At 82 years old, George Blair has a lot to look back on. With his white baseball cap and a white beard growing from ear to ear, Blair breaks all stereotypes. In 1950, he was the first African-American to be admitted to Indiana State University’s military school. And that was when he was just 16 years old.

“When you’re on your way up, you try to do as many things as you can well,” said Blair, originally from Virginia.

Despite growing up in a time of overt racism, Blair persevered and broke many barriers. He even earned three Ph.D.s by the time he was 35 years old. Back in college, Blair said the dean told him he wouldn’t last one semester. “I said, ‘Hey, you can’t tell me that,’” Blair said. “At 16, I didn’t know what I know now. I was just using the rebellion of a teenager.”

Blair’s defy-any-odds mentality never left. After college he went into the Army, where he became a first lieutenant in the 48th Infantry Company in Virginia. Most of the officers under his command were white.

One day, when it was time to eat, Blair was told that he had to go to the back of the building to have his meal, a hamburger, handed to him.

“I could either succumb to that or I could get a gun and shoot people,” Blair said with a chuckle. He did neither. “I went to school because I thought that would better prepare me for racism.”

Blair dedicated the next part of his life to his education and to educating others. He earned his Ph.D.s in economics, experimental sight and divinity. “I use [the divinity] one the most because people try my patience,” said Blair, grinning. “That’s what helped me get to be 82.”

Blair also has a laundry list of things he has taught. He was a drama teacher at Indiana State University, an English teacher and a soccer and bowling coach. However, the apex of Blair’s education career was when he was deputy chancellor for the entire SUNY system, a public university institution with over 60 campuses across New York State.

Though Blair has retired from the SUNY system, he by no means lives a life of leisure. He now spends his time running the New York City Riding Academy on Wards Island, Manhattan. Blair says horses are a part of his family history.

“My great-great-grandfather was a Buffalo Soldier. He was part of the Black cavalry during the Civil War,” said Blair, who is the fourth generation to have the same name as his great-great-grandfather.

Blair says that a lot of African-Americans don’t realize the role horses played in their culture. “Horses originally came from Africa,” said Blair. “Africans who came to America as slaves knew a lot about horses.”

Blair’s mission is to continue that tradition and bring that part of Black culture back into understanding.

In addition to running the Riding Academy, Blair used to organize the only African-American rodeo in America. His inspiration came from the days when Blacks were mistreated in rodeos, where most of the riders were white.

“We could stay on a bull or a wild horse for a whole day and we were not going to win any money. That’s how bad racism was,” said Blair. “So I decided to start my own rodeo.” Around 10,000 people showed up to the rodeo, which was held every year at Cornel Charles Young Triangle Park in Harlem. Blair stopped organizing the rodeo two years ago after a 25-year run. However, he has no intention of closing the Riding Academy anytime soon.

“I plan to live to be at least 200 years old, and I don’t foresee a time when I would not be involved,” said Blair with a chuckle. He hopes his daughter will one day take over. Even then, Blair says he will never truly be gone. “I will always be available for advice and consultation and inspiration.”