For David Easterbrook '69, current President of the Kalamazoo College Alumni Association and 10-year member of the Alumni Association Executive Board, "coming home" to "K" is a regular occurrence. His multiple trips to Kalamazoo each year for board meetings-not to mention frequent interaction with faculty, staff, and students and attendance at regional alumni events-mean that Kalamazoo College remains a fairly large part of his everyday life.
Pretty surprising for someone whose many decisions as a student were guided by a deep desire to go somewhere, anywhere "away:" away from his native Upstate New York to a town called Kalamazoo; away from Kalamazoo to live and work in New York City, away again to study abroad in Nairobi; away, after graduation, to serve in Kenya with the Peace Corps, away to work in London as a Fulbright Scholar; and away, many times, to visit Africa.
More than 40 years ago, when he was a high school student, David didn't know that his simple need-that feeling that he must go somewhere "away"-would spin out in such a surprising journey. He did know that he was attracted to Kalamazoo College because of the Kalamazoo Plan and its opportunities for off-campus work and study.
In his first quarter as a history major he discovered a passion for Africa during the course "Western Civilization, which was taught by Professor John Peterson '54, an African history scholar and pioneer of the College's study abroad programs in Sierra Leone and Kenya. Peterson regaled his students with stories of his time spent in Africa as a graduate student, and he also invited his students to his home to enjoy African food and music. David was hooked.
He spent his sophomore spring Career Service quarter in New York City working for the Episcopal Mission Society in lower Manhattan. That time, he says, was "full of important memories, of being 'really' on my own." His interest in Africa further developed in New York when he discovered a "store-front university" offering evening classes in African history. As the only white student in the class, David had the opportunity to learn about Africa from a new perspective and read the works of black scholars, such as W.E.B. Du Bois' The World and Africa.
In the fall of 1967, he traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, for his study abroad. There, he says, "we experienced total immersion into a culture very different from everything I was used to.We experienced a period of freedom of expression and dialogue, of hope and excitement, that embraced Africa immediately following independence from colonial rule." After a visit to South Africa, where he witnessed the devastating injustice of Apartheid, he concluded his time abroad in Nairobi and returned to campus in 1968.
David continued his studies under the guidance of the College's then-new African history professor, Bill Pruitt, who became both a friend and mentor. Following graduation in 1969, David joined the Peace Corps and returned to Kenya for two years of service.
He remembers, "When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, I wrote to Bill about a career choice for me. I had worked in the library all four years at 'K' and thought I would go to library school. I shared this idea with Bill as well as my plan to get a graduate degree in African history and then find a job as a librarian specializing in African studies. His said that if I wanted to do that, I should aim to become the head of the largest African studies library in existence, at Northwestern University."
After he returned
My "K" experiences shaped my life in an extraordinary way.to the states, David completed graduate studies in African history (Syracuse University) and in library science (State University of New York at Albany), and he subsequently worked in a number of university libraries. He has been the George and Mary LeCron Foster Curator of the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University since 1991. He still has the letter from Bill Pruitt.
Looking back, David says, "I often wonder what I would be doing if I had not been an undergraduate at 'K' and 'discovered' Africa. How would my life be different? My 'K' experiences shaped my life in an extraordinary way. I am forever grateful to my parents for supporting my decision to go to 'K' and fully participate in the 'K-Plan,' and I have come to appreciate more fully the lifelong impact of my four years there. For me it has been important to keep a connection and give something back to 'K' in the process."
As soon as he was able, David began donating to the Kalamazoo College Fund, and he has not missed a year. Now a member of the 1833 Society and an active leader of the Alumni Association, David has helped organize local alumni events, represented Kalamazoo College at college presidential inaugurations, phoned prospective students and their parents, and given advice to current students interested in African studies.
Though his term as President of the Alumni Association will come to a close in June, David will remain on the Alumni Association Executive Board for two more years, after which he hopes to stay active with alumni activities in the Chicago area. He also hopes to continue his frequent visits to campus, where he is reminded of the many ways in which going "away" have led him back to the place where "away" began.