Contact: Michael Tullier, APR, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing
During Founders’ Day weekend in April 2018, surrounded by family and friends, 1968 alumna Dr. Sonjia Parker Redmond and her husband, Gregory Redmond, announced the next step on their journey of philanthropy in support of Tuskegee University — a gift to renovate and name the Parker-Redmond Wing of Commons F.
On Aug. 13, the couple journeyed back to Tuskegee to see the results of their philanthropic investment in the campus’ residential spaces.
“The unwavering charitable support the Redmonds have shown during their decades of giving is exemplary and a model for Tuskegee alumni everywhere,” President Lily D. McNair said. “I greatly appreciate how they value and invest in the university’s efforts to raise the standards for our students’ academic and residential experience on our campus.”
The gift, made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Redmond’s graduation from Tuskegee, traces back to a Saturday morning in the spring of 1964, when her life and her life’s prospects changed — as she recalls in the following personal account:
The mailman drove off leaving a cloud of dust in front of my rural home in Notasulga, a town in Alabama’s Black Belt where the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow were all too present. Collecting the mail, my heart began to pound as I saw the very official-looking letter from the famous Tuskegee Institute. I folded the letter, put it in my pocket and continued my chores of feeding the farm animals — giving my heart a chance to settle down.
The acceptance letter from Tuskegee represented how my life continued to be influenced by the generosity of others. My family of meager circumstances had provided me with an abundance of love and guidance. My primary education had been at the Shiloh Rosenwald School, one of more than 5,000 built in poor rural black communities throughout the South as a collaboration among Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald (a cofounder of Sears, Roebuck and Co.), and local communities.
My dedicated teachers at Tuskegee Institute High imbued my fellow students and me with knowledge and wise habits needed to realize our hopes and dreams. The school counselor who noticed in late spring 1964 that I, as a college prep student, had not applied to college, used her lunch hour to take me to Tuskegee Institute’s Admissions Office to obtain college and financial aid applications.
At Tuskegee Institute, I noticed that the faculty, staff and administrators were always thinking of how to best prepare us to compete in the world. Along with excellent academic experiences, I heard my first classical guitar concert at Sunday evening Vespers. I shook hands with Malcolm X and numerous other civil rights activists and performing artists who appeared on campus.
I met my husband, Gregory, on an exchange program between Tuskegee and the University of Michigan. The grant had been written by a Tuskegee administrator to create extraordinary enrichment experiences for Tuskegee and Michigan students.
Gregory and I built careers and a family together. I became an academic — teaching, publishing and becoming a Fulbright Scholar in the Middle East. My career culminated as vice president of student affairs and emeritus professor of social work at California State University, East Bay. Gregory’s career led him to work, visit or live in over 65 countries. He retired as manager of internal audit from the Chevron Corporation, where he developed an international reputation for mentoring and enabling the success of others — as had been done for him. Both of our sons also attended Tuskegee.
We have been encouraged by the university and friends to tell our story with the hope that it inspires others in the Tuskegee family to begin — or continue — their own journeys of philanthropy. We have always been keenly cognizant of the role Tuskegee has played in our lives, and we have been diligent about giving back — even when there was little to give — so that other students would have the opportunities that Tuskegee has provided our family.
During the past few years, Tuskegee guided us to direct our charitable giving toward one of the areas of greatest need at the university — student housing. So far, by partnering with the university, we have been able to help renovate more than 125 spaces for student living and learning — including two of the Emery residence halls, and most recently, a wing of the Commons F apartments.
Our family has also strived to be involved in helping Tuskegee students in other ways. The Jodie and Johnnie Mae Parker Family Endowed Scholarship for students from Notasulga was established to honor my grandparents, who did not have the opportunity to attend high school or college. My service as president of the Bay Area Tuskegee Alumni Club allows our family to work with a dedicated board of alumni and friends to assist the university in its vital student recruitment and scholarship efforts in Northern California.
We believe every Tuskegee graduate can take their own journey to philanthropy — no matter the size of their gifts. Even a pledge of $10 a month helps to build a culture of giving back and ensures that thousands of current and future students can experience the golden opportunities that Tuskegee provides.
© 2018, Tuskegee University