It was November 2008 and Rodney De Leaver '74 had an epiphany while sitting in the Hogan Ballroom.
On campus to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Black Student Union, he was watching a "fireside chat" between the late president emeritus Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J. '49 and writer Diane Brady, who had written a Businessweek article about Brooks' 1968 drive to recruit students of color and begin diversifying the nearly all-white college.
"It was a great, energy-filled room," De Leaver remembers. "I'd spoken to everyone in that room at some point between my graduation in '74 and that evening. We all have a common thread being John E. Brooks and the College. I looked around and saw all of these people I had gone to school with and had met subsequently as an alum, and I thought to myself, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could capture the presence in this room?'"
Brady turned her article into a 2012 book, "Fraternity," and returned to campus after its publication to discuss the novel with Fr. Brooks and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas '71, one of the men recruited by Fr. Brooks and profiled in Brady's book.
Once again, De Leaver felt that familiar tug to do something to capture the magic in the room, but this time he had a concrete idea: 'I'll have everybody sign a copy of the book — every chance I get.'
Now seven years later, De Leaver has been doing just that ever since, creating a physical representation of the College's efforts and commitment to diversity.
Since that spark, De Leaver has had hundreds of students and alumni of color, as well as administrators, deans, faculty, staff and others, sign "Fraternity" as well as "Thy Honored Name," the College's official history written by the late Rev. Anthony J. Kuzniewski, S.J., professor of history and unofficial College historian. Signatures are organized by class year and include past College presidents, such as Fr. Brooks, many of those profiled in "Fraternity," and founders and early members of the Black Student Union. De Leaver has also compiled a necrology in the back of the books, containing the names of alumni of color who have died without getting a chance to sign their name.
"I was introduced to Fr. Brooks in 1969, so my time at Holy Cross has always been tied to him," De Leaver notes. "With Father's passing, it dawned on it me that I would then be asking alums to sign the book who had not had the opportunity to have met him, but who will have received the benefits of his work by being able to attend Holy Cross through the legacy and continuation of the College's efforts toward diversity."
De Leaver visits campus several times a year, always with the books in tow. "I usually have the books with me every time I'm on campus because someone will be on campus who hadn't gotten an opportunity to sign them, but would have heard someone who said, 'Don't forget you're going to sign De Leaver's books the next time you see him.'"
Thanks to his tabbed organization system, De Leaver says he won't run out of room and will continue to gather signatures every chance he gets. He adds one important note with a laugh: "I learned over time I should ask for a legible signature."
"I'm 66 now," he says. "It's been an interesting effort for me, to say the least. I'm hoping to be able to carry this on in the footsteps of guys like Joe Reilly '55 [the late chairman emeritus of the Bishop Healy Committee and special assistant to the president and to the vice president of student affairs and dean of students], who was able to provide some assistance and service to the College and to students of color and the efforts of diversity. Either on Father's 100th birthday or my 100th birthday, I'll donate the books to the school as a written testimonial to the lives Fr. Brooks touched."
Written by Melissa Shaw for the Summer 2019 issue of Hole Cross Magazine.
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