty goals and ideals matching his mighty physique. After graduating from Kansas University, Watkins participated in the Teach for America program for two years, educating students in the country’s most poverty ridden inner-city schools.

The Black history events occurring on JSU’s campus throughout the month of February provide a look into an important book in history and a representation of present-day heroes in action.

For more information on events, contact Brittney Cunningham at 782-8491 or visit

Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.

About William A. Meehan

Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.

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