Will's Cummings jumping past hurdles into new honors
Yvonne Delaney Mitchell | 5/17/2012, 11:30 a.m.
The University of Pennsylvania held its Athletic Hall of Fame Class VIII induction ceremony, where Dr. Willis Cummings, a former Harlem dentist, was inducted. The induction was well-deserved and long overdue.
Prior to enrolling in the University's School of Dentistry as one of two African-Americans out of 259 candidates in the class of 1919, Cummings earned a bachelor's degree from Fisk University in 1916. In 1918, Cummings became the first African-American captain of the Penn cross-country team--the first African-American captain of a varsity program for any team at any school in the Ivy League.
Needless to say, as a Black man, he had many hurdles to cross, as his accomplishments more often than not were ignored by the school and its opponents. In fact, the only recognition he did get was from the schools that refused to compete against the team as long as they had an African-American on the roster. Even Penn showed its resistance by refusing to take a 1918 team photo.
Resilient and unfazed, Cummings kept his eye on the prize. He was a founding member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Psi chapter on Penn's campus and went on to become one of Harlem's premier dentists. His practice was located on Seventh Avenue and 138th Street.
Accepting the plaque in Cummings' honor was D. Elton Cochran-Fikes. Cochran-Fikes is also from Harlem; he went to Rice High School and then traveled on to Penn. He ran at Penn and became the fastest African-America miler, when he ran 3:55 for the mile in 1974. He is now an associate athletic director at Penn.
Many of you may know his mom, Ella Dufau, who is still a Harlem resident. She once owned a wig store at 30 W. 125th St. back in the '60s and '70s.
The Columbia University Teacher's College (TCCS) elementary school, located on 133rd Street and Fifth Avenue, is holding a fundraiser at Hue-Man Bookstore, at 124th Street and Eighth Avenue, on Wednesday, May 23, and it promises not to be your ordinary fundraiser.
TCCS parent Deborah Copaken Kogan will be there to read from and discuss her new book, "The Red Book," a New York Times bestselling novel. Proceeds from the book will be donated to the school. Refreshments will be served (including wine).
Meanwhile, Christina Lewis Halpern, daughter of the late Reginald Lewis, held court at the Schomburg Library American Theater to discuss her book, "Lonely at the Top," a memoir about her journey through Harvard University and her father's journey. It's a fascinating story and makes you realize everyone has their struggles in life.
Condolences to Beverly Baker and family, whose husband, father and son, Jesse, recently passed away. Jesse was a popular face around New York Civil Court, where he was a landlord-tenant litigator. Born Feb. 7, 1952, Jesse grew up in Highstown, N.J. After graduating with honors from Highstown High, he went on to attend Princeton University with a full academic scholarship. Jesse graduated from Hofstra University Law School with a J.D. and master's of business administration in 1979. He leaves behind sons Donnell and Jonathan and baby girl Leah.