As a young child, D. Wesley Poythress ’89 drowned and was resuscitated. After that frightening day, he went out of his way to avoid any body of water larger than a bathtub. But then a pivotal experience at Berea College inspired him to overcome his fear of water. As a transfer student, he was required to sign up for a swim class. Though he was not looking forward to it, the course and the instructor, Coach Martha Beagle, changed his feelings about water.
“I still remember to this day—it echoes in my ears and in my heart how jubilant she was when I actually swam,” he said. “It was so exciting for me, and I’m really grateful for that because it changed my life.”
This is just one example of the impact D. Wesley’s alma mater had on his life. The youngest of 11 children, he was not the first in his family to attend college, but he was the first to graduate. In the mid-1980s, D. Wesley attended Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Ala. As his graduation from the two-year college approached, he visited Berea College to see his cousin, Willie Parker ’86, who introduced him to faculty members like Cleo Charles and Andrew Baskin.
While at Berea, he toured the campus and saw several people he knew from his hometown of Birmingham. Following that visit, D. Wesley said, “I stopped looking at other schools, even in Alabama.
After that trip, I said, ‘Berea: this is the place for me.’”
As he continued at Berea, he fell more and more in love with the College. “Berea was it,” he said. “I loved the place, the spirit. It wasn’t too big and it wasn’t too small. And it was diverse.”
For him, the most compelling aspect of Berea’s mission is its unique history. “John Fee did something that was not just out of the ordinary,” he said. “It was against a whole principle—segregation. The history was important for me, and that’s what drives me to philanthropy with regard to Berea.”
Since Berea, D. Wesley has gone on to become the founder of AWH Consulting LLC, an organization that provides expertise and services to groups, companies and institutions in the areas of cultural and racial diversity, multiculturalism and social inclusion. He also serves as adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology, Social Work, Criminal Justice and Family Science and the School of Adult Learning at Anderson University in Indiana. Prior to his current roles, D. Wesley held a position as director of Multicultural Student Services at AU and as assistant dean and liaison to the president for minority participation at Hope College in Michigan.
“Berea actually expanded my perspective on life,” he said. “Berea was the first place I ever met students from all over the world and bonded with them. Before then, at my junior college or any of my experiences in Alabama, the world was basically just black and white, to be frank.
“That exposure led me to my perspective and my outlook on life,” D. Wesley continued. “The institution and the history really impacted me. I am a Berean. I learned how to embrace my Appalachian heritage and experience culture at Berea.”
This exposure and experience left D. Wesley with a passion evident to his friends and family.
“I talk about Berea with passion because Berea gave me this passion,” he said. “The president, the professors, the community—for me, it was like the perfect storm. It makes me proud that my kids know about the essence of Berea.”
Many of D. Wesley’s friends and family join him in supporting Berea because he talks so passionately about the College.
“Berea’s mission and its commitment to this day, beyond diversity and inclusion, has kept me locked in with regard to wanting to give back.”