WCCCD Chancellor Dr. Curtis L. Ivery found his calling early in life. Raised in rural poverty in west Texas, he quickly learned that education was a critical route to a better life, and pursued it aggressively. Now a national leader in urban American affairs and higher education, an accomplished author and public speaker, Ivery remains focused on keeping the doors to education – and economic and social mobility – open and accessible to all.
“Growing up in an environment where education was not promoted outside of your home can either strengthen or drown you,” Ivery said. “I was fortunate that my parents believed in college as a way to live a better life. Education had always served as a pipeline for me whether for myself or for others who I saw in positions of power.”
Ivery didn’t expect to land in Detroit. Asked to interview to take the helm of the then floundering Wayne County Community College District, Ivery and his wife, Ola, left Dallas and headed to Detroit for a brief vacation. But once he arrived, he knew they were home.
“As soon as we got here, I knew this was the place that I needed to be,” said Ivery. “I didn’t know the full breadth of what this position would include but I knew I had an opportunity to help alter lives and create pathways to success through education.”
When Dr. Ivery arrived at WCCCD, he was the third Chancellor in five years. The District was mired in financial dysfunction, rudderless leadership and a waning reputation that had left it with an anemic student count across five campuses.
But Ivery saw opportunity. The District needed a strong visionary to steer the College towards growth, and to become an institution that provided an open door to higher education in innovative ways for a broad range of communities. Ivery immediately got to work.
“People wanted and needed access to education and opportunity,” he said. “The economy was changing, the skills that people needed to ensure their kids would have a good life were changing.
“We needed to make sure we had the right programs in place. We needed to be champions of opportunity. If we could do that, I knew we could grow immediately.”
At Wayne County Community College District, Ivery quickly went to work executing strategies to transform the inner workings of the District around values of transparency and rigorous accountability. He formed relationships across a myriad of public and private organizations across the county to ensure programming matched local needs; and expanded programs to help people transition to new careers, and to help businesses find high-skilled workers right in their backyard.
The growth was rapid and sustained. Today, the District is the fastest growing Community College in the nation serving some 70,000 credit and non-credit students annually across six campuses
and several specialty institutions. The District is a workforce development leader in Wayne County and a regional economic development anchor.
“We want to see successful outcomes. It doesn’t end with us, it simply begins and manifests here,” Ivery said. “That’s why we used the phrase as our motto ‘Where learning leads to a better life’. It really does. What students learn from their time at WCCCD helps to make them into the leaders of tomorrow.”
After 20 years at WCCCD, Ivery isn’t slowing down.
Ivery has called national summits and engaged renowned civil rights leaders and academics around the educational policies and programs that need to be implemented to ensure equal access to education; to call attention and find solutions to school policies that exacerbate the disproportionate criminalization of young communities of color and their mass incarceration; and how we ensure that underrepresented communities are still able to get a foot in the door of colleges and universities across the nation.
Ivery authored in 2013 America’s Urban Crisis and the Advent of Color-Blind Politics: Education, Incarceration, Segregation, and the Future of the U.S. Multiracial Democracy, and in 2015 a second volume Reclaiming Integration and the Language of Race in the “Post-Racial” Era. Including exclusive essays from leading scholars as Houston Baker, Manning Marable, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., john powell and Eddie Glaude, Jr., they powerfully examined barriers to equality in the United States, and how those barriers might be dismantled so that we might, as a nation, live up to our promise.
“When I think about our efforts then in the context of a nation still actively pursuing the aims and goals of integration to our current climate … I can only return to widely voiced sentiments within civil rights communities that our work here is not done. Our work here must continue,” Ivery writes in Reclaiming Integration.
Ivery also continues to mentor and engage young people through books that include recently published titles such as Black Fatherhood: Reclaiming Our Legacy and Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Wisdom and Strength for Young Black Men. Ivery has also authored five children’s books with his daughter, Angela. He carries on that work through participation on countless regional boards and committees, dedicated to building positive momentum throughout the metro region.
“Being a part of the transformation of young people’s lives and truly of this District and this region fuels me,” he said. “It’s a life mission for me. I don’t see that ending.”