When ECU Department of English alumnus Gary Redding took the stage at Saturday’s department Commencement, he was also just a week away from his own commencement–from law school. He will graduate with a Juris Doctor from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law on Friday (May 15, 2015).
During his address to graduates at the ECU commencement Saturday, Redding talked about his own life and what his studies at ECU have made possible.
After earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees here, Redding taught for three years in the Department of English and then in New York City’s community college and public assistance systems. He quickly excelled upon entering law school, winning his school’s Earl H. Davis Award for Clinical Excellence in Spring 2014.
During that same semester, he worked as a student attorney in the HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic. In his time at the clinic, he represented several clients including two elderly women seeking estate planning services, performed local and international legal research, produced several high-quality court filings, appeared in court on behalf of an indigent Spanish-speaking client in a family law case, and testified before the Council of the District of Columbia about the concerns of residents at a local homeless shelter regarding the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance program.
This spring, Redding has been working as an extern in the congressional office of Congressman David E. Price (D-NC). His duties included assisting Price in his role as the Ranking Member of the House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee.
“I attended and reported on hearings, edited speeches, took the lead in researching efforts to update the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program, and much more.”
During his time in law school, Redding also served as a student attorney in the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic and he completed two summer legal internships.
“I was a legal and policy fellow at the Rural Coalition, Washington, D.C.,” he said. “My fellowships afforded me the opportunity to write and submit written testimony to Congress on behalf of the coalition regarding updating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and making the process for reporting voting rights violations more straightforward and practical, conduct research and write policy briefs in support of a ‘full and fair farm bill,’ document oral histories of farmers and farm workers, and much more.”
Redding’s interest in this subject area stems in part from his background. He is a native of Tillery, NC, and a third generation “Tillery resettler.”
He explained, “The Tillery Resettlment was established in 1935 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. There were 113 New Deal farm projects set up mostly in the south, and the Tillery Resettlement was one of fifteen set up for African Americans to purchase farm land and become independent landowners.”
His background also inspired his dedication to learning.
“My single mother inspired my love for reading and writing at an early age,” Redding said. “I grew up in a home without a bathroom and running water, but our walls were lined with bookcases filled with books rich in all kinds of intellectual and social commentary, and political persuasions. We were regimented to reading aloud for 45 minutes a day from texts by authors as varied as Aristotle, W.E.B. Dubois, and Zora Neale Hurston. We also wrote on a daily basis about our local community and travel experiences, including our trip to Stockholm, Sweden to see Nelson and Winnie Mandela on the first trip Mandela made outside of Africa following his release from 27 years of unfair incarceration.”
Redding continues to stay connected to his hometown. He currently serves the Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Concerned Citizens of Tillery (CCT). CCT has been a catalyst for positive social change across North Carolina and beyond, and celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary in 2014. Awards for their work have included the First International Healthier Communities Award from the Health Care Forum and the Natural Community Champion Award from the Conservation Fund.
When Redding first arrived ECU, he majored in criminal justice. Later, he was persuaded by the late Dr. Gay Wilentz to become an English major. Redding earned his B.A. in English, and then his M.A. in English with a concentration in Multicultural Literature.
“After being deprived of opportunities to read literature by authors of color in the public schools I attended, with the exception of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe in the 10th grade, I jumped at the chance to be immersed in classes on Native American literature, African literature, and other literature by people of color in college and graduate school,” Redding said. “In those classes, students led intellectually stimulating debates and discussions about the inclusion of multiethnic literature in the American literary canon, students presented on violence against women in literature and in society, students from Belize, Central America offered new insights on writing and neocolonialism, and much more.”
“My training in English studies at ECU confirmed for me the power of the written and spoken word. Invaluable interactions with faculty and classmates around the department and during my English composition and literature courses reaffirmed for me the importance of effective verbal communication with diverse persons inside and outside of my evolving adult world, the value of researching and writing skills in law school and my professional life, the limitless possibilities of a multicultural education in a multicultural world, and much more.”
“Students considering coming to ECU to study English will have the opportunity to learn from a diverse and talented faculty, take classes with students from different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, and through hard work can become skillful writers and researchers,” Redding said. “Additionally, students who major in English at ECU can successfully enter any field of endeavor that they choose.”
“Eastern North Carolina is much richer for having a local university that is not only convenient and available to local students, but also brings many parts of the world to the region.”