James and Cynthia Hicks

Although their time at Berea overlapped, Cynthia Hairston Hicks ’79 and James Hicks ’76 did not know each other as students. They were introduced by a mutual friend at a homecoming reunion in 1983, and the rest is history. The Hickses have been supporting the College for nearly 40 years. Both agree that Berea’s commitment to interracial education is as pertinent as ever.

Cynthia grew up in a family with seven children, and her mother had every intention of sending each one of them off to college. The prospect seemed more and more out of reach as financial aid resources remained scarce—that is, until they found Berea. Four sisters went off to college. When it was Cynthia’s turn, she became the fifth daughter in her family to attend Berea College.

Before Cynthia stepped foot on campus, she knew from her sisters’ experiences that Berea was a special place. While she studied psychology, child development and education, she was blown away by the commitment to culture and diversity on campus.

“At Berea, it is an even playing field,” said Cynthia, who worked in Kentucky-Talcott residence hall for her work assignment with facilities management. “We all come there with whatever we have. Once you’re there, you see the different cultures and races of people that are there. Everyone is valued, no matter who you are, and you have the opportunity to include others in your world.”

We are all one people. The fact that we can go to school together and live together in peace and harmony—I think if the world could really see Berea, it would be a better place.

James Hicks ’76

Cynthia pursued a teaching career after Berea and explained that she lives out Berea’s commitments in her everyday life. While most are supportive of her identity as a Black teacher, not everyone is.

“God has commissioned me to be an educator for those students,” she said. “Living out this commitment is just integral to my role as an educator. I have to be true to each child who steps through my door.”

James was first introduced to the College by a teacher at his school in Stewartsville, Va., who asked him if he had ever heard of Berea. Once he was accepted and moved in, he knew he had made the right choice. He worked at Boone Tavern all four years of college as a desk clerk and a bellhop, among other duties.

James fondly remembers his time as a student, balancing school, labor and athletics. He was an exceptional asset to the College’s track team for four years in a number of events and even set the school record for long jump in 1976. His major in business administration would set him up to work in New York as a financial analyst after graduation, and later as a mortgage processor for Bank of America. He is currently working with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) Schools system as an in-school suspension assistant.

Throughout his life and career, James has carried the message of Berea College.

“We are all one people. The fact that we can go to school together and live together in peace and harmony—I think if the world could really see Berea, it would be a better place,” James said.

The Hickses acknowledged that there have been issues in the past and present that challenged the College’s dedication to equality, but the institution has always remained true to its commitment. “God is love,” James said, “and you find that at Berea.”

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