Modern-Day Black History Makers

Modern-Day Black History Makers

Modern-Day Black History Makers

Black History Month is a time to reflect on African American achievements, struggles, and stories. It is also a time to connect the past with the present. Of course, we have our Trailblazers, but we also have everyday Black individuals who made and continue to make vital contributions to society, and in turn inspire others to follow in their footsteps. 

These contributions can be seen on campus, from our students, staff, faculty, administration, and throughout the fabric of the Georgia Tech community. Modern-Day Black History Makers will introduce you to some of them — and those who nurtured and inspired them.

raheem beyah

Dean Raheem Beyah and Samuel Hill

Samuel Hill made an impact on thousands of students during his tenure at Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta, where he became principal in the summer of 1988. Before that, he had been a math teacher and assistant principal at Douglass. He had a steadfast commitment to the Frederick Douglass community – and his car would regularly be seen at school in the evenings and on weekends.

Raheem Beyah, dean and Southern Company Chair in Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, was one of the many students Hill inspired over the years.

“He had oversight of more than 2,000 students, and each of us felt like we had an individual relationship with him,” Beyah recalls. He instilled confidence in his students and challenged them to be exceptional. He “gave everything he had to Douglass High School, and I’m grateful. There is no question that he contributed to my success.”

quinae ford

Quinae Ford and Bishop Quincy Lavelle Carswell

Bishop Quincy Lavelle Carswell dedicated his life to the ministry. His commitment to social justice, human rights, and political activism was intertwined with his love of God, community, and people. His first church was located in the heart of Atlanta on Boulevard Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward District. In December 2019, Carswell celebrated his 44th pastoral anniversary during a special service at the Covenant Church in Decatur.

His daughter, Quinae Ford, had the privilege of witnessing and learning that dreams and goals can be realized through perseverance and strength. Ford is an administrative manager with Georgia Tech Facilities and chair of the Staff Council at Tech. She credits her father for instilling the importance of hard work and care for others. 

“He taught me that everything won’t come easy, but through hard work and dedication anything is attainable,” Ford says.

The recipient of many awards, Carswell was a 1995 inductee into the Morehouse College Board of Distinguished Preachers. He also received the Benjamin E. Mays Award, presented annually in Atlanta to recognize outstanding religious, community, and social activism.

“I appreciate the groundwork he laid and the examples he left us, because if we had not had it, we would not be able to continue the legacy of the good work.”

byron fitch

Byron Fitch and Horace Walker Sr.

At the age of 16, Horace Walker Sr. was drafted to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Upon completing his service, he finished his formal education at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta and later enrolled at Atlanta Technical College. He was also a self-taught craftsman and carpenter that prided himself in building custom pieces for his family and friends.

His grandson, Byron Fitch, is now a senior consultant for Georgia Tech Strategic Consulting and former chair of Tech’s Staff Council.

“He instilled in me confidence, a strong work ethic, the power of education, and set a great example of what it means to lead, sacrifice, and provide for your family,” Fitch says.

Walker maintained a successful career working for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 30 years, retiring in 1985 as a postal inspector supervisor. During this time, he overcame many obstacles related to racial discrimination and navigated life in the Jim Crow South before the civil rights movement transformed the region and the nation.  

“I attribute my passion for advocating, engaging, and nurturing the people in my respective communities in part to my grandfather’s life story.”

edward botchwey

Edward Botchwey and Cato Laurencin

Cato Laurencin is a world leader in biomaterials, polymeric materials science, and nanotechnology and a pioneer in regenerative engineering. He is currently a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, materials science and engineering, and biomedical engineering and the Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Endowed Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Connecticut.

But Laurencin is more than a scholar. He is also a mentor, having guided more than 100 students from diverse backgrounds at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. More than 20 of his students have completed graduate or postgraduate degrees.

One of those students is Edward Botchwey, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering who specializes in biomaterials, chemical biology, and regenerative medicine. Laurencin was Botchwey’s Ph.D. advisor at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The legacy he leaves through service to his and other fields and mentoring the next generation of surgeons and engineers is what truly drives him.”

Laurencin holds the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, our nation’s highest honor for technological achievement, awarded by President Barack Obama in 2016.

nisha botchwey

Nisha Botchwey and Valarie Swain Cade McCoullum

Valarie Swain Cade McCoullum served as the vice provost for Student Life at the University of Pennsylvania in 1997 when Nisha Botchwey joined the community as a first-generation, low-income graduate student from Jamaica.

Today, Botchwey is associate professor of city and regional planning at Georgia Tech and associate dean for Academic Programs with Georgia Tech Professional Education.

Botchwey worked in McCoullum’s office as a first-year doctoral student and had the opportunity to see her values up close. Later, McCoullum helped Botchwey and her husband (also a doctoral student) overcome housing and insurance challenges that would have ended their academic careers, and was instrumental in making policy changes to benefit graduate students.

Botchwey describes her as “my champion, model, mentor, and sponsor, and she continues to speak for those who are not in the room, gives them a seat at the table, and amplifies their voices.”

baratunde cola

Baratunde Cola and Anthony and Angela Cola

In the early 1980s, Anthony Martin Cola and Angela Marie Andrews Cola named their son Baratunde, meaning "kingly” in Yoruba. They gave him this name to inspire him to lead and achieve great things. 

And he did. Baratunde Cola is a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering whose work focuses on understanding and designing thermal transport and energy conversion in nanostructures and devices.

Anthony Cola lived a colorful life in New York City before earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from City College at age 30. He later earned a master's degree from Wayne State University while working for Ford Motor Company. He made pioneering contributions to the production of shatter-proof glass early in his career and became one of the leading authorities on emergency relief valve design for chemical tanks later in his career.

“My father is the first engineer and science lover that I knew, and he taught me how to think logically and encouraged my entrepreneurship at a young age,” Baratunde Cola says. “His ability to overcome adversity in life has been a powerful inspiration to me my whole life.”

Angela Cola was the first in her family to graduate from college. In addition to holding a degree in business, she was voted Ms. Senior at Florida A&M University and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She retired as a civilian special programs officer for educational programs in the U.S. Navy.

“My mother taught me how to find more in myself, never quit, and has always inspired my competitive flames.”

husbands fealing

Kaye Husbands Fealing and Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill was a journalist and author who, in 1999, became the first Black woman to host a nationally televised U.S. public affairs program, Washington Week in Review.

Ifill was also a political analyst who moderated the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates — becoming the first Black woman to do so.

Her first cousin, economist Kaye Husbands Fealing, is the dean and Ivan Allen Jr. Chair in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech. She specializes in science and innovation policy, the public value of research expenditures, and the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields and professions.

“Everything was grounded in the research that she did,” Husbands Fealing says. “That’s what we have in common. I’m not a journalist, I’m an economist, but that’s what I do: research.”

Ifill garnered many accolades over her lifetime, including a Peabody Award for her work on Washington Week and induction to both the Washington, D.C. Journalism Hall of Fame and the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. In 2020, she was honored on a U.S. postage stamp.

“She meant so much in journalism. I just want to honor her for the fundamentals that she brought to the table every single day.”

marvin lewis

Marvin Lewis and Nathan Lewis

A history teacher and basketball coach for more than 25 years, Nathan Lewis is a mentor and a servant leader in his community.

His son, Marvin Lewis, is a senior associate athletic director for Finance and Administration. In his role, he serves as Georgia Tech Athletics’ chief financial officer, managing the annual budget and overseeing the business office, equipment operations, and information technology.

He credits his father for introducing him to how sports could provide access to education and help him build a better life for himself and others. “His educational foundation and my own personal experience as a student-athlete at Georgia Tech led me to pursue a career in intercollegiate athletics administration and higher education,” Marvin says.

Nathan Lewis has been a strong example of how to be a committed father, caring husband, and leader within his community.

“His direct and indirect support and encouragement have allowed me to navigate the complexities of being a Black man in America. For that, I thank and love him dearly.”

tracey reeves

Tracey Reeves and Malchester Reeves

Malchester Reeves was the first Black elected public official in Syracuse, New York. He was a 24-year-old student at Syracuse University when he was elected 15th Ward supervisor on Nov. 7, 1961.

The office Reeves held for two years — the only political position he ever sought — was something he was always proud of, his daughter Tracey Reeves remembers.

Tracey Reeves serves as associate vice president of Research and Academic Communications within Georgia Tech’s Institute Communications. She is a former reporter and editor for the Washington Post, where she shared in a Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Her love of journalism was fueled by her father’s encouragement to read and write as much as possible. She delighted in hearing his stories about the civil rights movement and how he did his part. “He always said he wanted to make things better not just for African Americans and Black people, but everybody,” she says. “That’s just the way he was.”

Malchester Reeves earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and later an MBA from Northeastern University. In his early career he worked for Raytheon and other big companies before retiring as senior vice president of engineering and manufacturing for the largest computerized lottery machine supplier in the world.

“I watched how he carried himself with his head high, always in a suit and tie. Even in death I hear his voice guiding me: ‘When you see a janitor, say hello. He’s no different than you.’”

Credits:

Writer: Evan Atkinson
Photography: Allison Carter
Editor: Stacy Braukman
Webpage Design: Kristen Bailey