By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
You may not have seen him online touting the latest fashion trend or posting endless photos of where he shops and eats, but late college educator Dr. David Covin is being remembered as an influencer.
Dr. Covin was a professor emeritus of government and ethnic studies at Sacramento State. He was also director of the university’s Pan African studies department and supported Black student success as co-founder of its Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program.
Upon his passing last week, local community organizer and friend Faye Wilson Kennedy shared with The OBSERVER fond memories of the lessons he taught outside the classroom. Wilson Kennedy, who worked with Dr. Covin through several grassroots organizations, shared how he influenced her and countless others to use their skills and talents and do good in the world.
“Dr. Covin was my mentor, my good friend and comrade,” she shared.
Wilson Kennedy met Dr. Covin in 1976 as a young college student. She didn’t take his class because of his reputation as a hard grader.
“I said, ‘Oh, hell no, I need to keep my GPA.’ I wanted to go to graduate school,” she joked.
Wilson Kennedy rattled off the names of classmates from that era who went on to serve in the Sacramento community and were influenced by Dr. Covin.
“There was a group of us. It was me, Carl [Pinkston], Tyrone Netters, Gary Turner and Curtis Parker. We were all young students; Carl was a business major, Tyrone and the rest of them were probably political science majors or history majors. I was a child development-anthropology major. We were just young and adventurous and cooky as hell. We thought we’d do it all.”
Dr. Covin saw the potential and showed them how to harness their energy. He got them involved with an organization he’d co-founded, the Sacramento Area Black Caucus, which got them to be active in the off-campus community.
Dr. Covin, Wilson Kennedy said, was good at bringing younger people into the mix.
“He made room for us and encouraged us to do things that a lot of other adults didn’t trust that we could do. He had a lot of faith in people and a lot of faith in Black people.”
The Sacramento Area Black Caucus still exists and still gives out scholarships to Black students pursuing higher education, as does the Sacramento Black Parallel School Board, another organization conceived by Dr. Covin and Dr. Otis Scott, a fellow retired Sacramento State professor. Wilson Kennedy already plans to add one named in Dr. Covin’s honor for 2024.
As a board member, Dr. Covin read applicants’ essays, ignoring typos and grammatical errors that would knock students out of the running for other scholarships.
“He didn’t see that,” Wilson Kennedy said. “He saw what the student was saying and what the student wanted to do. He helped us move from focusing on the high GPA [to] focus on the student who really has the potential and who needs a little bit more love and support from us. He didn’t do it in a dogmatic way. He always helped us talk through things and realize that. That’s one of the things I wish I could practice more.”
Earlier this month, the Black Parallel School Board announced a victory, a settlement in its discrimination lawsuit against the Sacramento City Unified School District for marginalizing Black students with disabilities.
“I instantly thought about Dr. Covin,” Wilson Kennedy said. “He would always tell us, ‘You have to look at the long view. You have to put your head down, push your sleeves up and just move forward. Don’t worry about the naysayers. You know what’s right and just push forward. We’ve had to keep telling ourselves that. Even since we won the victory, we had a lot of people hate on us. We have to remember what Dr. Covin told us over the years when he said ‘Put your head down, work and when you look up, just smile.’”
There also were lessons on how to deal with issues and disagreements with other Black people without disrespecting each other publicly and finding commonalities with folks you may not think you have anything in common with.
He also led by example in moving aside to let younger leaders take the helm. It’s something Wilson Kennedy and others in her generation are doing themselves with those who now see them as the “old guard.” They often find themselves supporting young leaders both physically, in showing up, and financially, as their elders, Dr. Covin and Dr. Scott, did for them many years ago.
Dr. Covin recently supported efforts of the Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign, in which Wilson Kennedy has been active, by contributing to travel expenses to get local activists across the country to attend related events.
“I think that’s what we need in the community,” Wilson Kennedy said. “People want to see things change. They may not agree when young folks tear up cities or do different things. They may not want to see that, but they understand that we’ve tried for decades to engage in a respectful way and we’ve gotten nowhere.
“They get that and they’ll write a check. And you need that check to keep organizations going,” she continued. “Dr. Covin taught us that everybody’s not going to come to the table. Everyone’s not going to show up for the protest, but they have the capacity to do what they can do.”