Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Peter Boykin?
Peter: Since 2004, I have been an adjunct instructor of history at Wayne County Community College. I also taught in Prince William County Public Schools in Northern VA. I am someone who is passionate about life. My heritage is very important to me: I was born and raised in Detroit, son of Ulysses Boykin III, a Hampton Graduate who earned his law degree from Harvard. Currently, he is a judge in Wayne County Circuit Court. My mother graduated from Catholic University of America and then went to Northeastern University to earn her masters in speech pathology. When I was 7-years-old, my dad took me to Hampton University. That had a huge impact on me. I was so elated when I was accepted to HU 20 years ago.
QFTD: As a college professor who teaches with so much passion, where does that passion come from?
Peter: I would say it’s in my genes. My father’s side made a difference in education. My great-great grandfather, Johnson Chestnut Whitaker, was an inspiration to me because he was born a slave in South Carolina and overcame that experience to become a teacher. He taught at what is known today at South Carolina State. He practiced law and later became principal of Booker T. Washington High in Oklahoma City. My maternal grandmother, Cecil Whitaker, was a teacher in Detroit Public Schools. Later, she became a school board member. I remember being with my grandmother at the grocery store and running into her former students. My dad’s stepmother, Nancy M. Boykin, worked at the first high school in Detroit for teen mothers. One of her first graduating students is a lawyer now and told my dad how influential she was to her. Through this lineage, I have learned to value education.
QFTD: What is the most rewarding feeling you get after you've taught a class to college students?
Peter: Honestly, when I receive praise from my students, it means a lot to me. I feel like I have made a difference. Several years ago, I had a student who never knew her dad. He was incarcerated for selling drugs, and her mother was using drugs. She said her goal was to go to Wayne State. After taking my class, she said to me, “You are the most positive black man I have ever met.” She said it with a lot of heart. It was the most touching moment, where a woman from an adverse environment told me I made a difference. When students tell me, “You let me know how important history is,” or “I never had an instructor who dissected history and connected the dots for me the way you did,” that’s what makes teaching so rewarding.
QFTD: When any student takes your course, what can they expect from Professor Boykin?
Peter: They can expect a challenge. I teach in a cooperative learning environment. It’s important that I encourage them to interact. I let students do presentations on topics from the chapters. I would rather them engage in activities rather than me lecturing. I want them to go beyond wikipedia and beyond the textbook. Instead of final exams, I let them complete a research paper. I’ve learned they appreciate being able to pick their topic, and I let them know I want them to be critical thinkers.
QFTD: Out of all the subjects you could've taught at the college level, why teach history?
Peter: I have had a keen fascination of history since a kid. I loved Jeopardy and being exposed to books. At my parents’ house, I was surrounded by books. Even at my grandmother’s house I would see books she brought back from her travels. I always had a thirst for reading. I remember my mom gave me a book series of biographies that had Helen Keller, Ralph Bunch, and Jackie Robinson. Those biographies inspired me, and my parents knew I would gain pride by reading those books. I actually started out as a mass media major, but what got me into history in college was when I first met Jerrold Roy as my University 101 instructor. For the later classes I took, he never cracked the book open - he knew his stuff. I remember going to the Booker T. Washington statue and being in such a historic area of Hampton Roads - the area that was the genesis of America.
QFTD: You are very active with raising funds for college scholarships. Why is it so important to you to give back?
Peter: Hampton University is my heart. I love my home by the sea. I am passionate about seeing other students continue in the legacy of HU. I was very fortunate for my parents to afford my college tuition. When I returned home after college, I saw potential to help raise funds for those who were not as fortunate as I was. Seeing the rise of college costs, I became a part of the student recruitment committee, and I would see these enthusiastic students come by. When they learned how expensive college could really be, they were caught off guard. We decided to start a scholarship to create four $1,000 scholarships for students. Though it may not be enough to cover tuition, it could help with books; every little bit helps. I believe that it takes a village to raise a child. Just my dad’s example makes me embrace the significance of giving back. He would take me to Hampton…. my dad took me to my first homecoming, where we went to the administration building. We met with Dr. Harvey, and my dad gave him a check on the spot. My dad said he wanted to give back to Hampton.
QFTD: What are some events, you, or your college have coming up, that you would like to share?
Peter: My fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, has a scholarship fundraiser in 2015, where we raise money to keep young black males attending college. As far as the Hampton Alumni, we are thinking of doing a theater party at the Detroit Repertory Theatre. We will have a holiday gathering in December. We recognize the need to bridge the gap between the Michigan alumni and pre-alumni association at a dinner event. That’s a worthy cause that I spoke about with a colleague of mine.