By Taki S. Raton
I don’t know what we are going to do without him. Students who take one course with him, they want more.
“They become interested in Africology because of his outstanding pedagogy, the way in which he connects with students and makes the material real and shows them how it matters in their lives.”
Such remarks from UWM’s Associate Professor and Africology Department Chair, Dr. Erin N. Winkler are reflective of what would assuredly become a most memorable gathering in honor of Dr. William Rogers who as of this Spring 2014 semester is retiring.
On Friday, May 2, the department sponsored this occasion in the Winston Van Horne Memorial Room to celebrate his 23 years as Lecturer in the Department of Africology since 1990. An educator, historian, and highly respected community servant, Dr. Rogers holds advance degrees in theology and history.
He is additionally a frequent community lecturer and writer on the African American experience with a research focus on the Black church and its role in family and community empowerment. As indicative of his teachings, his approach is designed to explore ideas from the past which can be used as contemporary tools towards the rebuilding of families and communities.
“Dr. Rogers is one of our exemplary models here in Milwaukee,” says Jarett Fields, a first year graduate student in the Africology department. “When he talks about the Black community,” he adds, “he can speak with authority because he has been a part of it, not somebody who talks about it because they have either studied or wrote a book about it. He is someone who has been with the people, who loves them and is committed to the community.” As co-founder and CEO of Nirvana Ministries, he develops within the ministry’s affiliate, Nirvana Institute, after-school mentoring initiatives and curriculums for public and private schools. Nirvana Institute also contracts with social service programming, churches, faith based agencies and community non-profits to assist with capacity building, grant writing, and program evaluation.
The ministry and agency are firmly rooted in family and community empowerment agendas. Rogers is a certified Program Evaluator for Nirvana Institute and has aided several community organizations in their capacity building initiatives.
“He is the foundation. It kind of makes me sad because Dr. Rogers is the last of the great ones,” says Africology Assistant Professor, Dr. Sandra E. Jones. “We are just very grateful for what he has done for the department, for the community and for Milwaukee,” she adds.
A father of four, grandfather of 10, and great grandfather of 8, his role as a community activist and leader has been extensive and varied. He has served in a leadership capacity for many educational, religious, and family development programs in Milwaukee. He currently serves on the board of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum and is chairman of the Family House, Inc. of Milwaukee.
“Dr. Rogers is the man!” says Clayborn Benson, Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum founder. “He is a man of love. He is a motivator. Dr. Rogers is a learned person. He is the man who keeps the ball rolling especially in the area of history. He has been my mentor and my friend for what is 25 to 30 years now. I love Dr. Rogers and I thank him for his contributions.” Benson was present at the retirement event to videotape the occasion.
Associate Professor Dr. Anika Wilson who shares an office suite with Rogers says that she has always been impressed with how attentive he is with the students and how much information they were receiving as a result of their interaction with him. “I have had students working on research projects, especially on such topics as family or religion and if they had questions, I would always refer them to Dr. Rogers who was always available to lend assistance in their inquiry in those areas of which he had expertise.” “The brother’s contributions are phenomenal,” shares Africology Senior Lecturer Emeritus, Dr. Ahmed Mbalia. He is loved by the faculty here and is an excellent teacher. He is African Centered and he knows our history and is willing to share his knowledge not only here at UWM, but out there in the community. And it is actually in the community where he really makes an impact.” Associate Professor, Dr. Joyce F. Kirk says that even as a Lecturer, “he is comparable to a full time professor who has taught thousands of students over the course of his career. He is further responsible for the growth of our Africology major and minor enrollment. Students would come in and sign up for one course with Dr. Rogers, a second course the following semester with him, and then three courses. They would then eventually have enough courses for a minor and then continue to build enough credits for an Africology major. He has had a significant impact on this department,” she says.
Dr. Doreatha Mbalia says of Rogers that, “his teaching evaluations were some of the best I’ve seen.” The Africology professor adds that, “At the end of this past semester, his student evaluations were the best of any other faculty member in the department.”
Continuing comments by Winkler is quite descriptive of the consistent exemplary cultural union of Dr. Rogers’ teaching and community involvement when she observes that, “he inspires students and shares with them that history is not just something that happens to us, but that also through its lessons we are empowered to affect change.” And finally on a personal note, Professor Mbalia reveals that Dr. Rogers is the second non-biologically related person that my daughter calls “Uncle”. That’s the best compliment I can give!