Alumnus Dr. Willie Fleming ’80 ’84 of Charlotte is one of four recipients of Appalachian State University’s Faces of Courage Award. He was a founding member of the Appalachian Gospel Choir and its first director, a founding member of the Black Student Association and the Black Faculty and Staff Association and an advisor for minority students. He also helped university administrators establish National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities for African-American students.
The Faces of Courage Award recognizes those who were instrumental in Appalachian State University’s early diversity efforts.
This video tribute played at the Commemoration of Integration, held Oct. 2 in the Holmes Convocation Center as part of 2015 homecoming weekend activities. Also receiving Faces of Courage Awards at this event were Dr. Carolyn Anderson ’69 of Winston-Salem, Barbara Reeves Hart ’65 of Gastonia and Dr. Zaphon R. Wilson ’76 ’77 of Raleigh.
Fleming is an associate professor of psychology and coordinator of school and mental health programs at Gardner-Webb University.
In the video, Fleming says, “Appalachian State changed my life. I grew up in Boone; I matured there and it was absolutely the best time in my life… My career at Appalachian State started as director of minority affairs in 1983. To be at the forefront of the gospel choir, Black Student Association and African-American Greeks was a great honor. It gave purpose to my life.”
Dr. Willie Fleming: The day I received my letter of acceptance from Appalachian State, it was the probably the happiest day and the saddest day of my life. My father died that day and I had made up my mind that I was not going to go to college because I was one of 10 children. My family didn’t have a lot of money so all of us did our part to make things happen at home and to help out with the family, so I thought my responsibility was at home. My oldest sister was very diplomatic and said, “No, you’re not going to stay home.” There was no diplomacy there at all of course, no regrets for taking my sister’s advice or actually yielding to her command to go off to college.
Appalachian State changed my life and there were a lot of wonderful opportunities in Boone and I grew up in Boone. I matured there. Absolutely the best time of my life. My freshman year we started the gospel choir and probably had 25 students in the group. Over the years when I was directing the choir it actually became church. The most beautiful thing would happen at the end of rehearsals. We would have what we called prayer request and praise reports times. Students that were not in choir would come to rehearsal and just sit and observe and watch, and if they had a concern or they were worried about an exam or whatever they would wait until the end of rehearsal and ask for the group to pray for them. Many of them would just sit in and listen to the music and they got consolation just listening to the music. It was not just a form of cultural expression, but for many people it was a spiritual outlet for them and it was a place where they felt safe and where they felt comfort. I think it reminded them of being at home in their local churches and being with their families. Those types of comments were expressed over the years.
My career at Appalachian State started as Director of Minority Affairs and I think that was in 83’ 1983 to be at the forefront of the gospel choir, the Black Student Association and working with the African American Greeks. It was a great honor. It gave purpose to my life. I saw my job at Appalachian State as more of a calling than just a job or career. I have always felt very fulfilled in the work that I have done on college campuses. Especially there because I knew there was a need, and I always felt really honored that I was the one chosen and allowed to serve those wonderful students.
The Chancellor’s Commission on Diversity works to ensure Appalachian is a welcoming community of scholars which values, respects and embraces diversity across all units.
In 2014, Chancellor Sheri N. Everts charged the commission to provide recommendations focused on the recruitment and retention of students, staff and faculty from underrepresented groups.