“Many of our students are working internationally in communities in the Middle East, Europe, East Africa, and East Asia that are in desperate need of solutions. It’s been a pleasure to work with these students on their dissertations, having witnessed the crises in many of those countries myself.”
One of the benefits of having professors working from around the globe is the ability to attract the best and the brightest, which might explain why Saybrook is able to count a scholar, author, and professor of Dr. Lenneal Henderson’s magnitude among its distinguished consulting faculty.
Dr. Henderson has devoted his life and career to “creative, dynamic, and constructive social change,” dating back to community initiatives he started in the San Francisco area in the late 1960s. Still a graduate student at the University of California, he founded the McKinley Project to serve troubled youth in Berkley, Calif., which kicked off a lifetime of activism and scholarship that has impacted communities around the nation. Dr. Henderson’s resume alone goes on for more than 20 pages.
He’s met Dr. Martin Luther King. He has served on multiple boards, including the Westside Mental Health Center in the Fillmore district of San Francisco, the Maryland Humanities Council, the Maryland Commission on African-American History and Culture, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He was part of the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. in 1968, and he is a founding board member of the Reginald Lewis Maryland Museum of African-American History and Culture. Add to these accolades a long list of distinguished fellowships, awards, recognitions, international speaking engagements, and non-education positions, such as work in the U.S. Department of Energy.
What ties together this life of accomplishments is Dr. Henderson’s dedication to building healthy, vibrant communities. This fall, he will bring that wealth of experience to Saybrook by designing a new course focused on just that.
“The meaning of healthy communities is not related to health care. A health community is a community that has a strong and vibrant sense of itself as a civic partner with the rest of its citizenry,” explains Dr. Henderson, who served on the jury committee for the All American City Awards for 24 years.
The goal of the new course will be to help Saybrook students define the health indicators of a community, develop tools to assess its well-being, and engage individuals on how best to lift up their community—particularly in cases where it has been devastated by natural disasters or violent acts.
“We have a number of case studies around the country of communities that are doing profound and significant things in the face of adversity,” he says. “There are communities like Joplin, Missouri, that was totally wiped out by a tornado and communities like Baltimore that went through an uprising last year. The press covered the uprising, but they didn’t cover the recovery.”
Dr. Henderson says he looks forward to engaging with Saybrook students through this new course, reflecting back on some of the lessons he feels grateful to have learned in his decades as an activist, professor, and seeker of knowledge.
One of the simplest, yet most profound lessons about community building may have come from Dr. King himself.
“He was such a regular guy,” Dr. Henderson says. “He would hang out with all of us, playing pool and shooting the breeze. But he also beat us all mercilessly at the game.” One night, Dr. Henderson asked Dr. King how he got to be so good at pool. “He said to me, only half-joking, ‘This is how I recruit people to my church. If I beat you, you have to come on Sunday.’ He had such a natural way with people, it was amazing to witness.”
While it may have been an unconventional way to bring people together and keep young people out of trouble, Dr. Henderson says Dr. King’s behavior stands as an example of what one person can do to change a community.