Oakes College founding provost to speak on his journey

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J. Herman Blake, founding provost of Oakes College

Beginnings and endings have been on the mind of J. Herman Blake.

There's his start at UC Santa Cruz in 1966 when he accepted an offer to join as a professor of sociology.

And when he was selected to serve as the founding provost for Oakes College, which opened in 1972.

And an ending, when he left the growing campus in 1984 to serve as the president of Tougaloo College.

Exploring the theme of beginnings and endings, Blake will deliver a talk, "My Unique Journey: Learning Never Ends," at 11 a.m. Sept. 26 outside the McHenry Library as part of Founders Celebration weekend. The event, sponsored by the UC Santa Cruz Library, is free and open to the public.

Blake said he hopes to pay tribute to the great work of founding Chancellor Dean McHenry, and many others.

A 1962 Time magazine publicity shot of Dean McHenry has him sitting at a desk adorned with books and a photo with a sweeping view of the Monterey Bay. Blake said the image has been on his mind as he thinks about his talk.

"It's a concept that the sky is the limit," Blake said. "That image says 'the world is yours, make it a good world.'" "I now realize how much that photo of Dean McHenry and the inspiration I received from so many others led me to my own philosophy of education and learning-which reflects that photo."

Blake recounts his time at UC Santa Cruz and his life after leaving the campus in "Look'n M' Face and Hear M' Story," an oral history published last year by the library.

"I kept thinking about my experiences as an undergraduate: open, receptive teachers who took me and molded and motivated me," Blake said. "That's what I wanted to do. And Santa Cruz was developing that way."

While at Santa Cruz he also developed a program that linked the university to Gullah Geechee communities in South Carolina. UC Santa Cruz students lived and served in those communities, and ultimately three students from South Carolina enrolled at UC Santa Cruz.

Now in South Carolina, Blake serves as the executive director for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission where he continues to emphasize his educational perspectives.
The corridor was created by Congress in 2006 to recognize the important contributions made to American culture and history by the Gullah Geechee: African Americans who settled in the coastal counties of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida.

In the middle of the night on June 17, Blake awoke to news about the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. The church was where Blake and his wife would go to worship around Christmas, and where he laid his uncle to rest.

Feeling tremendously touched and upset, Blake wrote a lament that was issued by the commission the next morning:

In the completely black darkness of the night and early morning, in the deep recesses of moss-laden oak trees, ponds and lagoons where our ancestors toiled for generations, we drop down-our knees to the cold floor-and we seek understanding, we seek solace, we seek a way out of this "no-way".

Our sobbing voices utter unspoken prayers as we gather in supplication to the spirits that have brought us this far by faith.

Our hearts are broken, but we know comfort is there. Our spirits are strong because we know guidance is there.

Our faith is triumphant because we know our beloved community is here.

"Knee-bone, knee-bone, knee-bone, Oh my Lord."