On August 20, 1963, I arrived in the USA, from British Guiana (now Guyana) as the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship. About three days later, I explained to a Yale professor that I could not make my presentation that day, but needed to see a doctor. I was stunned when he said: ‘You Black students always have excuses. Now you are a Fulbright scholar. You will have to work hard to deserve that honor.’ Fortunately, I was able to locate the administrator in charge of the program who took me to the Yale New Haven Hospital where I was immediately admitted and spent 10 days in diagnostic procedures and treatment.
Later I learned that during my hospital stay, Dr. Martin Luther King, in his historic Washington speech, said that he hoped his ‘four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ In less than one week in the US, I had experienced being judged by the color of my skin.
I went on to Lehigh University, where I was one of four Black students in the entire University. I not only experienced discrimination, but I also experienced professors and students who accepted me because of the content of my character.These individuals occupy conscious space in my Lehigh memories.
I celebrate being a member of the prestigious Gryphon Society of Freshman counselors. I celebrate the memory of Dean Yates, who insisted on paying the initiation fee for Phi Beta Kappa when he learned that I had declined it because I did not have the fee. I accepted his kind offer when he explained that this was an important recognition of my academic achievements.
And I will never forget Professor Daen, one of the Professors in Physical Chemistry. He was the first person who asked that simple question: Tell me about you, the person Frank Douglas. At the end of that conversation, he pointed out that after three years I had enough credits to graduate, and although it was March, he would get me interviews at several graduate chemistry programs. Suffice it to say, not only did he do that, but he also guided me in making my final choice for Cornell University. We selected Cornell from among the other prestigious acceptances because of his analysis of the philosophical life challenges with which I was dealing. As he said: You will be in a demanding Chemistry graduate program, but you will also be able to drop in at the Willard Straight Hall and participate in the latest political or philosophical discussions. This was the mid-sixties!
And I celebrate my friend Dr. James Stamoolis, who helped me understand aspects of American university life and culture. I also have lasting memories of my Gryphon, Dr. Geoffrey Stiles, who appeared at my dorm room on December 26, 1963, because he knew that I was alone on the campus and probably without money.
Those who judge others by the content of their character automatically and naturally Include and practice Equity.
Dr. Frank L. Douglas
SAFE HAVEN DIALOGUES