By Debbonnaire Kovacs, May 19, 2016

“My vision for the center is that the center will go a long way toward alleviating the high levels of ignorance that we have as it relates to race, ethnicity, and culture. So few are conversant within the Adventist community with these issues and the reality of how they affect so many lives.”

Dr. Timothy Golden, director of Walla Walla University’s  new Donald Blake Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture, was speaking with me by telephone. I was particularly struck by his statement that “we,” specifically Adventists, have “high levels of ignorance” concerning these issues.

Dr. Golden continued, “What I hope the center will accomplish is to bring a higher degree of awareness of the source of bigotry that caused Blake to be treated so badly when he was here in the 60s. By alleviating—no, I shouldn’t say ‘alleviating;’ I should say eliminating—by eliminating this unawareness, people will be sensitized. Not only sensitized, but conversant, so they can discuss these matters intelligently, and the university can truly be a place in which there is enlightenment about matters which concern culture, race, and ethnicity.”

Golden told me the Center has three mandates: 1) increase awareness through a yearly academic conference with a keynote speaker who is an expert on some urgent topic concerning race, ethnicity, and culture, where students from all area universities will be encouraged to come and present research papers related to these matters; 2) pedagogy workshops on curriculum inclusiveness; and 3) WWU students will become involved in their community in social justice projects. He said an advisory board has been selected, which will meet soon to make plans for next year, and that the first conference will be some time next spring. (He also promised to keep me up-to-date, so Adventist Today readers will be informed of these events and of the students’ efforts in social justice.)

President John McVay, quoted in an Adventist Review article, said, “In an increasingly divided and divisive cultural milieu, it can be all too easy for us to forget the values of cultural literacy and diversity that should be deeply embedded in our institutional and missional DNA.”

The Blake Center is so new it doesn’t even have its own page on the university website yet, but they are constructing it now, and Golden said he hopes it will be up by graduation weekend, June 10-12. The center was dedicated on April 24. Donald Blake himself, now 84 years old, was the keynote speaker, Golden reported. Remarks were also given by WWU president John McVay and others, including Golden. Students and staff also had a part in the dedication. Some past students of Dr. Blake were present and very happy to see him again, Golden added.

Dr. Donald Blake was one of the first black tenure-track professors hired at a predominantly white Seventh-day Adventist college when he worked as faculty in the Biological Sciences department from 1962-69. Quite aside from his time at WWU, he has a jaw-dropping array of credentials and experience. He has bachelor’s degrees from Oakwood [then College] and Michigan State University, a master’s from Michigan State, a doctorate from the University of Rhode Island, and an honorary doctorate from Briarwood College. He has taught at Oakwood, University of Rhode Island, Ohio State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Southern Illinois University, Kentucky State University, and the University of Hartford. He has held administrative positions including vice president for academic affairs at Kentucky State and dean of instruction at Mississippi Valley. More than that, he has “extensive experience in corporate management, organizational consulting, and strategic planning with companies such as ITT Hartford Insurance Group, Agape Consulting, and the Center for Personal and Professional Excellence, where he continues to work past his 84thbirthday,” according to a WWU news article written by Kim Strobel.

His own reaction to this new center with his name on it was, “My employment at Walla Walla College led to the integration of higher education in the Adventist education system. Whoever thought that a simple phone call on Memorial Day in 1962 would result in this center being named for me or the center being set up? Since Walla Walla College took the initiative to integrate Adventist higher education, this center is a natural follow up.”

Dr. Golden told me, “We need to have people understand there is a Christian commitment to social justice that we have to adhere to, and part of the way we do that as a university is to enlighten people and encourage that enlightenment to be used for social justice.”

If I may conclude with an opinion, I concur with Dr. Golden that we as Adventists, by and large, have tended to live so separately from “the world,” (and even from each other), that it is true that we seem to know less than we ought to about these issues. From the very beginning, some Adventists have worked to change this state of affairs, and I believe that work is increasing. The Donald Blake Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture is another step in accomplishing this goal. Jesus’ mandate to love one another meant to love all, and I believe God will bless this new center as it works to spread the light of the whole gospel in a darkening world.

Photo caption: Dr. Timothy Golden, left, and Dr. and Mrs. Donald Blake. Used by permission from WWU.

Learn more:

Dr. Golden encourages email queries at timothy.golden@wallawalla.edu

Kim Strobel’s article 

The Review article, which begins with Strobel’s, but adds more