Compassion is hardly forgotten, an observation which teacher education professor Forrest Crawford carried with him in his pursuit for equality and diversity at Weber State University.
Born in 1952, Crawford was no stranger to segregation. Six miles west of Tulsa, Oklahoma lies the suburb of Sand Springs, a township divided by color during the years of segregation. The Midwestern town was home to Crawford and his six siblings, all of whom came to know the division of color and opportunity by a set of railroad tracks.
It was not until 1954, after the Brown V. Board of Education United States Supreme Court case, when Crawford and fellow African Americans were afforded the opportunity to join their white peers in the schoolhouse uptown.
“We did so reluctantly,” Crawford said, as he referenced this period as a time of varying experiences.
Though not fully accepted at his new school, he found the football team. It was a place he could feel a sense of identity among his teammates. Crawford’s athletic abilities playing football took him to Northeastern Oklahoma College in 1970.
During his time in Miami, he would find his identity start to take shape by making wider connections about how society was presenting itself. Twenty-year-old Crawford not only found his sense of self, he would flourish in doing so, and others would take notice.
Richard “Dick” Gwinn, Crawford’s coach and mentor while attending Northeastern, urged the defensive safety to try his hand as a Wildcat in Ogden, Utah. Weber State College turned out to be firm bedrock upon which Crawford built and prospered as an activist within the community.
Betty Sawyer joined her friend and colleague, Dr. Crawford, in making great strides to bring diversity and equality to the place they both now call home.
Within a few years of Crawford, Sawyer found herself migrating to Utah. She came from Baltimore, Maryland, and found the diversity to which she was accustomed was no longer a reality in Ogden.
“It was two weeks before I saw another black person,” Sawyer said.
As employees of WSU and residents in the community, Sawyer and Crawford worked diligently with countless others to recognize the African American community in the state and help them prosper.
They had successes, all of which they are immensely proud to have been a part of. However, the most memorable for Sawyer was commemorating Martin Luther King Day as a holiday in Utah.
Over the years, Crawford has always been looking to help students and advocate equality.
One such instance comes to mind for retired Ogden teacher Bessie B. Giles. During the summer of 1987, he scoured the streets of Salt Lake City and Ogden advocating the ideals of Delta Sigma Theta.
In 1988, with the direct support of Crawford, Delta Sigma Theta became the very first African American chartered sorority in Utah. The Greek sorority, of which Giles was the first president and Sawyer a chartered member, is now celebrating 30 years of service.
The sorority, founded in 1913 at Howard University in Washington, D.C., is a sisterhood of predominately black women whose purpose is to provide assistance and support through established programs in local communities throughout the world.
Gwendolyn Sherard-Bishop, Farwest regional director of the sorority, is just one of many speakers Crawford has had come to WSU as a representative of civil rights, an issue Sawyer regarded as a need for WSU to step up to the plate.
In working with the governor’s office and as a coalition with other organizations such as the NAACP and The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, WSU, the black community and all communities became exposed to some of the leading African American voices in the country. A few of those leading voices being those of Jesse Jackson, Louis Gossett Jr. and Yolanda King.
Throughout the years, strides were made in status and inclusion among black communities. Bringing predominately African American conferences to Utah with the help of the governor’s office opened the door to other possibilities, including introducing diversity into state employment.
To this day, with the merging of efforts by people, families, states and organizations, WSU and the Ogden community benefit from black leadership conferences.
Improving the status of African Americans and inclusion on a whole has long been the focus behind the work of civil rights activists.
Crawford, inspired by his mother, remembers her as a woman who “saw herself larger than her condition.”
She fought a constant battle as an activist in the community of Sand Springs to rise above the seemingly hopeless state of their reality as African Americans.
Unfortunately for Sawyer, as wonderful as it is to see much progress, “There’s always something else needing to be addressed.”
When it comes to dignifying humanity, Crawford paints the picture of marching into an abyss. The work of an activist, no matter the underlying cause, is never ending.
It is with this fact that Crawford hopes to steer young hopefuls.
“Don’t focus so much on the acclaim, people will forget,” Crawford said. “People will think more of a life well lived!”