Jimmain Middleton (1982-2017)
Jerome Dotson, assistant professor of Africana Studies, delivered a speech in memory of Jimmain Middleton and presented Middleton’s family with his posthumous degree in Africana Studies.
Borrowing on an old African American folk saying, poet Sterling Brown once said, “Old sheep know the road, but young lambs gotta find their way.” On its surface, this saying seems to draw on the adage that with age comes wisdom. But as a professor, the part that resonates most with me is the second half this quote. One of the more exciting moments in my job is helping and watching as students find their path. Like many of you today, Jimmain or “Main” as he was also known, was finding his way.
Jimmain was a gifted student who possessed many talents; however, three talents that benefited him as a developing scholar were his inquisitiveness, his leadership skills, and his willingness to ask challenging questions.
I first met Jimmain as part of a teaching demonstration I did for my current position. I gave a lecture on the Haitian Revolution, and he was the first student to ask a question. “Why” he queried, “weren’t there similar revolts in the U.S.?” The question reflected Jimmain's interests in slavery and his academic curiosity.
I would eventually have Main in two more courses: Introduction to African American Studies and a Senior Capstone course in our department. In Introduction to African American Studies Jimmain was a class leader. He wasn't just the first to speak, but he encouraged his classmates to contribute too because he valued their contributions. Further, it was after class that Jimmain and I would talk about his own interests in one day being a professor.
But it was in the Senior Capstone that I could begin to see the ways Jimmain was developing into an interdisciplinary scholar. Blending his interests in psychology with a passion for the past, one of Jimmain's capstone essays explored the connections between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In particular, he raised questions about the ways the violence of the middle passage might foster PTSD. He wrote, "Now if anyone in the world was a good candidate for PTSD, the African in America during Chattel slavery most certainly was." Jimmain was never one to shy away from taking on difficult questions, and in his essay, he echoed similar concerns raised by other scholars of African American Studies who write of trauma and slavery.
But Jimmain was not only a budding scholar he was caring father to two daughters, Zarria and Emmani Middleton. While discussing the significance of kinship networks in slavery, he paused to reflect on what he believed were the keys to being a good parent. “As a proud parent myself,” Jimmain stated, “one of our prime objectives is to help children alleviate any bad habits or characteristics that could harm them as they grow older.” He continued, “One of the most important tasks of parenting is giving encouragement to children and instilling self-esteem that will carry them throughout their lives.” I think from this we can all see that fatherhood was vitally important to Jimmain. Further, we can see one again how Jimmain was not only finding his way, but he was also guiding others.
Jimmain's life was a testament to the importance of pursuing your path while never losing sight of loved ones and family.