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Uplifting Black Men Conference highlights empowerment, persistence

March 26, 2017

Irving Peddrew, III, who in 1953 was the first African American student admitted to Virginia Tech, speaks at the 2017 Uplifting Black Men Conference.
Irving Peddrew, III, who in 1953 was the first African American student admitted to Virginia Tech, speaks at the 2017 Uplifting Black Men Conference.

The second annual Uplifting Black Men Conference focused on empowering black men through stories of persistence from several Virginia Tech alumni.

The event, held Friday at the Inn at Virginia Tech, culminated in a keynote address by Irving Peddrew, the first African-American student to attend Virginia Tech.

Peddrew recalled getting into schools all over the country, but when he applied to Virginia schools he got into just one — Virginia Tech.  

“I was raised to be independent and be strong,” he said. “I never felt I was an inferior person or second class citizen. I was taught you don’t let anyone define who you are. You are who you want to be.”

Peddrew said by coming to Virginia Tech he thought he could make a difference.

He did.

While Peddrew did not graduate from Virginia Tech, he did make history here. He arrived in Blacksburg in 1953 and was the first black student to attend any historically, all-white, four-year public institution in the 11 former states of the Confederacy.    

He attended for three years before relocating to California. His time was marked by isolation and injustice. He was not allowed to live on campus or eat in the cafeteria with other students.

In 2016 he received an honorary bachelor’s degree. It is only the ninth honorary degree awarded by Virginia Tech in the university’s history.

University President Tim Sands introduced Peddrew on Friday.

"Irving Peddrew forged a path for others to follow and sacrificed his own well being to make the world a better place for others. He demonstrated the true spirit of Ut Prosim, Virginia Tech's tech’s motto That I May Serve," Sands said. "I regret the way he was treated when he first came to our campus, but I was proud at the reception he received from the 20 some thousand people people in attendance as he accepted his diploma in Lane Stadium. His spirit inspires us to move forward and take action, to honor our commitment to service, community, and diversity."

Peddrew's keynote capped the day-long conference held that was attended by faculty, staff, and students. The event was hosted by the Virginia Tech Black Male Excellence Network.

Radford University President Brian Hemphill (left) and  West Virginia State University President Anthony Jenkins (right) speak during a panel discussion moderated by university President Tim Sands.
Radford University President Brian Hemphill (left) and West Virginia State University President Anthony Jenkins (right) speak during a panel discussion moderated by university President Tim Sands.

The conference also included a panel discussion between Brian Hemphill, president of Radford University, and Anthony Jenkins, president of West Virginia State University. It was facilitated by Sands.

Hemphill became president of Radford in 2016. Jenkins earned his Ph.D. in educational leadership from Virginia Tech. He succeeded Hemphill as president of West Virginia State University when Hemphill was appointed president at Radford.

Sands asked the men about their path to the presidency, what motivates them, and what advice they would give to young men in the audience.

"Don’t ever doubt yourself,” Jenkins said. "There is a difference between being fearful and having doubt. It is natural to fear things . . . when you have doubts you are saying you do not trust yourself, those who have supported you and the man upstairs who put you in the positions to be successful."

Written by Annie McCallum

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