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The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Maria Henson (’82)

Melissa Harris-Perry (’94) lands her own show on MSNBC

Rising media star, Tulane political science professor and Wake Forest alumna Melissa Harris-Perry (’94) makes her debut with her own television show on MSNBC from 10 a.m. to noon ET on Feb. 4. It will air Saturdays and Sundays.

Melissa Harris Perry shines in the media and the classroom

MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a news release this week, “Melissa’s thoughtful analysis has been an incredible addition to our primetime programs and I’m thrilled to have her join our expanded weekend line-up.”

In the news release Harris-Perry called it “an extraordinary opportunity….All I’ve ever wanted to be is a teacher. Phil Griffin and MSNBC are giving me the chance to have a much bigger classroom.”

Harris-Perry’s show has no name yet, which prompted a flurry of tweets among the professor’s 57,647 Twitter followers to help her name the show. “Since we follow ‘Up w/Chris’ I’ve been lobbying for ‘Uppity w/Melissa,'” she joked in a Tweet. (Chris Hayes will continue to lead weekend programming with his “Up” show, airing from 8-10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.) Among the Tweets in which followers offered names: “Making the Grade,” “News Lockdown,” “Get Schooled,” “Chalk Talk w/MHP” and “Who Dat? It’s Melissa,” with its distinctly New Orleans flavor, lit up the Twitter accounts. I particularly liked the Tweets that said “Class — fine for a teacher and your approach” and “‘Melissa’s News Hootenanny.’ You don’t see enough hootenanny in politics.”

Harris-Perry has been a frequent guest commentator and stand-in host on MSNBC. Aside from teaching at Tulane, she is the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South  and the author of “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America,” her newest book, which Yale University Press published last year.

Wake Forest Magazine also featured her in Lisa Kline Mowry’s (’82) article “Teaching It Forward” about distinguished professors nationally who recalled how their undergraduate days inspired them in their profession.

All best wishes to Professor Harris-Perry as she leads a national political discussion in what promises to be a hootenanny of a presidential election year.

‘Healing Reads’ includes Wake Forest author Amidon

The Wall Street Journal today listed “Healing Reads: The Year’s Five Best Books,” including one reporter Laura Landro called “a lyrical history of the human heart.” That history’s co-author is novelist Stephen Amidon (’81), who wrote “The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart,” with Dr. Thomas Amidon, his cardiologist brother.

The book examines the heart in medicine and culture — and its power beyond its role as an organ. “Even as the organ became the central image in religion and the arts for describing those qualities that make us the most human — Shakespeare’s tale of Antony and Cleopatra, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — it took centuries to fully understand its physical properties,” Landro writes. She goes on to say that the authors provide “a roadmap to the heart’s chambers, its electrical impulses, and its defects, as well as a basic primer about the interventions that have made it possible for broken hearts to beat on.”

Interviewed by National Public Radio earlier in the year, alumnus Amidon discussed how the heart’s metaphorical power has persisted despite the technological innovations to address the physical heart from the time “the great anatomists of the Renaissance” began cutting open bodies to the surgical interventions today.

“So perhaps there will be a day when we no longer touch our chest and kind of nod, and people understand we’re talking about qualities that can’t be explained by medicine — we’re talking about courage or devotion or inspiration,” Amidon told NPR. “You can have a situation where someone receives an artificial heart, and afterward goes to their surgeon and says, ‘I thank you for this from the bottom of my heart.’ This will make complete sense to us.”

In other words, the power of the heart  — “we leave our hearts in San Francisco, wear them on our sleeves, speak straight from them” — endures.

Look for Stephen Amidon at Wake Forest during Words Awake!, a writers’ conference that begins on March 23. He is one of Wake Forest’s literary luminaries, scheduled to return to campus to share his experiences at what organizers hope will be a vibrant weekend celebration of Wake Forest writers and writing.

Seasonal signs: Bedroom slippers and stubble

Today I taught the last class of the semester, my hearty group of students gathered around the big table in the late Dolly McPherson’s classroom in Tribble, the second-floor room papered with posters of Paul Robeson and African-American literary giants. We had come to the end of JOU 278, the History of Journalism, but not to what I hope will be a bond that stretches past graduation day. That’s what Wake Forest did for me when I think of Ed Wilson, Peggy Smith, Howell Smith and a number of professors who have since passed on: Bynum Shaw, Elizabeth Phillips, Wallace Carroll and Bob Knott.  I carried with me their lessons, their acts of concern and, in the case of Bynum, a calling card in case I needed yet another letter of recommendation that he unfailingly tapped out on an old typewriter. Even in 1994, you could tell the letter was typewritten by its smudginess. Despite AOL’s rampant popularity at the time, Bynum’s old-fashioned missives remained as effective as ever. And he never complained about my repeated calls asking for a reference. Such were the requests of a nomadic newspaperwoman. Such was the generous spirit of a Wake Forest professor.

I’m feeling wistful. The semester has magically disappeared. I’m not ready.

I never tire of watching the students and listening to what they have to say. They are sassy and original. I get a kick out of them. The other day I noticed signs of the season. A young woman was walking across the Quad wearing leggings, a baggy sweatshirt and furry bedroom slippers. I recognized them because I have a pair.  I only venture out in them to the front yard to pick up my newspapers. (Yes, a History of Journalism lecturer still counts on a feast of print in the morning alongside iPad fare.) The student shuffled across the grass toward the post office. Another fellow appeared perkier, downright jaunty. He wore a Santa Claus cap. At day’s end cheery holiday lights twinkled on a leafless tree beside the Lambda Chi house. It made a nice backdrop to the parade of students trudging with their backpacks stuffed more appropriately for an expedition to Mongolia than for the library.

A sign of semester's end

My students talked today about how the Pit is going to be open 24/7 because ZSR is overflowing. (It’s worth noting my students tell me that in fashion these days is a T-shirt that says “Rush ZSR.”) The cafeteria turned study hall won’t solve study problems, however, according to my students’ quick assessments. What Wake Forest needs are more electric outlets, not Internet jacks, they said. “I don’t know anyone who studies without a computer,” one said. I foresee a day when a crackerjack Wake Forest entrepreneurial student invents a backpack that powers a computer, anywhere, any Quad, anytime. But it can’t be solar. These students after all are nightwalkers, night-doers and caffeinated study hounds. They come alive at 10 p.m.

My journalism students arrived in class each owing me a 2,500-word final paper. By the looks of them they owed a lot of teachers papers. The young men appeared mostly unshaven. One dropped his head on his arm on the table; he stayed alert if not upright. I know because he managed to contribute thoughtfully to the class discussion even from that position. More than the normal number wore glasses and baseball caps. (All-nighters do not bode well for contact-lens wearers, some of you might remember. Or showers.) One student tripped over my computer cord in the classroom. “I have no depth perception in these glasses!”  We had a good chuckle.

In telling them goodbye I urged them to follow their passion no matter what vocation they choose and to be brave. In life as in final exams, it’s a useful posture.

Good Work: Charlotte recognizes Phillips Bragg (’93)

Wake Forest Magazine is hardly alone now in recognizing the good works of Phillips Bragg (’93), who with his wife, Leslie McLean Bragg (’91), and children, shared a spotlight in the feature story “Lubo’s Dream” in the Summer 2011 issue. They are working with James Lubo Mijak, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who became a cherished family friend, to fulfill Lubo’s dream of building permanent primary schools in the new South Sudan.

The Bragg family and Lubo in Huntersville, N.C.

Yesterday the Charlotte Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals gave Phillips its Outstanding Emerging Philanthropist Award at a luncheon at the Charlotte Convention Center. The award “recognizes an individual 40 and under for exceptional generosity and civic responsibility demonstrated through financial contributions and volunteerism to charitable organizations within the Charlotte/Metrolina Region. The recipient’s personal generosity and community leadership have motivated others to give and to become involved in philanthropy.”

On the run from marauding government militia and wild animals in the bush of Sudan during a civil war, Lubo was one of the 30,000 Lost Boys named after the band of orphans from “Peter Pan.” In 2001 he became one of the 3,800 Lost Boys the U.S. government invited to resettle in the United States. He landed in Charlotte and, eventually, through his church had the good fortune to be assigned the Braggs as his mentors. Of Phillips and Leslie, Lubo told me earlier this year, “I have been a witness to their love and care since I came.”

I can vouch for it. With the Braggs, the Pro Humanitate spirit is abundantly evident. And now Charlotte knows about Phillips’ devotion to his friend and the Raising Sudan project. Congratulations to a Demon Deacon whose generous spirit provides an example for us all.