By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
To grasp why Claflin University continues to rank No. 1 in alumni giving, grasp hands with several people in a circle.
The point is you form a bond that strengthens everyone in the circle. And the same applies to many who have worked behind the scenes to make Claflin University No. 1 in alumni giving among Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
According to U.S. News and World Report nearly 48.9 percent of Claflin alumni contributed to the school from 2012 to 2014. Claflin had the highest percentage of alumni who donated among 46 HBCUs that submitted data to U.S. News in an annual survey.
“And we are going to keep it that way and better,” said Bessie Byrd, age 65, who has volunteered her time, talents, and funds to Claflin for more than four decades. But the same applies to four of her five siblings. Four are Claflin grads who established the Louis Haywood endowed scholarship with $10,000 about two decades ago.
“The total endowment is now well over $20,000,” Byrd said, counting her five siblings’ names off on one hand: Their names are Earline Haywood Ulmer, Lawrence F. Haywood Jr. (deceased), and Louis Haywood. Her sister, Hallie Haywood Hunter (deceased) attended Claflin one year and moved away. Another brother Cole Blease Haywood did not attend Claflin.
“We named it for our brother Louis because he was a Claflin grad, and was a major serving in the U.S. Army,” Byrd said in a recent telephone interview with the New Journal and Guide.
“And I have a daughter (Tangela Byrd Solomon) who graduated from Claflin in 1995,” Byrd said. “I taught my daughter to give too. She is the president of the Charlotte Alumni Chapter. My daughter is an English teacher in the public schools in Charlotte, and is leading that chapter in a new direction. That is the legacy that comes from my family line.”
But neither she nor her five siblings grew up in luxurious surroundings. Instead, she was born on a farm to sharecroppers in Jamison, S.C. Her parents relocated to Orangeburg in the 1960s. While her father, Lawrence Haywood Jr. passed in 2001 and her mother, Clarybell Haywood passed in 1995, both valued education. The value never passed away.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t do something for Claflin.” Byrd said. “On a weekly basis I donate about eight hours to Claflin.”
“I am proud to report that my graduating class (1972) has donated well over $105,095 for Oct. 15, 2014 until Oct. 15, 2015,” Byrd said. While her class had more than 100 students, and only about 21 students from the class of 1972 contributed during that period, none of it seemed to weaken her resolve to strengthen her alma mater.
“I play a major role in making sure my classmates give back,” said Byrd who has been class agent since early 1990 for the class of 1972. She is a member of the Hall of Fame, the Board of Visitors, and heads the local alumni association.
Suddenly the picture comes sharply into focus. Specifically, Claflin strengthened two generations in one family. And the family reached out to strengthen Claflin. Or as the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. said of those tiny, nearly invisible threads that many call bonds, “Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”
Does this mean Claflin ranks No. 1 in alumni giving among HBCUs because tiny, nearly invisible bonds strengthen? Well, you decide. For example, an interesting example of a hydrogen bond is human DNA. But the two strands of DNA are held together by weak hydrogen bonds. Another example of a hydrogen bond is nylon, a synthetic famous for its stretchy qualities. And ethanol is an alcohol that features hydrogen bonds.
Or as Herman Melville said of bonds, “A thousand fibers connect us … and they come back to us as effects.”
The point is the Byrd family’s bond to Claflin is replicated throughout the campus. For example, Dr. Henry N. Tisdale, a 1965 Claflin grad has headed the school for 22 years. Following a 24-year tenure at Delaware State University in Dover, where he held increasingly responsible positions including chief academic officer from 1987 to 1994, he returned to Claflin.
“My parents were very optimistic,” said Tisdale, who grew up in a family of three on a farm in Kingstree, S.C., located between Florence and Charleston. “But neither had gone past the eighth grade.
“My dad, Walter Tisdale was the best farmer in the world,” said Claflin’s president, who earned a 1978 doctoral degree in mathematics from Dartmouth College. At Temple University, he was awarded a master’s degree in mathematics (1967) then a master’s degree in mathematics from Dartmouth College (1975).
“My mother (Willar Tisdale) was the most brilliant mathematician I’ve ever met and was responsible for me becoming a mathematician later,” Tisdale said. “She was disappointed I did not go on to finish medical school. She did not believe there as problem that could not be solved. I came out of an environment where people did not complain. They found solutions with their heads held high.”
Although his father passed in 1996 and his mother passed in 2013, Tisdale passes on the values they cherished including hard work, tenacity, and faith. For example, when the NAACP awarded its service award to Tisdale in 2012, he described Claflin as a ministry. “Thank you for recognizing our very worthwhile ministry at Claflin University,” he said.
At the NACCP awards banquet his wife Alice Carson Tisdale said, “I am truly honored to receive this award. It’s quite surprising to be acknowledged for something that you just love doing. Our students remain our top priority, as we continue our commitment to educating world-class scholars and visionaries.”
Tisdale said the university which has about 2000 students, including some from 20 foreign nations, is “a collaborative effort undergirded by faith.”
Faith in Claflin is shared by many. For example, Paul Fant, Claflin’s board chair told the Atlanta Journal he had served on the board for over 14 years. “I have had the honor and privilege of serving on Claflin’s Board of Trustees for over 14 years and I have never been part of a more high-performing board,” Fant said.
The Rev. Whittaker V. Middleton, the vice president for institutional advancement who has been at the school for over four decades, said, “We have had a lot of good fortune.”
“When I started in 1982 giving was at $15,000 total from alumni,” Middleton said. “No program existed at that time. I set up the advancement office at Claflin. There was no effort to raise funds from alumni although we have always had alumni in pockets of South Carolina. About 85 percent of our grads live in the state but no one was actively organizing them.”
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