East Columbia resident named university president


March 18, 2003|By Pamela Woolford | Pamela Woolford,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

EAST COLUMBIA resident Clarence G. Newsome, a longtime religious leader and former interim pastor of St. John Baptist Church of Columbia, was recently named president of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.

In January, the Shaw University Board of Trustees voted unanimously to offer Newsome the position. He has since had quite a commute. Dean of the Howard University School of Divinity, Newsome continues his work there through March 28.

"It's amazing," Newsome says of the appointment. "My grandmother named my father after Shaw [University]. His name is Clarence Shaw Newsome. I had a great uncle who attended Shaw University years ago. He was in the medical school, and that was my grandmother's brother. During his senior year, unfortunately, he passed [away], and my grandmother honored him by naming my father after him. My great uncle's name was William Clarence Jenkins."

A resident of Howard County for 17 years, Newsome co-founded the St. John Baptist Church mentoring program, which sends African-American men into Howard County schools as role models and advisers to African-American male students. He also organized the church's annual Christmas gift-giving program for low-income families, which distributes as many as 500 gifts on Christmas Eve.

Valerie Harvey, Newsome's neighbor, calls him "such a gracious, humble man."

Newsome is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Distinguished Service in Education Award from the Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc. in 2000 and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Duke Divinity School in 2001.

In the 1970s and early '80s, he attended Duke University, earning a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in religious studies, and a master's of divinity.

"Religious studies was a passion for me," Newsome said. "It allowed me to study life and its complexities and its depth. Religious studies is more than just the Old Testament and New Testament and, for that matter, it's more than the study of Christianity, it's more than the study of world religion. ... It's studying reality in order to derive the greatest measure of value out of life."

The first black student commencement speaker at Duke, Newsome was chosen by his peers. He shared the podium with Walter Cronkite, the now-retired CBS anchorman.

Newsome spoke on "an African concept of time and a theme of liberation in the world community," he recalls. "I talked [about] how we use the gift of time." He advised his fellow classmates to "live more meaningfully by building positive relationships with each other."

In 1975, Newsome earned a master's degree, graduating magna cum laude. He went on to serve as faculty at the Duke Divinity School for eight years, teaching American Christianity and black church history.

In 1988, the U.S. Senate honored Newsome as one of the nation's outstanding religious leaders, and a year later he was invited by William S. Cohen, then-secretary of defense, to participate in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.

Newsome began working as assistant dean at the Howard University School of Divinity in 1986 and became dean in 1992. Since then, the school's registration has increased 59 percent and fund raising has increased 100 percent, according to an article in a university newsletter.

"He is a visionary leader," said the Rev. Robert Turner, pastor of St. John Baptist Church who served as the director of the school's continuing education program for seven years while Newsome was dean. "He was always looking beyond what is, to what can be."

Newsome describes leaving Howard as a bittersweet experience. "I am ... deeply saddened to leave those whom I have come to consider my family."

"He has a shepherd's heart. He really loves people," Turner said of Newsome.

Newsome is also leaving a position as the direct leader of a divinity school, but "I'm the president of a ... university that is church-related," Newsome said. "It was founded by the Baptist Church, and it's heavily supported by the Baptist Church, even now."

Shaw University is also the South's oldest historically black college or university.

James Arnette has taught at Shaw for 20 years and knew of Newsome when he was on the Duke faculty. "I have admired him from a distance because of his seeming dedication and scholarly approach to things," Arnette said.

Newsome leaves Howard County with his wife, Lynne, and their younger daughter Brittany, who plans to attend New York University film school this fall. Their older daughter, Gina, is a second-year medical student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and resides about 20 minutes from the Newsome's new home.

As he advised his fellow classmates at Duke University, Newsome lives his life with others in mind. "We don't live solitary lives," he said. "Whatever we do at any moment ... bears some relationship to the well-being of someone else, even if we spend that moment in private."

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