Featured: South Texas College political science instructor Dr. Darrial Reynolds says growing up, he attended segregated schools in Talladega, Alabama, about 50 miles east of Birmingham. Shown here at the STC campus in Rio Grande City, Reynolds says like many first-generation students, he had to overcome significant hurdles to succeed in higher education.
Photograph by BEN BRIONES
Part of history: South Texas College professor Dr. Darrial Reynolds’ journey from segregation to higher education
By JOEY GÓMEZ
For nearly 20 years, Dr. Darrial Reynolds has been teaching core classes in political science at South Texas College. That means that most students over the past two decades have taken at least two of his courses.
His engaging teaching style and charming southern drawl is part of students’ interest in taking his courses, no doubt. But what inspires students most about Reynolds is his connection to their own individual stories. Like many of his first-generation students, he had to overcome hurdles to succeed in higher education, and that’s what inspired his “no-matter-what” attitude.
“I tell them I was 24 when I went to college, and I had been out of school for seven years,” he shares. “My situation was worse than y’all’s.”
At the time, Reynolds had been washing cars and working in factories and service stations — lacking the basic skills he would need to earn a degree. In fact, it took years of determination to reach where he is today.
Growing up, Reynolds attended segregated schools in Talladega, Alabama, about 50 miles east of Birmingham. Though the Brown v. Board of Education case pronounced segregation to be unconstitutional in 1954, by the time he started elementary school in 1965, the decision was still not being enforced in his state.
“My first five years of school, I went to black schools, and the white kids in my town went to white schools, so we didn’t even know each other until the fifth grade,” Reynolds recalls.
At that time, his town decided to experiment with a pupil placement to “take about 10 black kids and send them over to a white school in our town. I was one of those 10 kids,” Reynolds remembers.
By the time he returned to school for sixth grade, they had finally integrated the whole school system.
“That was part of history,” reflects Reynolds. “I was a part of that.”
Reynolds moved to Chicago when he was 15. He completed his senior year of high school without graduating because he did not complete his physical education requirement. He then relocated to Cleveland, where he worked in the Midland Steel Products factory.
“There I was, just working various minimum-wage jobs,” Reynolds says. He later returned to Alabama to live with his grandparents, “and while I was down there, I’m not even thinking about school. I was just thinking about working.”
It was there, working as a janitor, that he had an “epiphany from God.”
“One day, I realized that in order to have a better future, I needed to get my GED and go to college,” says Reynolds. “It just came to me. At first, I didn’t even know I could make it. I just worked hard and tried to prove to myself that I could make it.”
Not only did Reynolds “make it” — earning his bachelor’s degree from New Mexico Highlands University — he also found that his true passion is in academia. “I wanted to go all the way in school, get my doctorate, and then go from living in university housing to faculty housing.
“It was just a little dream,” says Reynolds. “But it happened. That’s what I did.”
In May of 1991, Reynolds received his master’s degree from Idaho State University. He got married just a few months later, and “when I came back from my honeymoon, I entered the doctorate program in political science.”
It took six years to earn his Ph.D., after which he taught political science for several years at Idaho State University. In 2000, he found his home at South Texas College, and the rest is history.
“When I came down [to South Texas], I knew it was a good fit,” says Reynolds, who fell in love with the college’s mission. “I ended up at South Texas College, and I’ve been here ever since.”
With the college still developing in Reynolds’ first year of employment, he taught in warehouses, a former elementary school, and high schools at night. But all of that changed by year two, when STC constructed brand new buildings to support the college’s rapid expansion.
“We’ve grown a lot. We have over 30,000 students now, and back then, we had about 10,000,” says Reynolds. “We are highly respected across the state and the community. We’ve proven ourselves.”
Reynolds teaches upwards of 250 students every semester at the Starr County Campus, while also supporting projects that help first-generation students thrive, like Co-Requisite Ascender, Dual Enrollment Academies, and Early College High School.
He tells his first-generation students that, like him, “you already know your disadvantages. That should be motivation enough … to prove you are serious about what you are trying to do.”
One of the most important skills Reynolds teaches his first-generation students is how to read closely and think critically. In his own days as a college student, he says, “I would rewrite the book… My fingers would get tired!”
He expects the same diligence from his students: “That’s your job — you go back and reread, rewrite… you put it in your own words, and you’re showing that you understand it.”
For Reynolds, the educational journey starts anew every day, as he helps his students boost critical skills and self-assurance. For example, he says that many first-generation students may be afraid to take notes in class. He had the same fears when he was a student, but like any skill, he says that note-taking only improves with practice.“First, you read your books, so when you come to class, you have an idea of what the topics are about,” he says. “If you’re scared or feel shame about taking notes … you have to let that go.”
Reynolds knows firsthand that if students work hard, they can make it.
“STC is the school that’s giving you the opportunities,” he says. “And I’m a part of that, helping them achieve their goals.”
One way Reynolds fights for those goals is by empowering students to find resources and take charge of their own education.“You have to know how to assert yourself and get the best out of these programs,” he says. “I’m not going to follow you home every day to see if you’re doing your work.”
As STC prepares to celebrate Black History Month, Reynolds reflects on what drove him to his calling in the first place. For the professor, teaching affords an uplifting opportunity to inspire students who are daring to improve their lives through education.
“I love teaching, so it’s easy for me to be motivated to teach, just trying to bring these things alive and making it relevant,” says the 20-year STC professor, who still feels pride in reaching core learning objectives and transforming his students.
“My time at STC has given me the opportunity to work at being the best mentor and teacher that I can be each and every day, and every time I go into the classroom,” says Reynolds. “I made a good choice when I came to STC.”
About South Texas College
Founded in 1993, South Texas College is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and offers more than 120 degree & certificate options, including associate degrees in a variety of liberal art, social science, business, math, science, technology, advanced manufacturing and allied health fields of study. Additionally, South Texas College is the only community college in the State of Texas to offer five baccalaureate degrees. South Texas College has a faculty and staff of more than 2,700 to serve the college’s six campuses, two higher education centers, and one virtual campus.
South Texas College was created by Senate Bill 251, authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and sponsored by Rep. Roberto Gutierrez, D-McAllen, to serve Hidalgo and Starr counties.
The author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author). The Senate allows multiple primary authors for each bill or resolution. The House of Representatives allows only one primary author, the House member whose signature appears on the original measure and on the copies filed with the chief clerk. Both chambers also have coauthors, and the House of Representatives has joint authors.
The sponsor is the legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber. The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.
GOV. ABBOTT PROCLAIMS FEBRUARY 2020 AS AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH
On Tuesday, February 4, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he has proclaimed February 2020 as African-American Month in Texas.
As of July 2019, according to the most recent estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, black or African-Americans made up 12.8 percent of the state’s 28.9 million residents.
Whites, who are not Latino or Hispanic, are estimated to be 41.5 percent of the state’s almost 30 million residents, closely followed by Latinos/Hispanics, which the U.S. Census states make up 39.6 percent of Texas’ population as of July 2019.
Combined, black or African-Americans and Latinos/Hispanics represent around 53 percent of the Texas population as of July 2019, also according to the U.S. Census, making Texas a “majority-minority” state.
In the U.S., the majority-minority area or minority-majority area is a term describing a United States state or jurisdiction whose population is composed of less than 50% non-Hispanic whites. Racial data is derived from self-identification questions on the U.S. Census and on U.S. Census Bureau estimates. (See Race and ethnicity in the United States Census).
Five states are majority-minority as of 2016: Hawaii (which is the only state that has never had a white majority), New Mexico, California, Texas, and Nevada.
Abbott’s proclamation follows:
As a state and nation shaped by the diversity of our citizens, it is vital we recognize and celebrate the different races, nationalities, and backgrounds of the land we love. Having faced slavery, many forms of oppression, deep-rooted adversity, and the life-threatening dangers of demanding equality and change, African-Americans are imbued with a unique strength and resilience, and their contributions and achievements are respected and greatly valued in the Lone Star State.
There are many examples of excellence throughout African-American history in Texas. The Buffalo Soldiers, regiments in the post-Civil War U.S. Army, overcame both harsh conditions and prejudice to help tame the Texas frontier, serving our nation with distinction.
Bessie Coleman grew up in Atlanta, Texas, and inspired people worldwide, shattering long-held stereotypes as the first African-American woman to become a pilot.
Barbara Jordan rose from humble beginnings in Houston to become the first African-American state senator in Texas in more than 75 years and a leader of the civil rights movement.
Wallace Jefferson, raised in San Antonio, made history as the first African-American justice on the Texas Supreme Court and the court’s first African-American chief justice.
Doris Miller and Richard Overton, American heroes and Texas legends, stand out even amongst America’s greatest generation who selflessly risked their lives in World War II.
In our multicultural state, there is simply not a facet of life that has not been shaped in some way by the contributions of African-Americans.
Each year, February is designated African-American History Month to remember and reflect on the tribulations faced by the African-American community while learning from the vibrant culture and history and celebrating its many invaluable contributions. At this time, I encourage all Texans to join me in taking pride in and discovering more about the strength that comes from our diversity.
Therefore, I, Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, do hereby proclaim February 2020, to be African-American History Month in Texas, and urge the appropriate recognition whereof.
In official recognition whereof, I hereby affix my signature this the 24th day of January 2020.
Governor Greg Abbott
David A. Díaz contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).