By Aswad Walker
Houston is known for many things—the Astros, chopped & screwed mixes, crazy street flooding after only 30 seconds of rain and so much more. But what many folk outside and inside city limits often sleep on is the number of nationally and internationally acclaimed college/university educators who work their brilliance in the Greater Houston area. Here’s my list, which, I’m sure, is by no means exhaustive. And FYI, this list is presented in no certain order. But enough chatter. Check out the list and then please, please send me your list of names of those who deserve to be celebrated.
Dr. Robert Bullard, TSU – For those who don’t know, Bullard is known as the “Father of the Environmental Justice Movement.” It was his work, scholarship and activism that brought the reality of environmental racism to national consciousness. And he started his crusade right here in H-town.
Dr. Rheeda Walker, UH – You may not be familiar with Walker, but that doesn’t mean the world is sleeping on her brilliance. Walker is a licensed clinical psychologist whose program of research emphasizes two understudied areas—suicide science and African American adult mental health. Communities throughout the US are chronically underserved, in part due to social and cultural barriers. This is perhaps especially true of mental health initiatives. Thus, all of Walker’s scholarly work has focused on suicide, and it correlates toward the primary goal of developing culturally-relevant models of mental health and well-being.
Hence, Walker is an absolute crusader for moving us to take more seriously our mental health. And her work exposing the ugly reality of the growing rate of suicide in Black people, and especially Black children, has inspired a national movement of souls committed to changing that reality for the better. And those movement members quote and shout-out Walker almost as much as the gazillion national cable news shows who continuously fight to have her grace their shows with her regal presence. And the crazy thing is, just like Bullard, when the world calls to hear their voice, they call Third Ward, Texas.
Dr. Anthony Pinn, Rice – The university where Pinn works his wonders is in the shadows of the Texas Medical Center where people travel from all over the world to receive care to heal their bodies. Pinn focuses his brilliance on moving people to heal and grow and challenge their minds and spirits as the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and professor of religion at Rice University and the founding director of Rice’s Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning (CERCL).
Pinn’s research interests include religion and culture; humanism; and hip-hop culture. He is the author/editor of over 35 books, including The Black Church in the Post-Civil Rights Era (2002); Terror and Triumph: The Nature of Black Religion (2003), Noise and Spirit: Rap Music’s Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities (2004), and the novel, The New Disciples (2015). And like everyone on this list, Pinn’s influence and impact is not limited to the borders of the Bayou City. Pinn is also director of research for the Institute for Humanist Studies, a Washington DC-based think tank.
Dr. Merline Pitre, TSU – Pitre is a history-maker. Literally. If you don’t believe me, go to TheHistoryMakers.org and see for yourself. One of the reasons she’s celebrated across the country is for her scholarship that spotlights the political power and impact of Black women in Texas. Refusing to believe that Black women were invisible in the political and civil rights struggles of Black people in her adopted state (she’s originally from Opelousas, Louisiana) simply because their names weren’t the ones usually discussed by most historians, Pitre did the research to discover what she really already knew. Sisters have been running things and handling much political business in the Lone Star State since day one.
Pitre’s writings, including Through Many Dangers, Toils and Snares: The Black Leadership of Texas, 1868 to 1898; In Struggle against Jim Crow: Lulu B. White and the NAACP, 1900-1957; Black Women in Texas History (where she served as co-editor with Bruce Glasrud); and Southern Black Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement let readers know, to paraphrase the Wu Tang Clan, “Merline Pitre ain’t nuthin’ ta mess wit.” Pitre became the first African American president of the Texas State Historical Association. She was also editor of the African American Handbook of Texas. And most recently, she authored the definitive history of TSU with her book Born to Serve: A History of Texas Southern University.
Dr. Melayne Price, PVAMU – Melanye Price is the Endowed Professor of Political Science at Prairie View A&M University and principal investigator for their African American Studies Initiative. Price is the author of two books: The Race Whisperer: Barack Obama and the Political Uses of Race (NYU, 2016) and Dreaming Blackness: Black Nationalism and African American Public Opinion (NYU, 2009). Her expertise is related to American politics with a specialization in African-American politics. And it is that focus that has media outlets, global conferences and other academics reaching out to Price for her expert opinion and keen insights on race and racialized politics.
Dr. Tara Green, UH – Dr. Tara Green is new to the Houston area, as she was recently named the chair of the University of Houston’s African American Studies Department and the UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) distinguished professor. But what we lack in personal knowledge of Green is more than made up for by the resume she brings to the table. Not only is she leading UH’s AAS Department, Green has a joint appointment in the school’s English department.
So, it should come as no surprise that Green is a literature and interdisciplinary scholar with degrees in English. Moreover, she is the award-winning author and editor of six books, including See Me Naked: Black Women Defining Pleasure During the Interwar Era as well as the co-curator of the Triad Black Lives Matter Collection housed at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Green’s main areas of research include African American fiction and autobiography, African literature, Black leadership/activism, Black Southern studies and the Harlem Renaissance.
Dr. Bobby L. Wilson, TSU – Wilson has served in countless capacities at TSU, from professor to academic administrator to acting president. But it’s Wilson’s work as an environmental chemist where he has truly made his mark. Wilson has had his research published dozens of times in addition to publishing two general chemistry textbooks. Wilson has given over 70 major presentations to his peers, advised dozens of doctoral theses, held three patents and won numerous research grants from institutions such as NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Egyptian Government. In 1998, Wilson became a member of NOBCChE’s executive board, and in 2005, he became chairman. Wilson also served on the executive board of the Texas Academy of Science.
Dr. Jacqueline Giles, TSU – Giles is such an absolute math genius with a story worthy of a feature film that simply providing a snapshot of her greatness would be a disservice to both her and Defender readers. Look out for a special feature article on Giles in the very near future so she can be given the admiration and respect this math leader surely deserves.
Dr. Gerald Horne, UH – Horne holds the Moores Professorship of History and African American Studies. His research has addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations and war. He has also written extensively about the film industry. Horne’s undergraduate courses include the Civil Rights Movement and U.S. History through Film. He also teaches graduate courses in Diplomatic History, Labor History and 20th Century African American History. Dr. Horne uses a variety of teaching techniques that enrich his classes and motivate students to participate. But what has people across the country and globe beating down the door to secure Horne as a guest, lecturer, conference presenter, etc. are his books that are not only impeccably well-researched, they are written in a language that allows any and everyone to be able to access and internalize his works.
To give you a taste of why Horne is so revered, in a field where scholars are judged by the amount and quality of their published works, Horne has produced upwards of 40 books! That may not sound like many to some, but when you consider the average college professor publishes 0.521 books over the course of their career, you can see why Horne is considered elite. And instead of attempting to give you a synopsis of all or even half of his works, I’ll just say, his latest book, The Counter-Revolution of 1836: Texas Slavery & Jim Crow and the Roots of American Fascism, Horne documents how Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) was literally the story of Black US troops going to battle with enslavers in Texas to make the Juneteenth announcement of freedom a reality.
And without those Black troops fighting to the death, that freedom would not have come. So, Juneteenth is literally a story about Black self-determination rather than how it has been presented for so many years, as freedom coming from outside the Black community. Horne’s book also celebrates another critical June 19 a few years later, when Black soldiers literally saved the United States from war when they put down efforts by the Confederacy to re-group and take over America. Yes, you read that right. Members of the Confederacy regrouped in Mexico, and planned to attack the US at what they thought was its weak point. Then they ran into the bruhs. That’s the kind of scholarship Horne provides; work that shines a much-needed light on those chapters in American history that need to be told.
Others, Various Institutions – This space is reserved for all those incredible Houston-area university-level educators not listed here. I make no claim to be knowledgeable about all college professors in the area. My list is based upon only those who I know or know of. Certainly, there are some incredible college professors doing great things. And I invite you and encourage you to share their names with me. And if you have personal stories, examples and testimonies of their greatness, effectiveness and impact, please share those, as well. I’m all about celebrating Black excellence. So, even though the headline reads “Top 10,” regarding this topic, the more the merrier. Here’s my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to add more names to this list.