“Hamilton, who died Dec. 1 at 84, had a gift for building people back up, and he leaves behind thousands whose lives are better for it,” was how the article read by an Eastern Michigan University reporter back in 2007.
Well, I don’t know if I am left behind, but one thing for sure I’m one of the tens of thousands that have a really cool story we carry embroidered into the fabric of our memory about having been honored to connect with whom we endearingly call, Uncle Theo “The Candy Man” [for his love of hard candies].
One Friday in September after 5pm I navigated through EMU campus to find the location of a Career Services workshop for designing a teacher resume. I’d arrived on campus August 7, 1995, 27 years to the date of EMU hiring their first African-American administrator, Theophilus E. Hamilton.
Following a short tenure teaching for three years in Indianapolis, Indiana I journeyed west seeking certification in special education for emotionally challenged K – 12 students. EMU lead the country in teaching and producing education personnel and as a mature student I was determined to leverage every opportunity available, especially those for free, which connected me with this university icon.
Shortly after getting settled in I read about the workshop on the bulletin board in the basement of McKenny Union and found it odd that there was a specific way teachers were suppose to write their resume, so I signed up. After waiting about 15 minutes Uncle Theo and I both decided no other students would be joining us for an in-depth Friday night discussion on the pedagogy of resume writing for teachers and promptly headed out for dinner.
That evening Uncle Theo shared both his enthusiasm for being able to help new teachers start careers in a profession close to his heart along with the bitter sweet reality of not being able to supply candidates of color from the college of education because we simply weren’t there in the numbers needed to meet recruiters interest in providing diversified employment opportunities at the annual teacher’s job fair. I remember walking away from that conversation with my new friend feeling a sense of urgency to make a significant difference on our campus.
Within two years I founded a grassroots student organization, AAMET (African American Men Empowered to Teach), that was birthed out of Uncle Theo’s vision of having other first time African-American teacher candidates being awarded the opportunity to impact academia in ways he had done so naturally. Its been 13 years since meeting Uncle Theo and the personal connection we shared still lives in me daily as I go about doing whatever I can to affect new teachers the way he empowered me one Friday night a decade ago.