For over a decade, Latonya Thames Taylor has offered students and faculty at West Chester University her dedication of being a model of a well rounded individual.
In 2001, when Taylor began her career at the university, she educated scholars on violence in America, African American history, economic history, the turbulent 1960s, and American south classes. She will also lecture a constitution history class within the next year. As an associate professor of history, and creator and director of the African American studies minor, Taylor’s thesis in teaching and being a role model reflects her influences and background in education.
“Life has been nestled in goodness, in affirmation of who I am as a socialite and activist,” Taylor said in a phone interview.
Taylor grew up in Gulfsport, Mississippi which is about 60 miles east of New Orleans. Her Louisiana, Catholic, Creole background shaped the diverse, worldly perspectives that Taylor advocates. Alongside her background, Taylor’s formal education encapsulates the big picture behind her endeavor to demonstrate justice.
An undergraduate education at Tougaloo College in Mississippi contributed to the foundation of Taylor’s intellectual attributes. Tougaloo was historically a private black institution geared toward middle and upper class African Americans. It produced 30-40% of the black lawyers and doctors in Mississippi. The word Tougaloo, which means a place between two rivers, mirrors the position in which Taylor stood in life. The two places in which Taylor balanced aspects of life were growing up with two sides to her family. One side of her family was working class, and the other side was the middle class. Taylor was most influenced by the working class portion of her family, and she wanted to possess the education that her grandmother was unable to attain. Having these two aspects in her family allowed Taylor to see the world through a wide lens, yet she wanted to be a part of a movement which helped people view the world with a wide angle perspective.
Taylor attended University of Mississippi to acquire her masters and Ph.D. The school known as “Ole Miss” was integrated by James Meredith, the first African American to attend. Taylor wanted to follow in the footsteps of Meredith in that she wanted to be a rebel with a cause. Her commitment to activism and justice provoked her hard work in graduate school, and led her to receive scholarships for her education.
Taylor’s studies in history have also led her to the biggest influences in her life. Historical individuals and their overall purpose in life have reinforced Taylor’s purpose as a model of integrity. Ida B. Wells is one figure whose main purpose was to remind people of the judicial system and its application within a period in American history when lynching was at its highest. Another figure is David Walker, who called for unification and an immediate end to chattel slavery. John Brown’s Raid at Harpers Ferry resonated as another one of Taylor influences. Elmytis Thames, Taylor’s grandmother, was another influence in that she lived through segregation and injustice. Lastly, Helen Lewis, Taylor’s fifth grade teacher, was the first to tell her that African Americans were the foundation of American history more than any other group. The people who Taylor looked up to were the infrastructure to her objectives in life.
“My goal in life is to be a rebel, socialite and activist,” Taylor said.
Taylor hopes to ultimately “seed or cultivate her students.” This is done through Taylor’s effort to demonstrate the things deemed essential to justice. Attending plays and museums, traveling, reading and participating in civil rights activities and programs are ways in which Taylor models her goal to teach and exhibit well roundedness.
Overall, Taylor described her most significant accomplishments as who she represents and not what is represented by her.
“It’s not what I do, but who I am,” Taylor said.
Being a good wife, family member and life long civil contributor are among Taylor’s greatest accomplishments. Taylor remains committed to her spirituality regardless of how people view it.
Additional accomplishments include never giving into injustice, and sustaining good citizenship. Taylor’s citizenship has led to her being elected in a city wide campaign for school board. Taylor’s public election victory serves its purpose in her goal to model justice. Taylor is also treasurer for the local NAACP branch. In a nutshell, Taylor’s hope to preserve justice is exhibited through her and she strives to promote awareness and civil justice.
Dominique Perry is a fifth-year student majoring in professional studies wtih minors in journalism and studio art. She can be reached at DP633925@wcupa.edu.