He’s been a big name on campus for nearly four decades. Now UMW’s Cedric Rucker joins other big names – tennis legend Arthur Ashe, former Virginia Sen. Henry Marsh III and opera singer Lisa Edwards Burrs – on Richmond Public Schools’ (RPS) Black History Month Influential list.
The honorees – all of whom attended Richmond schools, including Rucker, Mary Washington associate vice president and dean of Student Life – were recognized as African-Americans who have forged ahead and made a difference in their fields.
“We wanted to show our students that anything is possible, and Dean Rucker’s experiences are definitely a testimony to that,” said RPS’ Renee Carter, who shared the campaign on social media throughout the month. “Dean Rucker is the epitome of a successful black male as well as a trailblazer … He has shown that he is dedicated not only to his profession, but to the students he interacts with as well as his community.”
Rucker has made an indelible impact in the academic – and personal – lives of generations of undergrads, imparting on them the importance of perseverance and forward-thinking, as his own RPS educators did for him.
“The [Richmond] teachers were very much invested in making sure we were in a position to go to the next level,” said Rucker, who also teaches sociology. “They always talked about the future. They laid the groundwork for me to do the sort of things I do today, so that I can work with students, so they, too, can create opportunities for others.”
A Feb. 21 Facebook post by RPS on Rucker– known for his infectious laugh, signature bow ties and sincere concern for students’ well-being – garnered a slew of congratulatory comments.
“This man deserves all the recognition in the world for being an incredible educator and amazing mentor for so many people in higher education and beyond,” geography major Ben Cunningham ’16 commented online. “Thanks for teaching me and guiding me through my undergrad years, Dean Rucker!”
In addition to Ashe, Burrs and Marsh, Rucker shares space on the RPS Black History Month Influential list with the likes of retired NFL linebacker Willy Lanier, independentfilmmaker Cameron Harris and Virginia’s first African-American woman nanoscientist Ginai Seabron. Also included is Jane Cooper, the first African American to integrate two Richmond schools.
That’s something Rucker can attest to, as well. One of five children, he attended seven different Richmond schools, as his father’s bank courier job and desegregation efforts during the 1970s moved him from one end of the city to the other. As a Mary Washington freshman in 1977, he becamethe first African-American male student to move into the residence halls. He graduated in 1981 and earned a master’s degree at the University of Virginia, where he served briefly as assistant dean of admissions, before returning to his alma mater to work in Student Life.
Since then, Rucker has been praised for his efforts to increase inclusion and diversity at UMW, receiving the 2017 Region III Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award by NASPA, a leading association for the advancement of the student affairs profession. In 2016, RPS named him a Living Legacy, calling him “an inspirational leader who exemplifies an extraordinary life.”
Throughout, he has worked to pass along lessons bestowed on him by his elementary- middle- and high-school teachers, who “taught a curriculum of survival and of making sure you understood history,” he said. “Not just in textbooks, but in the history of the community, the history of the black experience, why it was so important to take hold of the opportunities your education afforded.”
Rucker pointed James Farmer – the Civil Rights icon who helped lead the history-changing 1961 Freedom Rides alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and taught history and American studies at Mary Washington until his death in 1999 – and the sacrifices he made to pave the way for others.
“It’s about surviving and thriving. It’s about creating opportunities, creating doors for others to walk through,” Rucker said. “It’s about not forgetting that we have a history, and also, more importantly, that we have a future.”