For those who saw how he impacted Yale's campus as an undergraduate, it could not have been a surprise to see how much success and acclaim former football and lacrosse player Kurt Schmoke has attracted in his life of service.
In his current position as Dean of Howard Law School in Washington, D.C. Kurt Schmoke appears to have found a position that is perfectly suited to him. He has always seemed to position himself to effect positive changes and as Dean, he has the opportunity to teach scores of young people to do the same.
From quarterbacking his high school football team to a state championship, to becoming Secretary of his class at Yale, to becoming a three-term Mayor of Baltimore, Schmoke has been a leader for much of his life.
As an outstanding student and athlete during high school in Baltimore, Schmoke attracted the attention of Ivy League schools. Yale, in particular, recruited him heavily, sending its star player, Calvin Hill, to his home to personally recruit him.
Once at Yale, Schmoke played defensive back for the Elis, but also immersed himself in campus politics. The political climate during his junior year, the 1969-70 academic year, was especially volatile. In addition to the Vietnam War unrest, and the outrage on campuses nationwide over the Kent State shootings, New Haven was the setting for the controversial trials of several Black Panther members. To many, the Yale campus felt like a tinder box. In the midst of this unusual intersection of circumstances, the university made a unique gesture and invited one student to address the faculty.
That student was Kurt Schmoke. In the combative environment that characterized the relationship between students and university administrations nationwide, Schmoke used his moment to ask for cooperation and leadership from the Yale faculty and administrators. Instead of using the pulpit to make fiery demands, he asked for their leadership and help to steer Yale through the storm. It was a rare gesture from a student leader during those times, and earned Schmoke widespread respect.
As salient as this episode was, it is but one impressive legacy from Schmoke's Yale years. For most undergraduates the primary goal is to get an education that will allow them to go off in the world to perhaps later make a contribution to their universities and their communities. There are few who find a way to make a significant contribution during their undergraduate years while balancing academics and athletics as well. But when Schmoke goes to visit his alma mater, he has the distinction of being able to visit a decades-old legacy that he built while he was a student -- the Calvin Hill Daycare Center.
Schmoke and his friend, Mary Pearl, undertook the establishment of a daycare center after one of Schmoke's roommates, who worked in the cafeteria, learned from his co-workers there that many university workers were struggling to find affordable, quality childcare. Schmoke and Pearl decided to try to raise the money to establish a daycare center to address this need. The university agreed to match dollar for dollar whatever contributions Schmoke and Pearl raised.
Knowing the status with which Calvin Hill, the aforementioned football star, was regarded by current students, alumni and the surrounding community, they enlisted his help to allow them to use his name to assist in fundraising. Hill willingly agreed, and the two undergrads were able to raise enough, including the donation of a building, to open the Calvin Hill Daycare Center in 1970. Schmoke describes it as his proudest moment from his time at Yale.
When asked how he managed to accomplish this ambitious goal his answer is simple. "We didn't know that we couldn't do it. If we stopped to think about how hard it would be, we might never have undertaken it but it just never occurred to us that we couldn't do it." And how did he fit in a project like this with everything else he was doing? "The climate was supportive of students being active in many things. It was just a matter of choosing to stay busy doing productive things as opposed to unproductive things."
With his collegiate academic, athletic and community service credentials, it is not surprising that he was selected for a Rhodes Scholarship. After his two years at Oxford, he went to Harvard Law School and then returned to Baltimore. After a couple of years working in the firm Piper & Marbury, he accepted a position in the Carter White House working in the office of Domestic Policy.
Schmoke had known from childhood that he wanted to pursue a career in local government. When he was elected States Attorney for Baltimore in 1982, it was the culmination a life's ambition. He became the first African-American mayor of Baltimore in 1987 and went on to serve three terms until 1999. Literacy and improved housing were two of his priorities and of his time as Mayor he is most proud of his achievements on these two issues. He established an adult literacy office that has helped countless people educate themselves and graduate off of public assistance. He also was responsible for transforming acres of dilapidated, public housing into more attractive, safer, lower-density, mixed-income neighborhoods providing healthier environments for working class Baltimore families.
After deciding not to run for a fourth term, Schmoke succeeded to the Deanship of Howard Law School in 2002. Of being the Dean of Howard Law School in Washington D.C., Dean Schmoke says, "It's very exciting. I feel that I'm nurturing a new generation of leaders."
— Meredith Rainey Valmon