Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Swinton recently received top award from Columbia Urban League

Benedict College President David Swinton
Tracy Glantz

By Jane Moon Dail

David Swinton is serving his 22nd year as Benedict College’s president and has more than made his mark in the Columbia area.

He received the Columbia Urban League’s President’s Award at the recent 48th Annual Fund Campaign and Equal Opportunity Day Dinner.

The New York University and Harvard University-educated college president has previously served as the chairman of the Columbia Urban League board and has a longstanding relationship with the national organization dating back to the 1970s.

1. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Was your initial goal to be a college president?

“No, ha. I don’t know that I had any particular plans for what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was just trying to grow up. I knew I wanted to go to college, do something professional, do something that would help people. I didn’t have it all figured out at that point.”

2. From reading your biography on Benedict’s web site, I know you were born up North, moved to South Carolina at a young age, then moved back up North. So what made you want to come to Columbia?

“First, I say I consider myself a South Carolinian. My family mother, father, grandparents from both sides and great-grandparents, they’re from the Pee Dee area. Actually, I spent most of my young childhood until I was about 11 in South Carolina. ... But I always had in the back of my mind I was going to come back and do something in South Carolina.”

3. So, coming to Columbia was a bit of a homecoming?

“Yes. As a matter of fact, my father attended Benedict College for a little while, although he didn’t graduate from Benedict. He graduated from Morris (College in Sumter). I was happy to come back. Benedict had the kind of mission and the kind of vision that I wanted to be a part of. The opportunity came. After a little convincing, I decided to take it.”

4. What first got you interested in working with the Urban League?

“I’ve been working with the Urban League on the national level in the New York area, really since 1977, probably. I did a whole lot of those ‘State of Black America’ economic analyses for them. I did about 10 years in a row at that point. I worked with a number of different Urban League presidents. I always had some connection to the Urban League, almost since I started my professional career.”

5. What did you learn during your time as chairman of the Columbia Urban League?

“The Urban League has done many things to try to promote equity and quality throughout our state. ... When you’re trying to be chair of a diverse, very large board, you develop skills or learn how to work with people ... to gain consensus. I suppose my time with the Urban League has helped with that to some degree.”

6. It sounds like you’ve had an extensive relationship with the local chapter and the national organization. So what was your reaction when you were informed that you earned this year’s Columbia Urban League’s President’s Award?

“I said, ‘Oh yeah?’ I wasn’t expecting to. I was appreciative that they thought enough of me to give me that award. My grandmother always taught us to be modest and never try to be bragging or saying what you did or didn’t do. I do what I do, and I’ve done what I’ve done to accomplish purposes. I didn’t do it to get recognition. I did it because it was things that needed to be done. For some reason, I’ve always felt an obligation to do whatever I could to move things forward. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about how I would personally ever gain in anything I’ve ever done.”

7. One of the reasons listed for your winning the President’s Award was your leadership in the first King Day at the Dome. What inspired you to start that event? Was that one of those events you were talking about that needed to be done?

“It essentially needed to be done. ... We thought that it was time and it was probably something we could accomplish. I took whatever role I could take in trying to move that forward. It was something that really needed to be done to give our state a chance to achieve its full potential. And at that time ... we were being boycotted by a number of organizations (for having the Confederate flag displayed at the capitol). ... We were really trying to solve this problem, create some unity and acceptance of diversity in our state and acceptance of all the citizens in our state. That was a symbolic issue that was preventing that from happening.”

8. Are you glad to see that it has momentum years after it started?

“Well we were disappointed we didn’t get it (Confederate flag) completely removed off the grounds at the time. ... We advocated to remove it completely and put it into the Confederate Relic Room or at the State Museum, and I think that’s where it’s going now. It took folks 12 years or so to catch up with our thinking, but we’re glad to see they did. We certainly are very appreciative of the governor (Nikki Haley) for stepping up and doing the right thing, and all those legislators that stepped up and did the right thing, We’re very gratified and pleased it came to fruition.”

9. Benedict College has grown significantly since your time there. What are a couple of the big developments at the college people should know about that are going on right now?

“We’re trying to remain prosperous, remain where we can be developing students. ... We have some small things going on. We completed the renovation of the campus center. We just added a new television and radio station. We opened up some new majors in the past couple years. We just developed an environmental health science facility. We opened up our continuing education and graduate center. ... We still continue to work in the community and renovate houses in the community. Since I’ve been here ... we’ve expanded from about 20-something acres to about 120 acres.”

10. You’ve had such an accomplished career so far, but what would you consider your biggest accomplishment, your proudest accomplishment?

“I’ve never really thought about that. ... I don’t really think of my accomplishments as big, I just think of them as things that I do and I get done. ... I guess if had to pick one thing, I would probably pick my family: my six kids, my 17 grandkids and my 47-year marriage.”

NOTE: This Q&A has been condensed for space.


The Columbia Urban League recently recognized several people and organizations at its annual Equal Opportunity Dinner.

David Swinton, President’s Award. The Benedict College president and past chairman of the Columbia Urban League is being recognized for his years of service and leadership, including for planning the 2000 King Day at the Dome.

Martha Scott Smith, Anthony and Alice Hurley Award. Smith is being recognized for her years of leadership and service with the Columbia Urban League. She helped establish the Summer Work Experience Leadership Program (SWELP), which has served more than 6,000 youths.

The Boeing Company,Virgil C. Summer Award, which recognizes exemplary achievements of individuals and businesses promoting corporate social responsibility. The company is being recognized for promoting diversity and focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for a more competitive workforce.

Project Unity, USA, Ethel M. Bolden Community Service Award. The group was recognized for promoting unity among community stakeholders to reduce crime and increase health in the community.

Gov. Nikki Haley, Stephen G. Morrison/Nelson Mullins Social Justice Award. Haley was recognized for her leadership in the S.C. legislature’s removal of the Confederate Flag from the State House grounds, as well as . She also is being honored for her efforts to unite the state after the June killings of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Source: The State Newspaper

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