The Colgate Scene
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|Seekers, teachers and preachers|
|by Joy Buchanan '99|
Nastasha, Nikhil and Carlton Branscomb '93
From the front of a flower shop at the New Brunswick, NJ, train station, I scan
the faces of every person driving past in a silver-gray Toyota. I am looking
for Natasha Redwood Branscomb '93, whom I have only seen two or three times
before at Colgate. I am to meet her and her husband, Carlton Branscomb '93, as
well as my classmate Dearthrice DeWitt '99.|
Natasha eventually pulls up and we re-introduce ourselves. On the way home, Natasha tells me about her pursuit of a masters degree in education with emphasis on English as a second language (ESL) at Rutgers. She hopes to teach here during the regular school year and abroad during the summer. We talk about her psychology major at Colgate and discover that we had the Sojourners Gospel Choir in common. I ask Natasha what I hope will not be an embarrassing question: When did she and Carlton get together? Their relationship actually developed during senior year when she was an RA in Cutten and Carlton was one of her residents. She recounts the lengthy conversations they had about everything from politics and religion to life after college. There was a connection and both knew they had met the person they would marry.
The Branscombs' home is decorated in light wood and earth tones, sprinkled lovingly with pieces of black and African statuettes, pictures and accents. Carlton greets me with a smile and firm handshake, making me feel instantly at home. DeWitt and Carlton's best friend, Edwin Ruiz '93, will join us later.
With raucous laughter, we reminisce and talk about school, music and the advancement of video game technology. As Natasha decorates the Christmas tree in red and gold ribbons and angels clad in Kente cloth, their six-year-old son Nikhil darts about the room, occasionally stopping to help his mother. The conversation flows like a stream, with no scripted direction or agenda, following a natural path.
Carlton Branscomb grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where he attended an exclusive private high school. He arrived at Colgate intent on studying medicine, but ultimately came to see that as a "big mistake" as his interests turned to a concentration in religion.
Afrocentric in his beliefs and world view, Carlton describes himself as an eight or a nine on the "radicalness scale," and is mainly concerned with the seeking and teaching of truth. With his forthright manner and his warm and disarming presence, one would think that Carlton always wanted to be a minister, but that decision came later in his collegiate career. Originally he wanted to be a rapper!
Carlton admired rap as positive with a capacity to reach people. "KRS-1 was my idol and so was Lawrance Evans '92," says Branscomb, who joined with Evans, Ruiz and Edgar Miranda '98 to form Lords of Creative Intellect. They recorded in Brooklyn, made a name for themselves, even among well-known rappers, and came close to signing a record deal.
When Branscomb asked Dr. Dre what he would have to do to make it, the rapper and producer told him to quit school and write for Dre and his crew for a year in order to prove himself. Branscomb declined. Later L.O.C.I. was offered a deal by Message Records with a 50-page contract that included, according to Brans-comb, the disturbingly standard clause, "We own you throughout the universe in perpetuity. In the event that society develops the technology to travel to distant worlds, we own your persona in those distant worlds." Putting the rap dream to rest was a blessing, says Carlton. The music that once captivated him was no longer positive and would have compromised the Lords.
Carlton's energy, study and desire for the truth finally led him to the ministry and further education at Princeton Theological Seminary. Professor Harvey Sindima, whom Carlton affectionately refers to as "Doc" and who acted as chair for Carlton's senior thesis at Colgate, preached at his ordination. Sindima, who describes himself as Carlton's "intellectual Father," says the experience was "exciting, moving and overwhelming. In the black tradition, it is a transforming moment."
Dearthrice DeWitt '99
Following the path|
Dearthrice DeWitt '99 is now on the pathway that Carlton traveled. Growing up in Albany, NY, he identified religiously with the AME Zion Church but was not a church-goer himself. He, too, attended Colgate with the desire to study medicine but felt a lack of support. Chaplain Nancy De Vries became DeWitt's advisor and he eventually took up religion as a major and made it his career choice.
A radical in his own right, DeWitt is adorned with long dreadlocks and a high regard for the truth and academic reasoning in questions of religion.
As a University Church steward, DeWitt took it upon himself to be a leader in social justice issues on campus and served as a tutor and mentor for the community of color. He was also a member of the Sojourners Gospel Choir and a Link for the Class of 2002.
In his second year at Princeton Theological Seminary, DeWitt's young career is already impressive. Also inspired by studying under Sindima, he pursued his desire to travel to Africa for missionary work. In the summer of 1999, DeWitt worked in field ministry at a church in Accra, the capital of Ghana. He preached, led communion and taught the church's youth. Together they worked on a water filtration project that was completed just three days before his return to the United States. DeWitt also visited different churches, speaking to young people from a biblical perspective on various current events and problems affecting them.
Back in States, DeWitt presented his work to the largest conference of AME Zion church leaders.
"Many people were surprised to know the church was actually doing this type of work," says DeWitt. "One family agreed to fund another system in a far more needy area, which was the point of my project."
For both Branscomb and DeWitt, their loyalty and appreciation of Christianity resides in the example of Jesus Christ's teachings and emphasis on love. Committed scholars at heart, they recognize the importance of teaching when preaching, longing to discuss such matters as the eschatological bent to King's "I Have a Dream Speech" or the possible Egyptian origin of the Ten Commandments. However, they both admit that one must use discretion when introducing new, and occasionally controversial, information to a body of believers. As Branscomb puts it, "You must be careful with folks. Their faith is so delicate and their spirituality is so delicate, you can't speak about Christianity in certain ways because it literally destroys people."
After my weekend visit, I called Professor Sindima, Branscomb and DeWitt's mentor and friend. He spoke warmly of both men, mentioning their dedication to their own studies beyond the curriculum and describing them as men of books. Sindima also expressed aspects of a deeper relationship between teacher and the students. "We talked about life. I want people to be ready for life. That's my focus. I have no doubts that both men will make great contributions to our society and bring praise to Colgate."
Indeed, Carlton Branscomb and Dearthrice DeWitt embody the Colgate motto, Deo Ac Veritati -- For God and Truth.
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