Kelvin Beachum plays left tackle for the NYJets, but was playing for the Mustangs when he travelled across the south on the 2011 SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage. He’s making a $100,000 gift to honor mentor Dennis Simon and ensure that other SMU students can take the life-changing trip.
March 5, 2018
By Nancy George
DALLAS (SMU) – Kelvin Beachum watched his reflection in the big mirror and listened, as Alabama barber Lloyd Howard buzzed his clippers through Beachum’s hair and talked about his memories of the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott. Howard had been only 14 when the boycott started, but was fiercely proud that he and his family had been a part of it.
Beachum described meeting Howard as the highlight of that day in March 2011 when he visited Montgomery as a member of SMU's annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage. That meeting is just one of the reasons he is providing a gift of $100,000 to ensure other SMU students can join the annual eight-day journey across the South, meeting people like Howard to better understand the legacy of the civil rights movement.
When Beachum, then an SMU graduate student and offensive lineman on the University’s football team, left the barber's chair, Lloyd Howard made a prediction.
"I'm going to watch you play football on Sunday afternoons and you are going to make an impact in the African-American community," Howard said.
Beachum, now a left tackle for the NFL's New York Jets, devotes his off-the-field efforts to providing opportunities for students, particularly for minority youth. Since 2012, Beachum also has supported the pilgrimage that was so meaningful to him by funding scholarships and paying for meals for participants. Beachum and his wife, Jessica, will continue his support by presenting SMU with a gift supporting the pilgrimage at 4:30 p.m. March 8, in room 101A of the Harold Clark Simmons Building, 6401 Airline Rd, SMU.
Beachum's gift renames the pilgrimage the Dennis Simon Endowed Civil Rights Pilgrimage in honor of the SMU political science professor who joyfully led the pilgrimage from 2008 to 2015, and provided mentorship to Beachum. Simon died in February of 2017.
"Dr. Simon's empathy and sympathy for those who went through the civil rights era was palpable," Beachum said. "His urgency for students to know what happened then and how it has affected our current society always resonated with me."
Under Simon's leadership, the trip featured stops at meaningful sites in the civil rights movement, such as Little Rock High School, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s parsonage in Montgomery, Ala. History came alive at each spot thanks to Simon's friendships with original participants he called civil rights “foot soldiers,” who shared their recollections with students.
"We had a chance to meet members of the Little Rock 9, the African American students who integrated Little Rock High School in 1957," Beachum remembers. "We stepped inside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. which was bombed in 1963 by members of the Klu Klux Klan. We walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, site of the 1965 Bloody Sunday march. I literally followed in the footsteps of some very important and impactful agents for change and progress, some of whom gave their life."
Beachum is devoted to being an agent of change. As an NFL player since 2012, he has maximized his public platform to help young people, particularly minority and disadvantaged youth, develop STEM skills. He also works closely with hunger advocacy groups like Bread for the World and World Vision, and supports community food banks across America.
Beachum returns often to SMU, where he serves on the executive boards for the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development and the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. The 28-year-old was one of nine finalists for the 2017 Philanthropist in Sports Award, presented by All Sports United. He holds two SMU degrees, a 2011 bachelor’s degree in economics and a 2012 master's degree in liberal studies. A starter on SMU's football team, Beachum returned to SMU from the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie camp to deliver the commencement address to the spring 2012 graduates of the Simmons School.
With Beachum's support, the 2018 Dennis Simon Endowed Civil Rights Pilgrimage leaves SMU on Friday, March 9, under the leadership of Ben Voth, associate professor of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.
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