By Collin Atwood
On June 14, 2020, the small suburban town of Waterford, Connecticut was the home to a protest where 600 people marched in the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and the many others who are subjected to the harsh injustices of this country.
The crowd marched for two miles on the roads of Clark Lane, Boston Post Road and Rope Cherry Road which is where the town’s high school is located. The protestors even received help from the local police department as they blocked off roads so that this march could take place.
None of it would have been possible if it weren’t for Luther Wade, a senior at Springfield College studying physical education.
Wade attended Waterford High and throughout his four years there he never thought about anything other than sports. As a three-sport athlete, his time was mostly consumed with practice and working out. There wasn’t enough time in his schedule for other extracurricular activities.
It wasn’t until Wade arrived on Alden Street that his mindset would change from focusing on sports to social justice.
Wade came to Springfield with an interest in pursuing a career in athletic training, but that passion quickly diminished. He didn’t love the responsibilities of an athletic trainer enough to let it take up that much of his time.
“I was kind of falling out of love with it,” Wade explained, “I wasn’t as good at it as I thought I was going to be and adjusting and learning in the classes and just being in the environment just wasn’t something that I wanted to do anymore.”
Wade decided to switch his major to physical education and that gave him more time to join clubs on campus. The first club he joined was Men of Excellence which is a club that empowers men to be the best versions of themselves.
When Wade first found out about Men of Excellence he was scared to attend a meeting after being invited by Marcel Diaz, former secretary of Men of Excellence.
“I didn’t necessarily want to go at first. I was scared and I didn’t really want to be there by myself and put myself out there,” Wade said. After being convinced by his roommate, he decided to get involved in the meetings.
Ever since that point, Wade has been a part of many important and even historical events on campus pertaining to social justice. In Oct. of 2020, Wade hosted a SEAT at The Table event where he talked about the use of the N-word. Shortly before that, he and other student leaders organized The March on Alden Street which was the first protest on campus since 1970.
His leadership abilities and commitment to changing the campus climate got him voted as the President of Men of Excellence, something he never envisioned happening.
“Once I joined and went to the first meeting I knew I was going to go for the rest of the time that I was at school,” he said. “But I didn’t necessarily picture myself leading the club because when I first came I didn’t see myself as a leader.”
He obtained a lot of leadership skills by learning from the members of Men of Excellence and attending meetings and events.
“Being in that space and learning from so many people that look like me and experienced the same difficulties was cool and it was empowering because I never got that and that’s kind of what I was looking for,” Wade said.
These are the skills he plans on using, along with his physical education degree, to educate and coach high school students after graduation.
One of the other reasons Wade switched majors was because he realized it was important to him to be a service to other people and to help change the perspective of Black men in America.
“It just became prevalent to me that people should be treated the way they should be treated because they’re a person and we’re all people,” Wade said.
As a Black man who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, Wade understands what it’s like to be judged and perceived as something different than who he actually is. “I’ve been held to prejudices and I’ve been racially profiled by the police,” Wade said.
He thought that it was possible to implement change through athletic training, but believes teaching will make it easier to leave an impact on students.
“I realized that through teaching and being in the classroom with these students and having that allotted time where you have their attention and they’re supposed to be learning from something that you planned, I feel like that’s where I can do the most and change the most,” Wade said.
In Wade’s high school there was only one Black faculty member and he wasn’t an educator. Wade refers to Kevin Blackburn, his high school security guard, as his “safe haven.”
“He cared about me and looked out for me…I was in the suburbs so he was legit the only one,” Wade said.
That high school on Rope Cherry Road is exactly where Wade returned to for the walk he led back in June of 2020. It was time for Wade to share his newfound passion with his hometown. Wade, with help from his hometown friends, was able to organize a walk, speeches and demands for the education system in Waterford.
“It was good for our community to hear what was said at the walk…we just talked and shared our experiences with what we had in the town and how those problems are relevant and premilent in our town.”
Some of the demands included hiring more staff of color and making students take an African American history class, demands that are similar to the ones made at Springfield College just months later.
“It was a good day and I think only good outcomes are going to come from that.”
Just four years ago, Wade wasn’t even thinking about being a leader on campus or in his community. Years later, he found himself leading crowds of people through his old community and new, chanting through his megaphone as hundreds of people repeated.
The people of Alden Street and Rope Cherry Road have reaped the benefits of Wade and his leadership. Only time will tell what community, or street, will be next.
Photo Courtesy Springfield College