During college Dymir Arthur juggled more roles than most people do over their entire lives. He was a student government leader, social activist, mentor, lobbyist, public speaker, writer, and poet. He was also a full-time student who earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science, with a minor in Africana studies. Because of his extraordinary contribution to undergraduate life, he was inducted into Cap and Skull – the senior honor society – at the end of his junior year.
Arthur, 22, plans to attend law school. He attended the Institute for Pre-Legal Studies at Seton Hall University School of Law last summer and dreams of fighting social injustice as a civil rights lawyer. He also aims to write at least two books, travel across the country to learn about the problems of young people in urban areas, and run for public office.
But first he’ll spend two years with Teach For America, working as a special education teacher in the Philadelphia public schools, while earning a master’s degree in education. He spent the past year working as campus recruiter for the organization.
“If I’m going to do something other than what I want my primary career to be, the best time to do so would be now,” he said. “My mentors in the law say taking time off before law school is not a bad idea.”
The teaching gig may not be much of a detour. Teach For America, dedicated to equality in education, benefits children in low-income communities. As president of the Educational Opportunity Program Student Council, Arthur advocated on behalf of struggling students. He himself enrolled at Rutgers because it offered him a better financial aid package than other colleges.
Arthur grew up in South Jersey, the younger of two children. His father was an African American and his mother a native of Bermuda. From his father, a business owner, Arthur inherited a love of community and respect for individuals of all backgrounds. Frederick Arthur, who died in 2006, also enthralled his son with stories about great men determined to change their world, including Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Martin Luther King Jr.
“I never forgot those lessons. I carried them inside me,” Dymir Arthur said.
As a boy, he began writing poems at age 10. He became a social activist as an eighth grader at the Charles W. Lewis Middle School, a predominantly white school in Blackwood. It was February 2000, the traditional time of year for Black History Month.
“We didn’t have any celebrations. I felt we had to change that,” Arthur said. “My friends and I got together to start a new tradition, where the school would celebrate black history through history lessons and poetry. We were able to put together a great event, which is still running today. It was the first time I had a chance to work on a problem in my community.”
In high school he continued looking for ways to lead, while pursuing his interests. He didn’t mind standing out.
“I was the only black guy on my cross country team, with 23 guys. I was also the only black male out of 20 people in a program that teaches teenagers about the importance of safer sex,” he said. “I hung out with everyone. I didn’t care who you were, or what you were interested in, as long as you were a good person.”
After coming to Rutgers, Arthur became a diversity intern at Career Services and an education policy intern for the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education. He mentored high school students from urban areas, taught leadership courses, and served on a cabinet advising faculty and administration. Each spring, for three years, he traveled to Washington to lobby Congress for increased student aid.
In the classroom, meanwhile, Arthur discovered a taste for history.
“History shows us that a desire for power has encouraged many leaders and scholars alike to use the power of language to convince others of falsehoods which have sparked wars, racism, chattel slavery, sexism, xenophobia, religious conflicts, homophobia, and the like,” he wrote in a recent post on his blog.
Social injustices remain rife in contemporary American life, Arthur said.
“Some people would argue that the election of an African-African president is evidence racism doesn’t exist, but it does. We’re not in a post-racial society. I’ve experienced racism myself,” he said. “Often, when I speak to very powerful people, inside or outside the university, there seems to be shock that I ‘speak so well’ or am ‘so articulate.’ People don’t expect that from an African American who grew up in Camden.”
By Mary Jo Patterson