Dr. Will Guzman at a community event in New Jersey.

Professor for the people: Dr. Will Guzmán | The Light Series

5 mins read

If there is a dope cause, Dr. Will Guzmán shows up every single time. 

On any given day, if you are in proximity of Dr. Guzmán, you are more likely to bump into him at a town hall, a neighborhood gathering or a conference with his son and wife, Monica. Because the core of his ethos as a professor and community leader is to provide service that gives back to those who need it most, his revolutionary work often parallels liberation theology.

Included in his massive support of cultural and empowerment campaigns and academic scholarship centering the Black experience, for several years Dr. Guzmán worked as a professor in the African/Afro-American Studies Department, and in Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies at New Jersey City University. While there, he also served as the Director of the Dr. Lee F. Hagan Africana Studies Center. In this capacity, he worked on strengthening the university community, as well as, surrounding neighborhoods.

Dawning his signature afro, Dr. Guzmán dove into university and community projects. While in New Jersey, he organized the annual NJCU Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, and doubled the MLK Student Scholarship amount. As an active member of the Jersey City NAACP; JC Supplier Diversity Study Committee; JC African Burial Ground working group; Community Awareness Series; and the NJ State Bar Foundation’s Amistad Curriculum Panel, Dr. Guzman also was instrumental in establishing the first—and currently only—permanent campus exhibit dedicated to an African American (Mayor Glenn Cunningham).

As a center director at NJCU, Dr. Guzmán also served as an advisor to a number of student organizations, all the while, supporting the cultural and political growth of coeds. From the Malcolm X Birthday Pilgrimage to Ferncliff Cemetery to the Black Male Initiative Conference and the United Nations Remember Slavery Global Student Conference, he emphasized student participation—and often funded students to ensure that they could attend.

Before, NJCU, Dr. Guzmán immersed himself into community-university organizing at Florida A&M University, his alma mater. While chair of the Beautification Committee of the Providence Community in Tallahassee, he established a community garden in an area that had long been neglected. However, it became a district of interest in the city’s gentrification efforts, so he and his committee secured resources for the community garden, such as soil testing. Subsequently, the local organization was awarded free access to City-owned land on the corner of Indian River Street and Stuckey Avenue. 

As well, Dr. Guzmán initiated a letter writing campaign among Providence district residents to city, county, and state officials making them aware of the illegal dumping of used tires. For the campaign, he called for the need for political leaders to intervene on behalf of the neighborhood in order to sanction individuals and companies who were illegally disposing used tires onto resident yards and empty lots. The efforts resulted in 500 tires being picked up.

Now, Dr. Guzmán and his family resettled in Texas, where he works in the history department at Prairie View A&M University. And on any given day, you will still bump into him going to-and-fro to some speaking engagement or a dynamic meeting.

Dr. Will Guzman

Q1:      How do you define your work?

WG:    Most of my work primarily consists of teaching college students history on the Black experience both here in the US and in the Caribbean.  Too, I define my work in terms of becoming a better university professor, leading by example, which includes research, writing, and publishing.

Q2:      What population does your work serve?

WG:    My teaching and writings is intended for people of African descent: African Americans, Afro-Latinx, and others of the African diaspora. I have taught for nearly twenty years to over 6,500 students of whom 85% to 90% have been Black.

Q3:      How do you do your work differently than others in your field?

WG:    I like to believe that what I do differently is to remind students from the semester’s outset that I am not objective, nor will I engage in a false sense of “objectivity” as some professors may.  My objective for students throughout the semester is to convince them that they are needed and identify what their active role is to be in the forward progression of African peoples. Secondly, I remind my students that we must embrace a more holistic and humane value-system that includes rejecting the worldview of our oppressors.

Q5:      How did the pandemic or protests change or shift your life?

WG:    Many people who are close to me began to ask that I voice my concerns on race and racism in writing and seek to have these thoughts posted online. I have been leery of this strategy in the past because I have felt that my analysis is not original and quite commonplace. In addition, when one writes for public consumption, it makes you vulnerable—susceptible to criticism. Nevertheless, I embraced the challenge by writing nearly a dozen short commentaries and encyclopedia entries over the past six-months in order to bring attention to certain people and issues.

Q7:      Who or what gave you the courage to continue on?      

WG:    Young Black activists. Their hope and optimism.

Q8:      Which of your accomplishments gives you joy?

WG:    Being beautification committee chair for the Providence neighborhood. Located one-mile from the campus of Florida A&M University, this working-class community of 1,300 African American residents was a food desert and an illegal dumping site.  I, and comrade Leslie Harris, helped lead the effort to establish a community garden and organized FAMU students to weekly assist us in removing thousands of pounds of trash, mercury-laced electronic waste, and nearly five-hundred used tires.  This spawned other community members to become involved in other ways as well. 

Q9:      What is a philosophy or idea that keeps you grounded?

WG:    Four things: To remain humble, temper my expectations for myself and others, and to remember it’s always Nation Time! Also the following principles of Walter A. Rodney, Afro-Guyanese scholar, historian, and political activist, who said the following in the Nationalist (Tanzania) newspaper:

“I trust that my use of words such as “capitalism,” “imperialism,” and “neocolonialism” will not be deemed as a cover for sinister intent. My indulgence in those terms is aimed at exposing a system which is barbarous and dehumanizing—one which snatched me from Africa in chains and deposited me in far-off lands to be a slave beast, then a subhuman colonial subject, and finally an outlaw in those lands. Under those circumstances, one asks nothing more but to be allowed to learn from, participate in, and be guided by the African Revolution in this part of the continent; for this Revolution here is aimed at destroying that monstrous system and replacing it with a just socialist society.”

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