An aspiring agent of change

Published 3:04 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Longwood University junior James Bennett is the recipient of the 2019 Moton Legacy Scholarship, one of the highest honors bestowed by the university, a Longwood press release cited. It is a fitting recognition for someone who has dedicated his time at Longwood to helping others learn and who serves as a role model for many of his peers on campus.

James Bennett

When Bennett was growing up, he thought he didn’t want to follow in the professional footsteps of his parents — both of whom are teachers, the release noted. But by the time he was a senior in high school, he discovered he had a passion for helping others learn.

So when he arrived at Longwood, he became active in the Call Me MISTER program, which aims to increase the number of male teachers in Virginia, especially at the elementary and middle-school levels, the release stated. The program provided an excellent foundation for Bennett, who is pursuing a degree in liberal studies and concentrations in social science and English. He plans to embark on a career as an educator — either in a K-12 classroom, just like his parents, or at the college level.

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“It’s funny how life sometimes works out,” he said in the release, as he laughs and acknowledges the irony. “They raised me to leave a positive impact on the community. I know that whatever I do I will carry myself in a way that brings them honor.”

The release noted that in his nomination of Bennett, Call Me MISTER Director Dr. Maurice Carter wrote, “Mr. Bennett is a worthy candidate for this scholarship because he has demonstrated that he will take the motto and mentality of citizen leadership far beyond the campus of Longwood and out into the world, seeking to help others as he develops himself.”

Carter first met Bennett when he walked into his office as a sophomore and said he wanted to impact the lives of children by becoming a teacher, officials revealed in the release. Bennett said he was interested in joining Call Me MISTER, an acronym that stands for Men Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models. The program is open to all students while also working to increase the pool of minority male teachers, especially in early grades, because research has shown that having male role models in the classroom leads to increased positive outcomes for minority students.

Bennett holds numerous leadership roles on campus and is active in several student organizations, the release stated. He is president of the Longwood chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity; co-director of the B.A.S.I.C. Gospel Choir, for which he also plays the piano; secretary of the National Pan Hellenic Council on campus; and secretary of Call Me MISTER. He is one of the head student supervisors in the dining hall — the highest position a student worker can attain there.

“In all of these leadership roles, he seeks not only to gain more experience and benefit himself but also to assist the people he works with in their growth and development,” Carter said in the release. “I have seen him connect with freshmen and support them as they adjust to college life. He makes a conscious and active effort to connect with students and staff.”

Officials cited in the release that the Moton Legacy Scholarship is awarded annually to a Longwood student with great promise for a life and career of citizen leadership, advancing in a contemporary context the ideals espoused by those who fought for equal opportunity in Longwood’s home communities of Farmville and Prince Edward during the civil rights era. The scholarship was established by the Board of Visitors in 2014 and covers full tuition for one year.

Bennett said he was ecstatic when he received the call notifying him that he had been chosen as the recipient of this year’s scholarship, the release highlighted. He has visited the Robert Russa Moton Museum often during his years at Longwood. He said this scholarship serves as a further reminder that Barbara Johns and the Moton strikers were agents of change — just as he aspires to be as a teacher.

“All of us today can have that choice, just like Barbara Johns did, to be part of the positive change,” Bennett said in the release. “We can be part of the change, or we can sit idly by. I think it should inspire us all to make the choice that benefits society and helps us grow and develop as a community.”

Bennett said his first conversation with Carter opened his eyes to the importance of having more male African-American teachers in the classroom to serve as role models for young minority students, officials stated in the release. He has participated in Call Me MISTER’s Summer Institute for the last two years, and this past summer he was chosen as the liaison to the middle-schoolers who attended.

The release noted that after graduation, Bennett is planning to pursue a master’s degree in counselor education at Longwood, focusing on college counseling and student affairs. He’s debating whether he wants to be a middle-school teacher or work in college-level student affairs, based in part on the experience he has had at Longwood.

“The most important two things that I learned here at Longwood are first, don’t give up, no matter how hard things get,” he said in the release, “and second, do things to purposefully make a change in society. Don’t just do things to get by in life.”