BETHANY, W.Va. — Students in the Beth-Bridge program at Bethany College held a luncheon Wednesday to honor Dr. John Mattox, curator and founder of the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing, Ohio.
The 19 incoming students in the program visited the museum Aug. 1 for a tour and lecture by Mattox. Program Director Dr. Chris Sampson said this is the fourth year students have visited the museum, but this year many were incredibly impacted by what they heard and saw.
“Dr. Mattox is a soft, gentle man, but he tells it like it is,” Sampson said, noting that Mattox not only discussed black history, but also how the current generation’s actions will affect the future.
After a standing ovation from the students, many of them explained to Mattox why his lecture meant so much them.
“This isn’t my first time learning about the Underground Railroad and black history. I’ve had a tough time dealing with learning about it,” said Tyson Monquez of Ambridge, Pa., noting that he was angry to learn of the way blacks have been treated. “But to hear Dr. Mattox be so passionate, it made it so much easier for me. It really hit home.”
“The way I speak to people, the way I interact with them has changed since. I actually think twice now. It wasn’t a lecture, it was like my father was talking to me,” said Fred Agyekum of Gaithersburg, Md.
“It felt like you were just talking to us like we were your friends,” said Matt Conover of Egg Harbor City, N.J., to Dr. Mattox. “It made me want to understand your story.”
Conover said he and the other students wanted to invite Mattox to campus to explain how the lessons he taught them have affected their lives. Along with the luncheon, Mattox got another honor: After an idea by Oumar Balde of Atlanta, Ga., the Beth-Bridge students are planning a fundraiser for the museum, which is run solely on donations.
Mattox said the funds will help keep the museum’s doors open, and said he is excited to continue to educate future Beth-Bridge program students, as well all other museum visitors.
Most of this year’s Beth-Bridge students are minorities, and Mattox said that made it easy to connect with them.
“When you get a group of people mostly of the same culture, none of them are uncomfortable to communicate. Things like the Underground Railroad, slavery – these are things they’ve heard about, but now you’re dealing with someone who’s seen it personally,” Mattox said, explaining that his grandmother was a slave.
Mattox said he officially opened the Underground Railroad Museum in 1993, after he learned that Underground Railroad existed in the Ohio Valley. Mattox hopes to preserve and support black culture and history through education.
The Beth-Bridge program is in its sixth year, and is designed to identify students who exhibit potential to be successful but lack proper preparation to realize that potential. Bethany only invites students into the program who demonstrate a sincere interest in attending college, and whose records indicate there will be great benefits gained from a meaningful early college experience. The two-week summer program consists of several preparatory courses for academic credit, transition-to-college workshops and planned on- and off-campus activities. Students continue their relationship with Learning Center staff through the first semester, and beyond at the student’s request.
Bethany College is a small college of national distinction located on a picturesque and historic 1,300-acre campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest private college.