By Paul Holston
A distinguished scholar, activist, political scientist, professor, mentor, author and above all, civil servant, Dr. Ronald W. Walters is remembered as a multi-faceted leader with boundless contributions to the Black community and the African diaspora during his lifetime as the fifth anniversary of his death arrived Sept. 10.
Reflecting on his own life, Walters said in a notable quote, “I’d like to be remembered as someone who gave his life and his resources to the idea of the dignity of the African person, the unity of people of African descent…”
Walters died at the age of 72 on September 10, 2010, as a result of cancer, confirmed by his wife, Patricia Ann Turner Walters. Five years later after his death, the “scholar activist” continues to posthumously contribute towards Black history, particularly at Howard University, where the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center continues to carry on the legacy of his life’s work since 2011.
The founding of the center was based on the 25 years Walters worked at Howard University from 1971-1996, serving as both a professor and chair of the political science department. He was set to return to Howard as a senior research fellow before his untimely death.
“He was not your typical professor…he also branched out to the community,” said Dr. Elsie L. Scott, Ph.D., founding director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center. “The [Walters’] Center was designed to [focus on] the two major areas that Walters worked…[he] was really interested in creating the next generation of leaders. He would call them ‘scholar activists.’”
According to the Walters Center’s official website, Walters began as an activist being the local youth chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Wichita, Kan., his hometown, when he organized one of the nation’s first lunch-counter sit-ins protesting against desegregation at the Dockum Drug Store during the summer of 1958. It wasn’t until 2006 that Walters was awarded an NAACP award for his actions in the ‘50s.
Other notable achievements that the Fisk University graduate accomplished included being the campaign manager and consultant during Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988, served as the advisor to the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus and worked as a member of the official U.S. delegation that monitored the South African elections that included Nelson Mandela at the end of apartheid.
Released in the recent News and Notes “Special Edition” in remembrance of Walters from the Walter’s Center, Walters’ wife, Patricia, said, “Ron was foremost a man of integrity, he had a total and absolute commitment to our race, and to that end spoke truth to power.”
Many of his colleagues and friends expressed great praise and commemoration of the man who was known as a political scholar.
“When I succeeded in bringing Ron Walters to Howard University in 1971, I knew that I had struck pure gold,” said in the statement by Dr. Andrew Billingsley, Howard University’s former Vice President for Academic Affairs from 1970-1974. “He rapidly became a leading light in crafting the Black University at Howard during the decade of the 1970s and beyond.”
“Dr. Walters was a man of great integrity and intellect. He was like a member of my family, and I miss him every day,” said in the statement by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, who was a student of Walters at Howard University in the early 1970s.
“As a professor, he consistently told me to reach high and to become a part of the political process. He encouraged me to run for Congress back in 1996, saying, ‘Not only will you win, you must win.’”
Five years after Walters’ death, Scott is continuing to uphold the legacy of Walters’ dynamic work. She said she continues to be encouraged by not only having the invaluable knowledge given to her by Walters, whom she personally knew since her time being a former Howard graduate student, but she is also focusing on the present and future of the Walters’ Center.
“We started off primarily preserving the legacy of Walters, but now it goes beyond that,” Scott said. “The legacy that he left means that I [personally] cannot be just a Ph.D.…I have to be engaged in the community.”
“[What] sticks with me is that he worked up until he died. He was still very much engaged and that’s the way he wanted people to remember him. That’s the legacy he leaves us: He lived until he died.”
[Story was Published in Howard University’s “The Hilltop” Student Newspaper 14Sept2015]