Dabbing away tears as his daughter Chelsea Bynum-Grant spoke, Dr. William B. Bynum Jr. was celebrated as a father, friend and mentor at his formal installation ceremony at Jackson State University on Thursday, Oct. 11, inside the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium.
“My family and I have had the unique pleasure of witnessing the evolution of Stone,” said Grant calling her dad by an intimate nickname shared among those in his circle.
In a tongue-in-cheek manner, she then went on to describe her father’s various endearing attributes like his all-white linen outfit, Charlie Sheen-ugly shirts that he refuses to throw out, Jesus cook-out sandals; a Rick Ross music phase, never-ending love for Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue and his epic screaming ‘Yeah, baby’ whenever Duke is playing the Tar Heels.
Grant’s loving description drew laughter from the audience but also illustrated a down-to-earth and humble side of the self-proclaimed “God-loving, God-fearing, blessed and highly favored” 11th president of Jackson State University.
“He has always put family first, and he makes it his duty, amongst many other things, to make sure that he makes memories that last a lifetime,” said Grant. She then added that her father has never forgotten where he comes from and always gives the 252 a shout out, referencing the area code of Rocky Mount, North Carolina their hometown.
She shared that her father has a heart that mirrors his now deceased mother, Christine, holding an abundance of love for his family, friends and passion for what he does and “has made you the man (you are) today and that has never faltered.”
“Moreover, your love for God and your faith continually grow stronger year after year, milestone after milestone,” she said. “Your love for education and commitment to giving back to the community is admirable. You spent well over 25 years dedicated to showing young people that they are more than capable of stepping out of that bubble and achieving their goals in life and desires.”
Alfred Rankins, Mississippi commissioner of higher education, told Bynum that he was entrusted by many and had their hopes and dreams on his shoulders. He reminded the president that the alumni expect him to preserve and protect their alma mater.
“The faculty and staff hope you will be mindful of their interest in keeping teaching, learning and research at the heart of people of the capital city trust, that you will help the region to thrive and prosper. The people and the leaders of the state trust that you will be a good steward of all the universities resources including natural, human and fiscal,” he said.
After taking the oath of office, Bynum took to the lectern and said: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11.”
His words were met with “Amens,” “Mmm-Hmms” and head nods as if he were standing in the church pulpit preaching to his congregation.
It has been 16 months since Bynum took over the financially troubled HBCU on July 1. However, he reminded the audience that he is unmoved by any of the school’s obstacles due to his deep-seeded faith.
“I fear not. I don’t care about the challenges we’re going to face. I worry very little about the things that we are up against, which are significant burdens, challenges, and hurdles. I fear not,” he said. “As I tell my staff, I can literally see it, y’all. I can literally see it because of the covering of God and knowing that indeed we are going to be just fine.”
The president explained that he can foresee the university expanding and connecting to downtown Jackson. He named residence halls, an on-campus stadium, additional buildings and the plaza “going all the way to Gallatin Street.”
The audience endorsed his words with loud applause.
Bynum talked about his reluctance to move to Mississippi from Atlanta over five years ago. But he placed his trust in God, and eventually understood that his relocation and tenure as president at Mississippi Valley State helped to prepare him for leading ‘Thee I Love.’
He thanked the students, faculty, staff and alumni who have welcomed him and have aided his plans to advance the university. He also acknowledged Rankins, and Shane Hooper, president of the state College Board.
The newly installed president introduced all members of his family and life-long friends in attendance, to the JSU community, giving each person a few seconds in the spotlight. He then ended his remarks with a favorite motto:
“Look back and thank God, look forward and trust God, look around and serve God, look within and find God.”
One can come to expect the theme of faith, family and friends when it comes to the president. It was apparent throughout the investiture service and steeped in the musical performances of violinist John Uzodinma. His rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” and “To God be the Glory” was laced with emotion. Each pull of his bow produced a sound that had the odd ability to invoke a weepy, joyful feeling. Both performances were met with a standing ovation.
Soloist Omega Hart belted out a powerful delivery of “Make Them Hear You” followed by Jackson State University’s J6 Ensemble’s heavenly execution of “Sweet, Sweet, Spirit.”
Giving a testament to Bynum’s mentorship was Ricky D. Robinson, who met the president during his stint at Clark Atlanta University. Now co-owner of Alln1 Security Services, Robinson shared that he and Bynum’s faith was further stoked by a woman named Dr. Doris Weathers who “instilled in us that if you keep God first, there is no weapon formed against you that shall prosper.”
Robinson continued, “Dr. William B. Bynum is not the president of Jackson State University by default. He is the president of Jackson State University by God’s design.”
Janet Stovall, manager of executive communications for UPS, has been friends with the president for nearly 40 years with a history stemming back to his days as a student-athlete.
Stovall detailed to listeners the difference between a path and a trail. “A path is formed by several people going to or from the same place across the same ground,” she then explained that a trail is the “wake that marks the passage of a single significant someone.”
Stovall said Stone, as she affectionately called him, was a trailblazer.
“It’s what he’s been his entire life. Now, maybe he just does what he believes is right. Blazing trails that become paths for others to follow. Maybe he’s engineer of inspiration, blazing trails so that he can build the roads he knows will endure,” she said. “Or maybe he’s just my bold, brilliant, benevolent, homeboy who leads simply because he’s too good not to be followed.”