Group plans alternative Pride celebration

Some local activists have a message for people of color within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community: “Pick a Pride.”

Ariana Steele, the co-founder of Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus, is offering an alternative to the annual Stonewall Columbus Pride festival and parade which draws hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people and their supporters Downtown. Steele’s group is planning its own event, Columbus Community Pride, on June 16 — the same day as Stonewall’s parade.

The move to create a separate Pride event, which will take place at Mayme Moore Park in the King-Lincoln neighborhood, was prompted by a series of events last year that Steele said illustrated Stonewall Columbus’ inability to accommodate marginalized groups within the LGBTQ community.

Last summer, four protesters — two of whom regularly attended meetings of Steele’s group — were arrested after interrupting the Stonewall Columbus Pride parade. Steele said the four were protesting the lack of intersectionality — a term used to describe accommodating multiple identities within a movement — as well as the “overwhelming” volume of police at Stonewall Columbus Pride.

″(Collaboration with police) makes it not inclusive because people of color historically have had bad experiences with police,” Steele said. “By collaborating with the police for their Pride … Stonewall is showing they’re not taking into account the needs of people of color in their community.”

Three of the protesters were sentenced in March to community service and probation. A fourth protester was accused of reaching for an officer’s gun during the incident. That case is still pending.

Steele and BQIC co-founder Dkeama Alexis began thinking about changes after the arrests. They organized protests in support of the #BlackPride4 and began planning what they call a more-inclusive Pride festival.

Columbus Community Pride kicks off June 2 with a dance party at The Summit, 2210 Summit St., and will be followed by a series of educational events leading up to the June 16 festival.

Through fundraising, all events will be free to the public.

“We make an explicit effort to hear the most-marginalized voices,” Steele said. “When I say marginalized, I mean folks who are black and trans and poor and disabled and immigrants.”

BQIC hired a black, trans-owned security company to monitor the festival. There will be about eight security guards, and they will be armed, Steele said.

Unlike Stonewall Columbus, Columbus Community Pride organizers say they will not accept corporate sponsors.

Stonewall Columbus officials say the the scope of the annual Pride festival requires a police presence.

The annual festival attracts 500,000 to 700,000 people, so security is not only a city requirement but necessary for protection, said Stonewall Columbus Pride coordinator Sabrina Boykin.

“While I completely understand and respect (BQIC’s) perspective, we still have a need to make sure that the very credible threats we are given every year … are not threats that are carried out,” she said.

Stonewall Columbus was required by the court to testify “involuntarily” during the #BlackPride4 trial and sent a letter requesting leniency in sentencing and no jail time, said Stonewall Columbus Interim Director Deb Steele.

Deb Steele — no relation to Ariana Steele — said Stonewall Columbus is “very much” in support of BQIC’s event and message.

“Stonewall does not have a monopoly on Pride,” Boykin said. “Pride is something that should be experienced in every community. … I think it’s wonderful they’re doing their own Pride.”

But, Boykin said, the growth of the Stonewall Columbus Pride event and having corporate sponsors aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

“It wasn’t that long ago that people were being fired for marching in the parade,” Boykin said. “The fact that we can march proudly with our corporate sponsors is a true testament to how far we’ve come. It’s something I wouldn’t want to take away from those employees.”

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on June 1, 2018.


How Utkarsha pushed past gender discrimination toward her dream

Photo by Abbey Marshall

If Utkarsha Mahadeshwar followed suit of the rest of the girls from her slum community of Dharavi, she would’ve been married by age 13 and had a baby by now.

Instead, the 16-year-old is about to start junior college at Ruparel College, one of the top universities in Mumbai.

“Gender inequality is a huge problem in my community,” Utkarsha said. “After age nine, we’re not supposed to play with boys or even play outside. I would have neighbors yell at me when I would try to play.”

People in Utkarsha’s family had written her off because of her poverty and gender. Utkarsha’s relatives did not speak to her family because they were so poor in comparison to the rest of her family.

Utkarsha found her saving grace in Magic Bus, which provided her the hope to one day break out of poverty.

In weekly Magic Bus sessions, she interacted with both boys and girls her age and was taught lessons around the importance of health, education and gender equality. Around the time of puberty, Utkarsha and her peers were taught sessions around reproductive and sexual health, which Utkarsha claimed was “extremely helpful.”

“Mothers here don’t like to discuss private things such as periods or pads,” said Utkarsha’s mother, Pramila. “I even learned a lot of things I didn’t know through Utkarsha. I am very thankful for that.”

Many girls in Dharavi drop out of school after getting married, or if they go to school, they do not continue past 10th grade. Not only has Utkarsha flourished in school, but she plans to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration. In her spare time, she tutors her neighbors and helps her 12-year-old brother with his studies.

Utkarsha’s education has been fostered through Magic Bus, and her parents are forever grateful. Her mother was a high school dropout, and her father did not pass the  12th grade. He now works in a small restaurant.

“Since I dropped out, I am a housewife.” Pramila said. “I do not want Utkarsha to repeat my mistake. I want her to complete her education and help other children in our community.”

Her outstanding performance on the 10th grade exam made everyone sit up and take notice. She was invited to the United States last year for a program funded by the U.S. State Department because of her leadership skills and academic success.

“That was the proudest moment of my entire life,” Pramila said.

Word of Utkarsha’s high test score and her trip to the United States travelled quickly through the Dharavi community, and soonafter, Utkarsha was paid an unexpected visit.

“My cousin and his son, who is in the medical field, came to our home,” Pramila said. “I never expected they would visit. They didn’t care about us before because we were poor. But they came and they were so proud of her. They blessed her.”

Since the visit, Utkarsha has kept in close contact with her uncle, who is mentoring her while she prepares for junior college.

Utkarsha was recently selected to be a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader in Dharavi. She is now excited to begin running Magic Bus sessions for children just like her and making a change within her community.

“Before Magic Bus, she was so shy,” Pramila said. “Now because of all the interaction and all the learnings through Magic Bus, she has built confidence and is so smart. I am very proud of her.”

Utkarsha is one simple story of change within Magic Bus participants. She is one of nearly half a million children in India in Magic Bus programs who is working toward her dreams of continue her education and breaking out of the poverty cycle.

Originally produced for Magic Bus.

Saddling Up: How OU students are using horses to help people with disabilities

Just 80 miles south of Athens, a veteran who suffered a stroke was riding horseback, led by Ohio University students. His wife, watching her husband ride from afar, hadn’t heard his voice in two years.

He had been riding at OU Southern’s horse park for several sessions, and he began to burst into song.

“Home, home on the range,” he belted. “Where the deer and the antelope play.”

Everyone stared in disbelief as a man who hadn’t spoken a word in years began to sing.

That is just one of the miracles that happens every day at OU Southern’s horse park, said Kelly Hall, the director of the equine studies program.

OU Southern Campus’s equine program is one of five accredited international schools to certify instructors in therapeutic riding, attracting dozens of students to enroll in hopes of pursuing a career that could change someone’s life.

A program run by students

Only two full-time faculty members staff the program, leaving the rest of the work up to students and volunteers to keep the rates for riding low. OU Southern charges $45 for a private community riding lesson and $35 for private therapeutic lessons.

Photo by Emily Gayton

OU’s Southern Campus offers an equine studies program that certifies instructors in therapeutic riding. Dozens of students have enrolled in the program.

“It takes a lot,” Hall said. “If you have one person in a wheelchair, you’re going to have to have two side walkers — one on each side — and somebody to lead the horse. You’re going to have to have an instructor. … It takes a lot of volunteers to make this program happen.”

To earn their associate degrees, students are required to participate in 25 hours of instruction with a minimum of two riders with disabilities at a time.

“The community therapeutic horsemanship center serves the purpose of allowing our students to earn their hours, but it also serves the tri-state community for people with challenges,” Hall said.

Unlike many other equine programs, OU Southern has its own horse park and barns for convenience of completing lab hours and maintaining control over curriculum, attracting students from places as far as Hawaii to participate in the therapeutic riding program.

Students also teach, care for the horses and assume other responsibilities alongside volunteers and part-time employees.

“I’ve always liked helping people, and I love horses,” Julia Glebins, a first-year student, said. “I’ve been obsessed with them my entire life. It just seemed like a natural fit.”

A horse’s strength

Horseback riding provides many benefits for people with physical disabilities. Riding develops a sense of coordination and balance and strengthens the same muscles used to walk, which can be especially useful for someone in a wheelchair.

“It benefits them to learn a different or better way of living,”Tabatha McKinney, who works at STAR Community Justice Center

“We have a couple riders who are paraplegic and in a wheelchair,” Hall said. “By putting someone on a horse and the horse walks for them, they’re exercising those muscles to help them hopefully gain some mobility.”

Glebins said she was touched when she was serving as a volunteer last year and saw significant progress in a boy she was assisting.

“One of our participants started out in a wheelchair and couldn’t hardly walk, and now he’s up walking on his own and doesn’t need very much assistance,” she said. “He rides on his own, too. … It’s pretty incredible.”

The warmth of a horse

The benefits of therapeutic riding go beyond what can be seen on the surface. Hall said emotional and mental therapy is a lot of what the program tries to provide through its lessons.

The park works with agencies for weekly lessons and has served foster care industries, regional mental health industries and more.

“It benefits them to learn a different or better way of living,” said Tabatha McKinney, who works at STAR Community Justice Center. STAR serves as an alternative to prison with the intent of rehabilitating nonviolent felony offenders and frequently works with the horse park.

Photo by Emily Gayton

Students teach and care for the horses, among other responsibilities. The program attracts students from places as far away as Hawaii.

OU Southern is partnered with Safe Harbor, a domestic violence shelter in northern Kentucky. The two secured a grant to bring children to the park weekly for riding lessons.

“It’s fun,” Jacob Bowman, 11, said. “I learn stuff about horses. They’re fun to play with and cute. I like it here.”

Hall said OU Southern tailors programs to specific needs. In the case of Safe Harbor, a main goal is teaching kids to positively identify and cope with emotions.

“I love riding (the horses),” Keagan Thornton, 8, said. “I’ve learned about leading and riding and about my emotions.”

Horses have unique personalities just like humans, Hall said. People might be drawn to a particular horse and learn a lot about their feelings from interacting with the animal.

“The horses show what we don’t want to face,” McKinney said. “The horses can sense your emotions. … It gives us a therapeutic moment to talk about those emotions instead of stuffing it.”

Expansion of the program

Since OU Southern’s equine program began offering online courses in spring 2016, adjunct professor Mark Abell said he has seen an increase in enrollment. He said this semester he has his largest class size of 26 people in introduction to equine studies, with students from the Athens campus and high school students enrolling.

“It’s really caught on,” he said. “It’s interesting because in the online program, you have a wide variety of experiences. … It’s a really good way for us to go beyond just the campus.”

Online classes, which are heavy on economics and technology, focus on the commercial side of the horse industry, Hall said. She said the staff rewrote the entire curriculum to accommodate online courses.

“Technology is really important in the horse world, too,” she said. “The horse industry is very large. There’s about a million full-time jobs in the horse industry.”

Many students are interested in starting nonprofits related to horses, so Hall said the program created online courses on equine nonprofit development and management.

Hall said they are also adding a degree to the eCampus. There will be a soft launch in January and a full launch in fall 2018.

“That’s a big deal for us,” Abell said. “I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Abell said he was excited for the program to grow and continue to flourish because of all the good he sees come out of it every day.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful program,” Abell said. “Miracles come from it. … When you watch their expressions and the light bulb comes on, and they see all of that because of the interaction with the horses, it’s really powerful.”

Originally published for The Post on Sept. 28, 2017. Appeared in print Sept. 28, 2017.

How the proposed Free Speech Act could affect OU

Sasha Estrella-Jones gives a passionate speech at a protest against President Trump’s executive order on immigration in front of the Athens County Courthouse on Feb.1 (Photo by Matt Starkey)

Some state representatives are arguing that Ohio University — or any public college in Ohio — shall make no law prohibiting the freedom of speech.

State Reps. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and Wesley Goodman (R-Cardington) are introducing a bill to the Ohio House of Representatives reaffirming First Amendment rights on college campuses.

“We need to defend (free speech) everywhere, but especially in college campuses where you’re supposed to have a free exchange of ideas,” Brenner said. “We have some universities enact some policies that have led to some alternative ideas being squashed, and I don’t want to see that happen.”

Brenner said the Free Speech Act aims to ensure public universities in Ohio are compliant with the First Amendment. That includes an elimination of “free speech zones” that are present on many college campuses. The entire campus should be a free speech zone, Brenner said.

Under the Free Speech Act, policies such as OU’s recent ban on protesting in university buildingswould not be able to exist.

“Public universities that are getting large amounts of taxpayers’ money, their policies and conducts of laws should be consistent with the First Amendment,” Goodman said.

Goodman emphasized the need for an exchange of ideas at the collegiate level.

“We completely reject that notion that speech or expression is harmful,” he said. “The answer to speech we dislike or disagree with … is to meet it with more speech of what you believe and find to be true.”

OU has faced the debate around free speech on campus in recent years. Last fall, the university hosted a campus conversation addressing the drawing of a hanged figure on the graffiti wall, which is at the intersection of Mulberry Street and Richland Avenue. The event sparked a debate about what constitutes hate speech and free speech.

“We can all agree that hateful rhetoric has no place on this campus,” David Parkhill, the former OU College Republicans president, said last October during the panel discussion. “But who is to say what is hateful rhetoric? We cannot allow the government and we cannot allow our institutions to start regulating our speech. Once it starts, where does it stop?”

The line between hate speech and First Amendment freedoms is not quite so clear cut. Sarah Wooldridge, a sophomore studying middle childhood education, said she thinks the bill is not a good idea in some situations.

“(Speech) should be limited to keep things appropriate and professional,” she said. “We need to learn how to interact and get our points across in appropriate ways. … We need to learn how to communicate our ideas professionally at our age now.”

Brenner stressed that the proposed bill does not tolerate speech that portrays a clear and present danger, which has been rhetoric ruled upon the U.S. Supreme Court in reference to free speech.

“If someone is causing threat or physical violence, that’s not tolerated and they should be arrested,” he said. “We’re talking speech (and a) discussion of ideas.”

Goodman said the two would likely introduce the bill to the Ohio House of Representatives in the next few weeks, and they hope to pass it through the Ohio House, Senate and governor’s office by next spring.

“Too often we’re talking at each other or past each other,” Goodman said. “We see this as a step toward creating a healthier climate and a healthy dialogue so that young people on college campuses are fully equipped to be engaged and successful citizens of Ohio.”


 Originally published for The Post on Sept. 12, 2017.

New law requires organ donation education in Ohio public schools

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. (Provided via Ohio Department of Development)

Athens teen Emmalyn Brown was only 9 years old when her liver suddenly failed. Had it not been for the generosity of a donor, she would’ve died in three days.

Since her transplant, Brown, now 19, has been actively campaigning for increased awareness and registration of organ donors in Ohio. As part of a project her junior year at Athens High School, Brown reached out to former State Rep. Debbie Phillips to begin work on new legislation that would require schools to teach about the positive effects of organ donation.

“I (saw) a pattern of folks who didn’t understand donation or who held strange myths about it, especially in isolated communities across the state,” Brown said. “I realized that if they had more education on donation, maybe from a third party, they would understand it better.”

Brown worked closely with Phillips and Lifeline of Ohio, an organization she volunteered with, to give input on the proposed legislation. After almost four years, Brown is excited to finally see the bill become law.

The legislation requires that every Ohio public school educates students on the positive effects of organ donation. It was an amendment added to House Bill 438, which outlines public school appreciation week.

“As a retired teacher, I’ve always been very sensitive to young students and their need for education on a wide variety of fronts,” said State Rep. John Patterson, who was the sponsor of HB438. “Organ donation is one of those things that all of us ought to be educated about.”

The law allows for schools to instruct on organ donation in whatever way is convenient to them, Patterson said, which is typically in a health class.

2010 study found 90 percent of Ohioans reported being in favor of organ and tissue donation, but only 54 percent of eligible citizens are actually registered in the Ohio Donor Registry.

“It is our hope that through education more students as they age into their adulthood are more inclined to become organ donors,” Patterson, an OU alumnus, said. “It only seems logical to educate our young people on the possibilities of the gift that keeps on giving.”

Greg Haylett, a fifth-year senior studying biological science, said he wished a similar program was in place when he was in high school.

“As long as it’s (an) unbiased thing, I couldn’t see a downside to it,” Haylett, an organ donor, said. “It could be a positive thing because that’s a decision everyone has to make when they get their license.”

Brown said she hopes this legislation debunks myths and stigmas associated with organ donation and ultimately increases organ donation registration.

“There are no cons to organ donation in my book — only pros,” Brown said. “It has saved my life and many people I know. Organ donation is something that makes sense to me as you can help others after your own death.”


Originally published for The Post on Sept. 8, 2017.

Being “Affrilachian”: Those who identify as both black and Appalachian have deep history

As the sun set on a cold February afternoon, 100 people gathered on and near Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium’s portico to speak out against rumors of a “resurgence” of the Ku Klux Klan in southeast Ohio.

Several speakers shared their stories to celebrate diversity in Athens and the surrounding region, one historically thought of as almost exclusively white. With an introspective rally as the backdrop, attendees wanted to prove an important point: Black lives matter, even in Appalachia.

Black people, who make up fewer than 5 percent of Athens County’s population and 9.1 percent of the Appalachian population, have long been overlooked in an impoverished region that is overwhelmingly white.

“When people say we need to fix the white problem first, you can’t fix one without fixing both,” Ada Woodson Adams, a Nelsonville resident and 1961 Ohio University graduate, said. “When people say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ it’s a cry out that we have not been heard or seen, and we have been systematically institutionalized.”

Frank X Walker, a professor of English and African-American studies at the University of Kentucky, invented the word ‘Affrilachia’ in 1991 in response to the marginalization of black people in the region. He penned the word in a poem as a way to explain the “invisibleness” of Affrilachians.

“A lot of scholars quickly embraced the word because it allowed them to recognize that diversity had not been a large part of the conversation when we talked about the 13-state region that officially was Appalachia,” Walker said. “They embraced the word and began to recognize that they had missed something.”

White people make up 83.6 percent of the people in Appalachia in comparison to the national white population of 63.7 percent, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

That lack of visibility creates a stigma against black people in Appalachia, Otis Trotter, the author of Keeping Heart: A Memoir of Family Struggle, Race, and Medicine, said. He spent a majority of his childhood in West Virginia before moving to Newcomerstown, Ohio in the ’60s, where he was subject to criticism because of his Appalachian and black roots.

“We still were looked on as black hillbillies,” he said. “They anticipated that we could be these typical black hillbillies, that we were unsophisticated and dumb.”

Segregation in Ohio

Data from U.S. Census Bureau

Ohio’s de facto segregation was more subtle at that time than the blatant racism in the Deep South, Adams said.

“Going Uptown, we didn’t have the same places you could go and eat if you wanted to go to the restaurant with your friends, because they would turn you away,” she said. “There was no sign, but they would tell you you weren’t welcome there.”

A more glaring and obvious form of racial discrimination were so-called “Sundown Towns,” or communities that kept out black people by law. The term was coined because the towns would sometimes have signs by their city limits stating black people must be gone by sundown. Some of those areas remain very white to this day, according to James W. Loewen’s book Sundown Towns.

“Things like that affect the psyche of people black and white,” Adams said. “It diminishes the strength of a community when you have racism.”

Provided via the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Council

Integrated coal mining towns

Many black people migrated from the South to Appalachia to find work in the coal mining industry, as the Deep South lacked decent paying jobs for black workers. Trotter said his family moved from Alabama to West Virginia for that reason.

“My father was recruited by coal miners,” Trotter said. “He ventured out and tried to take jobs near where he lived, but he couldn’t find a paying job, so when the recruiters came, he took (them) up on (their) offer.”

A notorious integrated coal mining town was Rendville, located in Perry County. It was established by the Ohio Coal Mining Company in 1879, made up by primarily German immigrants and black families. Despite initial racial tensions, the town functioned much better than other integrated communities in Appalachia with a mixed race village council, Cheryl Blosser, office coordinator for The Little Cities of Black Diamonds, said.

The Little Cities of Black Diamonds is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history of coal mining regions.

“Rendville had a lot of opportunities and many other black miners moved there to work,” Blosser said in an email. “Because all of (the workers) were new and the miner owner paid the workers the same rate, some black families prospered better.”

(Provided via Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries) Major Fountain and children, Rendville, Ohio Perry County Ohio 1946.

Being black at Ohio University

Though OU was relatively progressive during times of de facto segregation, problematic policies were still in place.

John Newton Templeton, a freed slave who earned his bachelor’s degree from OU in 1828, was the fourth black college graduate in the nation and first in the Midwest.

Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium on College Green is named for Templeton and Martha Blackburn, the first black woman to graduate from OU in 1916.

“It is nice that OU educated (Templeton). However, there are some stains on that,” Bailey Williams, a freshman in the Templeton Scholars Program, said.

Templeton could not live in university housing with other students, so he lived in the log cabin near the Hocking River that now houses the Office of Sustainability and the Visitor Parking Registration Center.

More than 100 years later, Adams faced similar discrimination. Adams, who began her freshman year in 1957, said she could not join social sororities or fraternities during her time on campus because of the color of her skin. She also could not complete her student teaching in Athens County because OU had an agreement with local schools that they would not send black teachers to instruct students.

Adams also noted subtly segregated areas on campus. For example, black students often gathered in a room in the student center called the “Bunch of Grapes Room,” which white students nicknamed the “Bunch of Apes Room.”

“We have to take the good with the bad,” Williams said. “I feel like a lot of our history gets washed down looking at the good. We have to take it for what it is and look at the good and the bad.”

Though incidents like the painting of a hanged figure on the graffiti wall in September have left a sour taste in Williams’ mouth, he said overall, he has not experienced discrimination because of the color of his skin.

“There is a good diversity blend here (at OU),” Williams said. “It’s not much, but what we do have, it’s diverse.”

Racism in Appalachia today

2010 U.S. Census

Appalachians have made significant strides, Trotter said, but negative stereotypes surrounding those who identify as both black and Appalachian still exist.

“There is still a negative stigma,” Trotter said. “A lot of people tend to think about Appalachia as monolithic: They’re all white, they’re all poor. Many people still have that perception.”

The key to true integration of the region is to understand the differences among the population, Trotter said.

“We need to highlight a variety of people (from Appalachia) that are doing well, that are educated,” he said. “You can’t overlook that there are poor people … but you also have to try to do something to make people realize that yes, you can be poor but also intelligent and diverse.”

Originally published in The Post on the front page on April 6, 2017.

Local descendent of Thomas Jefferson talks being black at OU in the 50s

Ada Adams speaks at a Black Lives Matter protest at Memorial Auditorium on February 20, 2017. (Photo by Lauren Modler)

Ada Adams was refused service at some Uptown restaurants. She was not allowed to complete her student teaching in Athens County. She was unable to join Ohio University social sororities and fraternities.

All because of the color of her skin.

“The northern states had de facto segregation, but not to the extent of Southern states,” Adams, 77, said. “Going to OU, they had issues with equality and that some professors may not have the same attitudes towards blacks as they did towards white, but we were given a shot at a fair education.”

A 1961 graduate, Adams grew up in Nelsonville and began her education at OU in 1957, studying physical education. Her boyfriend at the time, who later became her husband, was Alvin C. Adams, a Morgan County native and, in 1959, the first black man to graduate from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

“A professor once told him he was grading him harder than the white students because he would have a hard time in life getting a job in the profession of newspaper reporting,” she said of her late husband.

In order to complete her education, Adams was required to student-teach, but she said OU had an agreement with local schools that no black students would be sent to teach.

“It turned out to be a blessing because after graduating from college I knew I couldn’t get a job in the Athens area,” she said of her experience in Cleveland, where she had to go to complete her student teaching. “I knew I had to go to a big city.”

Following their marriage in 1960, the couple moved to Chicago because Alvin could not land a reporting job in Athens County. He started at The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, but soon after began writing for Jet Magazine, a weekly targeted toward African-American readers. He spent much of his time covering the civil rights movement while Ada taught at a middle school.

“He became interested in becoming more than a reporter,” Adams said. “He wanted to become an active participant, and I also wanted to become an active participant.”

The two took a leave from their jobs to help organize and assist in furthering the efforts of the civil rights movement. They spent most of their time registering people to vote and transporting speakers to and from Southern cities.

“It was a very enlightening experience,” she said. “We got to meet some wonderful people. … We stayed with a family whose house had been shot into. The bullets barely missed the people staying in the bed we were sleeping in because they tried to register to go to college in Mississippi.”

Kalila Bell, a junior studying journalism, said that a few weeks ago, Adams came to speak to her class about her involvement in the civil rights movement. Bell, the future president of the Black Student Communication Caucus, described the experience as “amazing.”

“It was very interesting seeing that she is a Nelsonville native,” Bell said. “It’s inspiring to see she got involved in a movement rooted in the Deep South. … The courage she had to involve herself in that is amazing.”

Following their work with the civil rights movement and their retirement, the Adamses moved back to southeastern Ohio in 1999.

“I had a sense of place,” Adams said. “This was my home. My family had been here for years. … We both felt we could come back and give back to the community something we didn’t necessarily get when we were here. There were people who were kind and generous to us who were white. We wanted to give back to the university and the community.”

The two also wanted to return to research their genealogy. After an extensive period of time, Ada was able to confirm her ties to founding father Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings.

“Genealogy is how I found out about it,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in my family dynamics. As a kid, I always wondered why some people in my family had darker skin than others.”

She said through research conducted at various libraries, historic centers and courts, she was able to come up with documentation of her relations to Jefferson and Hemings. She said she has visited Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia home, to celebrate and honor descendants of the union.

“The joy came like finding a jigsaw puzzle that connected you,” she said. “The puzzle’s not complete by any means. … The joy didn’t come in knowing I was connected to a president, the joy came from knowing I was connected to a strong family (the Hemings) to beat all odds to survive an institution that was dehumanizing and separated families.”

Following her husband’s death in 2004, Ada was pleased to hear the university would be honoring his memory by naming Adams Hall on South Green after him in 2007.

“Even today, I’m just in awe of the fact that there’s a building sitting on campus named in Alvin’s honor,” she said. “It’s representative of how the university has come full circle in recognizing how blacks are integral to the university and to the community.”

Jasmine Lambert, a senior studying political science and journalism, met Ada at an event co-sponsored by Ohio University’s Association of Black Journalists, an organization of which she was the president. Lambert said Adams is a “super sweet lady” whose presence at the university is inspirational.

“Her husband paved the way,” Lambert said. “It inspires the black community and all communities to keep working hard. If he can do it, we can do it. We can graduate and have a successful career in journalism or whatever we want to do.”

Adams said she plans on continuing her involvement with the students at OU.

“One of the things I’ve found in life through all the negativity, there are always good-willed people,” she said. “Athens had a lot of white people who did not judge you by the color of your skin. I was blessed that way.”


Originally published for The Post on March 19, 2017.