Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

President's Message

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

President's Message

Article excerpt

I want to pay tribute to the late Thelma Banks Johnson, a fellow home economist and a product of the American dream, who died last fall at age 103. We first met when working at University of Kentucky decades ago. Her road to academia--and beyond--is inspirational. One of six children of African-American cotton farmers, she completed eighth grade before having to return to labor in the fields with her family. But Johnson was determined to make a better life for herself, and higher education ultimately made her dream come true.

Helping people care for families in cost-effective, nutritious, and mindful ways, Johnson went on to receive the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Extension Home Economists, the first black agent in Kentucky so lauded. An early learning center in her county was named for her, too. On top of being a scholar and practitioner, she chaired her county school board and fulfilled numerous other civic duties at, for instance, the local League of Women Voters, Head Start, and American Red Cross.

It wasn't easy for Johnson to rise above her circumstances--it rarely is. She cleaned cottages and did laundry to pay her tuition and board at an industrial high school. But in this country education remains the best means to an end for those who truly seek it and are willing to work hard like Johnson to get it.

As a Society, we believe in the American dream. We recognize its importance in developing critical-thinking skills, increasing lifetime earnings, improving quality of life, expanding mutual understanding, moving innovation forward, fostering the arts, and so forth. We also value excellence and, thus, recognize, through membership, those who have attained it.

But we have a bigger role to play in higher education. We have the opportunity to assist students with mind-changing experiences such as Study Abroad Grants, with community service through Literacy Grants, and with defraying some of the expense of a graduate degree through Fellowships. …

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