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Black History Month Luncheon 

Darrel Trent, Natalie Wells,  Barry Reddish, and Brother Zwadie Abdul Malik share experiences of campus life for them in the late 60s.

By: Najla King, Lion’s Eye Staff Editor,

Darrel Trent said, “My first day, I walked around the campus and I didn’t see a black face anywhere. I looked into each classroom and as I passed, still no one in sight. When I got to the end of the hall, I walked down the steps, out the door and went home.”

This was the story James Garner, aka Brother Zwadie Abdul Malik, Natalie Wells, and Barry Reddish shared during their Black History Month visit, as they shared with students, staff and guests, the experiences of what campus life was like for them as black students at Penn State Brandywine in 1968.

Being black on a predominantly white campus in the late 60s was, by far, not the easiest task, but with the help of one another and influential staff members like, campus director John Vairo, whom Penn State Brandywine’s library is named after, black students beat the odds and stayed to succeed at PSU Brandywine.

“You learned not to be disenchanted by what you heard or what you were told, but instead you did the necessary work to set the stage for those that came after you, for the black people that followed behind you. I would feel bad if I didn’t speak up or didn’t speak out because that set the tone for those following us not to be afraid,” said Trent.

This particular group of unconventional students had a number of disadvantages compared to other students. Some were married, with families, were significantly older or younger than their peers, served in the Vietnam War, or were generally discouraged to continue on to higher education.

Not only was getting their education important, but these speakers emphasized that educating young black students in the area about the values and skills required to make more happen for themselves was an important goal for the students of color.

“We developed relationships with the people in Chester, Sharon Hill, Delaware County and we would go around and tutor elementary school kids. We helped them prepare for academia and for higher education because, without that, they were only subjecting themselves to menial tasks and we wanted them to know they were better than just that,” said Brother Zwadii Malik.

The luncheon not only celebrated Black History Month but the 50th anniversary of Brandywine joining the Penn State community in 1967.

As students, faculty and staff filled the seats in the Tomesko Lounge area to hear these heroic people speak of their experiences at Brandywine, they shed light on important highlights of campus history and who played major roles in their lives.

Former teachers and staff members like John Vairo helped to make their time at Brandywine more pleasant than one would imagine.

“I was four or six credits sort after leaving Delaware County and going to University Park. I couldn’t graduate, so I talked to Dr. John Vairo, who was the campus director and communications professor and he hooked me up. He told me to come back to Brandywine to finish up my last credits. Three times a week I would come and sit with my teacher and later I got my degree. Because of John Vairo we didn’t really have to demonstrate to make our needs heard, he helped us, and there weren’t many people like that,” Natalie Wells shared.

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