A personal tribute to a friend, scholar, educator and muse...
It doesn’t take much for me to give definition to the vast amount of content that has had meaning to our daily existence as people of color. In all of us we can usually finger a few that have contributed to your development in mind, body, and spirit. Asa Hilliard was one of those people for me. He was an educational psychologist and a leading proponent of Afrocentric studies in public schools, died Aug. 13 in Egypt, where he was on an annual study tour with students. He had complications of malaria and died in Cairo. Since 1980, Dr. Hilliard had been the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University. He previously had spent 18 years on the faculty of San Francisco State University, where he became dean of education. I met him during his visits to Atlanta from California. I was an inquisitive student that wouldn’t take no for an answer and he was always there, diligently answering all of my questions.
In the span of a 50-year period, I’m sure I can come up with a few other names to add to a list of prominent people that have influenced me -- and my memory is long. There was the librarian during the adolescent years of elementary education, Mrs. Kimbro, who first introduced me to the power of knowledge and all of the aspects of reading; and in Junior and Senior High School Henry Mott and Quentin North respectfully, gave lip service in ways where the chalkboard was rendered obsolete because they demanded undivided attention, and expected application where needed. In the armed services not matter where I was stationed there always were distinguished officers that I gleaned valuable information from, but during my college years in Atlanta at Morehouse was special. It was there that I first met Dr. Benjamin Mays, who at the time had already been elected president of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, where he supervised the peaceful desegregation of Atlanta's public schools. He published two autobiographies, Born to Rebel (1971), and Lord, the People Have Driven Me On (1981), of which I still consort to today.
But Asa Hilliard stood out. He truly exemplified a man among men and an erudite scholar to boot. When I was feeling sorry for myself, and exhibited little respect for the man I was destined to become, it was Asa who taught me what self-respect meant in an Afrocentric pedagogy; we fought tooth and nails against unequal treatment within the Georgia University system during sit-ins, my fellow students including a young incorrigible Samuel L. Jackson, it was Asa Hilliard who reined us in and gave us a methodology to fight the establishment better; and when I needed to see first hand how my ancestors lived, it was Asa Hilliard who organized one of the first Africentric tour of Egypt – I was one of many who benefited from that inaugural trip. Subsequently I was personally introduced to Molefi Asante and many of the leading African American Studies scholars and members of the 1974 Morehouse Chapter of the National Council for Black Studies were able to embrace the philosophies of such activists as Maulana Karenga, James Stewart, Leonard Jeffries and Wade Nobles. It was Asa Hilliard who instigated it all. Yes, meaningful content is being in the right place to be filled to the brim with knowledge that feed the soul to know who you are, where you come from, and where we as a united front should be going.
I was able to validate my meaningful content with what I learned by embracing and implementing a set of innovative training guides known as the "African-American Baseline Essays." The essays developed by educators in Portland, Ore., viewed ancient black Egypt as the birthplace of the philosophical, mathematical and scientific theories that formed civilization. And I used them as guidelines teaching and mentoring to youths. Without Dr. Hilliard, these important educational tools wouldn’t be what they are to curricula nationwide in our school systems. My tribute to Dr. Asa Hilliard is a reminder that inherent knowledge should go much deeper for long lasting testaments in being educated the right way. If I had a chance to leave a message on his tombstone it would read as such: “Mr. Hilliard, you left me much, and gave me more incentive than you’d ever know. The Lord called you home while you were doing what you do best – showing and teaching African-American students the way to their African ancestors. I will miss the southern comfort of your unique interpretive analysis in academia, where you made African studies and minority achievement your chief concern during a long career as a writer, consultant and lecturer. Rest on my Brother, and know that you will be missed!”