Qwameek Bethea ’21 began to suspect it wasn’t a normal day at the office when Furman President Elizabeth Davis, Vice President for Student Life Connie Carson and Chief Diversity Officer Michael Jennings just happened to mosey in at the same time last Friday afternoon. Just how wonderfully abnormal it would turn out to be, however, wasn’t apparent until the room’s attention turned his way and President Davis began to speak.
“They came through the front doors and came around the back of the Trone Center and came in the side, and I thought they were just coming back in from a luncheon,” Bethea, the employment engagement fellow for the Malone Center for Career Engagement, said. “Then she started to read the recommendation someone had written for me.”
They were there to surprise Bethea with the 2020-21 Rosa Bodkin Award, which is presented annually to a nominated student who demonstrates a commitment to advancing Furman’s culture of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism. First handed out in 2004, the Rosa Bodkin Award was elevated to a presidentially recognized award in 2018 and is normally given at convocation.
Convocation was cancelled this year because of the pandemic.
Bethea is president of the Furman NAACP chapter and has been a campus leader in encouraging students to vote and advocating for racial justice. In June, he wrote a guest column in the Greenville News headlined “The harsh reality of racism for a young Black man.”
The award comes with a check for $2,700, which Bethea said he would put toward bills and law school.
“I appreciated the way it was (presented) just so much more, being with that small group of people, having my co-workers with me showing their support,” Bethea, a native of Hamer, South Carolina, said. “It really makes it so much more meaningful to me. It was very emotional.”
Bethea is a philosophy and politics and international affairs double major with a minor in African diaspora. He’s also a member of the Furman Pre-Law Society.