Lauded as a “Renaissance man” by the educator who established the honor, MTSU political science professor Sekou Franklin was hailed Thursday as the 2014 recipient of the university’s John Pleas Faculty Recognition Award for excellence in teaching, research and service.
“It’s all about the shoulders you’re standing on,” Pleas, an MTSU psychology professor emeritus, told Franklin, pointing to previous award winners in the audience during the afternoon ceremony in the university’s historic Tom Jackson Building.
“You have broad shoulders. I expect you to fulfill their commitment.”
Franklin, who’s been a part of MTSU’s Department of Political Science since 2003, also coordinates the Urban Studies Minor Program at the university. He’s published works on urban politics, social movements, juvenile justice, the death penalty, youth activism, Venezuelan politics and state and local politics, but his work is not limited to writing.
The Nashville resident also coordinates and participates in volunteer projects and events encouraging fairness and equity in employment, education, housing, transportation, health care, and social and criminal justice.
The John Pleas Faculty Recognition Award, now in its 18th year, is presented to minority faculty members at MTSU during Black History Month to celebrate their work in the classroom and community as well as their academic research.
You can watch a video from Thursday’s event below.
“He represents all that’s great about our faculty at MTSU,” University Provost Brad Bartel said of Franklin.
“He’s an engineer who has an incredible impact,” added Dr. Stephen Morris, chair of the political science department. “He builds a bridge between the classroom and the real world. He focuses on real issues. His passion is fueled by reason. There’s nothing so admirable as someone who devotes himself to social justice.”
Franklin, who earned degrees from Santa Clara University, San Francisco State University and Howard University, has a lengthy association with social justice causes. He was trained as an expert witness by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Community Census and Redistricting Institute, cofounded the Urban EpiCenter organization for Nashville’s low-income communities and has worked with groups ranging from Tennessee Citizen Action to the Workers’ Dignity Project to the Nashville Peace and Justice Center to the Tennessee NAACP State Conference, to name only a handful.
Dr. Robert Rucker, a retired social work professor at MTSU who’s also a friend of Franklin’s and the inaugural Pleas Award honoree in 1997, asked the crowd to grade the honoree’s accomplishments, earning enthusiastic “A plus” ratings on his classroom teaching skills, research and community service.
“For Dr. Franklin, a ‘community’ has no borders. His involvement in our communities made him an activist scholar,” said Christie Williams, who worked with Franklin as a graduate student at MTSU and now teaches English and works on institutional equity issues for MTSU’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program.
Franklin edited a groundbreaking 2010 report, “The State of Blacks in Middle Tennessee,” published by The Urban League of Middle Tennessee, that made clear that local African-Americans still face racism as pervasive as it was in the 1960s in many areas. His latest book, “After the Rebellion: Black Youth, Social Movement Activism, and the Post-Civil Rights Generation,” will be published in July by NYU Press.
A former student of Franklin’s praised the professor as an inspiration to the people in his classrooms.
“Many lose the passion they had for shaping the minds of young people. Then there’s Dr. Franklin,” Micah McClure said.
“He provides each of us with the tools to fight for a better world. To be content with knowing more about injustice was settling for less, for him. He clearly stated, class after class, that we were capable of being the change we wished to see in the world, and he challenged us — and that means he required us — to use our knowledge outside the classroom.”
Franklin expressed his thanks to the colleagues, students, friends and associates who have supported and encouraged his work, making special note of his wife, nationally recognized health advocate Tene Hamilton Franklin, and their young daughters, Sojourner and Langston.
“I consider this award the highest honor I could receive because any accomplishments I have, I owe to those who support me,” the professor said, recalling words spoken at a training event by the late theologian and civil rights activist Samuel DeWitt Proctor: “If you give 100 percent to your work, you’ll get 100 percent back.”
The ceremony also included recognition of the 17 previous winners of the Pleas Award, several of whom were present to salute Franklin and pose for a photo with him during a reception. In addition to Rucker, previous winners of the Pleas Faculty Recognition Award since its inception are:
- Dr. Bichaka Fayissa, economics professor, 1998.
- Dr. Laura Jarmon, English professor, 1999.
- Dr. Gloria Bonner, dean of the College of Education, 2000.
- Dr. Sharon Shaw-McEwen, social work professor, 2001.
- Dr. Alphonse Carter, engineering technology professor, 2002.
- Dr. Bertha Clark, professor of communication disorders, 2003.
- Dr. Anantha Babbili, 2004, then-dean of the College of Mass Communication.
- Dr. Pat Patterson, professor of chemistry, 2005.
- Dr. Rosemary Owens, dean of continuing studies and public service, 2006.
- Dr. Connie Wade, chair of the Department of Elementary and Special Education, 2007.
- Dr. Marva Lucas, chair of the Department of University Studies, 2008.
- Dr. Adonijah Bakari, history professor, 2009.
- Dr. Dwight Patterson, 2010, chemistry professor.
- Dr. Raphael Bundage, 2011, music professor.
- Dr. Cheryl Slaughter Ellis, professor of community and public health, 2012.
- Dr. Newtona “Tina” Johnson, professor of English and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, 2013.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)