The audience in the packed Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center punched the air and yelled, “I am Joe Windham!” The Celebration of Life event was held in memory of beloved History Professor Joe Windham (AL) on January 5. Windham, who taught history at NOVA since 1992, passed away December 7 after a battle with cancer.
Windham’s family, recent and former students, colleagues and dear friends spanning decades of his life were present to share their memories. Alexandria Liberal Arts Dean Jimmie McClellan delivered welcoming remarks and introductions. Alexandria faculty Dennis May and Rachel Martin shared memories of their colleague.
Former student Remaz Abdelgader, a young woman from a protective Sudanese family, shared that Windham saw great promise in her as a student. Knowing her desire to invest her time and energy into humanitarian causes, he told her about a conference in Richmond, Virginia, that he thought would benefit her.
“You know my parents would never let me go,” Abdelgader told Windham.
Windham asked for her father’s phone number and called him that evening. Abdelgader shared that not only was she permitted to attend the conference, but Windham also paid for transportation, hotel, meals and conference fees for her parents to attend as well. When they returned home, her father said, “I have never been so proud to be Sudanese in my life.”
With her sights set on law school, Abdelgader transferred to George Mason University and then to Georgetown Law where she volunteers with ASTT (Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma). She also works as an Arabic translator for asylum seekers within Georgetown’s Asylum Clinic, among other humanitarian activities.
Dede Dede, another of Windham’s former students, came to his class bearing the scars of a difficult life and time spent in prison. Windham assured him he could set his course from this point and nurtured him. Referring to his background, Windham told him, “These are some of your experiences, not the sum of your experiences.” Dede graduated with honors from NOVA and went on to the University of Pennsylvania.
These are just two of thousands whose lives have been changed by Windham’s life and work. Following a lineup of students, family, colleagues and friends, Bernestine Singley, author of “When Race Becomes Real,” took the podium and asked, “How do you want to be remembered? Be remembered as a person of passion as Joe was.”
Windham was an educator and an activist. He lived with passion and purpose, and he will be remembered as a leader, a change agent and a compassionate teacher. His legacy will continue in the lives of those he touched.
If you would like to contribute to a scholarship in his name, please make a gift to the Joseph Windham Memorial Scholarship at http://www.nvcc.edu/alumni-and-friends/gifts/online.htm.