Jim Barber has had a least four careers at Southern Connecticut State University. At 73, he has no plans to retire.
Barber (at right in above photo) was honored Sunday afternoon by the Greater New Haven African American Historical Society with one of its two annual lifetime achievement awards. Fittingly, the ceremony, attended by about 100 members of the society and honorees’ family and friends, took place at Southern, in Charles Garner Recital Hall.
Barber’s first career at Southern was as a student in the early 1960s. After graduation, while holding down another job, he returned to campus to coach track and field—a position he retired from in 2007 after 43 years. He founded a track and field outreach program, working over the years with more than 4,000 young boys and girls from the community.
In 1971, Barber created and ran the school’s first Summer Educational Opportunity Program. In 1981, he became Southern’s director of affirmative action and equal opportunity employment. His most recent position is as director of student support services. (Jack Mordente, at left in picture, jumped into the photo to give Barber a hug. Mordente is director of veterans’ services at Southern and works under Barber.)
Barber told a hushed audience that many years ago he and most of his family survived a car crash that killed his daughter. It made him assess his life.
“What were we left to do? I kind of thought God had provided me another opportunity to do something good.”
Afterward he reflected on his long career and his appreciation of Southern.
“It’s been the kind of place that ... I started to leave four times. But each time a new challenge presented itself, so I was able to stay and be happy about staying. Just making the decision to give as much back to the community as I possibly can is the thing I feel most proud about. If you want to give back, there’s always the opportunity to do that, so if you don’t take advantage of the opportunities, it’s because you really didn’t want to do it.”
The other lifetime achievement award winner was Bernice Bowman of West Haven for her pioneering role in local and state Democratic Party politics. She also served on the Democratic National Committee. In a private conversation and from the podium, she shared her honor with others she’s worked with, saying, “I don’t do anything alone.”
Also honored was Robert Kinney, Jr. (pictured on left with his father, Robert, Sr.). He won the Zanette E. Lewis Scholarship, a one-time $500 award honoring a graduating high school senior in honor of Lewis, an active member of the African American historical society who died last year. (Click here for a story about her memorial service.) Lewis had worked with students at Wilbur Cross High School in the Gear-Up program; Kinney was one of the participants. Though he had laryngitis and declined to speak, he indicated that Lewis had tutored him as he completed his evolution from a troubled kid with behavior problems to a star student and member of the National Honor Society.
Kinney was accepted at a number of colleges, and chose Southern. After the formal program ended, Barber congratulated the incoming freshman and told him, “Be sure to stop in and see me” when he arrives on campus this fall.
The Rev. Al Sharpton had been scheduled to receive the organization’s “Lifetime Commitment to Social Justice and Activism” award, but he encountered transportation woes and couldn’t make it. His award was accepted by his longtime friend, City Clerk Ron Smith.