Professor Dexter Gordon grew up watching his father fish out of a silk-cotton dugout canoe in Old Harbour Bay, Jamaica.

By the time that canoe transformed to fiberglass in the 1960s, Dexter and his 13 siblings were living under the command of his oldest sister, while his politically active mother juggled community organizing, selling fish, and doing the books, and his father—who backed an opposing political party—served as a lay preacher, union organizer, and fisherman. 

In those days, Dexter lived largely outdoors, out in the community, playing soccer, cricket, table tennis, dominoes. Community means a lot to the professor of African American studies and communication studies. He says it was his Jamaican community that encouraged him to enroll at his local college, got him through exhausting shift work as an air traffic controller, and then saw him off to America on a Billy Graham scholarship. He earned a master’s degree at Wheaton College and doctorate at Indiana University. 

As Dexter sees it, it’s now his turn to give. He gives back consistently to people back home in Old Harbour Bay, and to his local community in Tacoma and the Puget Sound campus where, bit by bit, progress is being made on diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. He is the director of the Race & Pedagogy Institute, which is preparing for its fourth quadrennial conference on campus this September. Dexter spoke with me about this work in his Howarth Hall office.