This is the ninth in a series of stories heralding the many great people of the University of Findlay and the ways they support our mission of preparing students for meaningful lives and productive careers.
For some former successful students like Dallas Smith Pharm. D. ’17, coming to the University of Findlay is daunting because of its size compared to their small hometowns and high school. Going from a small town like Ayersville to a more culturally diverse university like Findlay made Smith open up to different viewpoints and possibilities and eventually benefitted him in ways he couldn’t imagine before becoming an Oiler.
For alumnus and current director of intercultural student services at UF, Robert E. Braylock Pharm. D. ’16, the role was flip-flopped, but equally as formidable. Braylock, who came to Findlay by way of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, said that the culture shock he experienced when he arrived to UF’s campus was one that caused him some immediate doubt. “Coming from the Cleveland area,” he said, “I was used to being around different people. It didn’t seem like, at first, that was going to be the experience in Findlay.” He went on to say that everything from the mall in Findlay to the students he was meeting at the beginning was different from his big city upbringing. “I remember walking to Archie’s (a popular ice cream shop in Findlay) with a few other students I had just started hanging out with and realizing that I was the first Black person that one of them had met in their entire life up until that point. That was interesting, given my background,” he said.
While challenging at first, Braylock said his father told him to stick it out at UF for the first year and see what happened. It ended up being wonderful advice. In fact, it was that advice that made Braylock become a seeker of opportunity, and “sticking it out” on Findlay’s campus became a chance for him to not only help himself realize that differences should be celebrated, but to cultivate that mindset in other people he comes across. “Different isn’t by any means bad,” he explained. “I just wasn’t used to the smallness of the city, the smallness of the school. But really getting involved on campus helped me adjust.”
Braylock called upon the experiences he had with his church upbringing to assist him in seeing that the differences within ourselves can help to celebrate those in others. He explained that he attended a Lutheran school from kindergarten through the eighth grade, and that the regular chapel at that school was quiet and reserved. “The church we attended was Apostolic (Holiness), similar to Pentecostal, and on Friday nights and Sunday mornings, it was very expressive and energetic! Lots of singing, lots of movement. Completely different from the reserved approach of my school,” he said. “I realized that experiences and people can be extremely different from one another, but that one is certainly never less than the other.” He connected with many people on campus, and immersed himself in what it has to offer. He assisted in starting a gospel choir and joined the Black Student Union.
While broadening his horizons, Braylock’s relationship with Almar Walter, the former director of intercultural student services and advisor for the Black Student Union at UF, grew stronger. Walter became a mentor for Braylock, who credits him, in part, with steering him toward his current position. “I actually wanted to go corporate for a big pharmacy company to increase minority representation in pharmacy,” Braylock explained. “Higher ed wasn’t really even on the radar.” But being around Walter and serving as the grad assistant for intercultural student services ignited in him an interest in preparing students to work with patients and colleagues from different backgrounds. “It’s difficult to be successful, particularly in this day and age, without knowing how to meaningfully interact with people that are different than you,” he said. “That realization was a seed for me to be here now.”
Perhaps the greatest example of Braylock’s pride in both his hometown area of Cleveland and his education and position at UF is the alternative spring break that he has taken groups of culturally diverse students on for the past two years. The program serves to focus on that most important idea of truly understanding different cultures and populations and what they face on a day-to-day basis. It encompassed spending time at the Hope Center for Refugees and Immigrants in Cleveland, going to restaurants that have food from different cultures, and discussions and activities focusing on celebrating and understanding various backgrounds. “We met with refugees, immigrants, and people seeking asylum in the United States. These are folks who are doctors, lawyers, and served in the military in their home country, searching for a better life here for whatever reason,” Braylock said. “It’s difficult, at times, to see factually and clearly what is happening in the country and the world, so this helps all of us to really get an accurate perspective. I think it changes some people’s views and changes some people’s lives.”
As 2019 marks the fiftieth year of the start of the Black Student Union at UF, Braylock, who is married and has a six-year old boy, said that it’s important for everyone to be comfortable with who they are, no matter where they end up in life. And with his hard work preparing the BSU’s upcoming anniversary celebrations during homecoming, it’s clear that he thinks the organization is just as important now as it was at the beginning. Sometimes, as was the case when Braylock first came to UF, we have to seek out that comfort and place in the world ourselves; but if we take some time to look, here on campus and beyond, there will be people like him and the students he leads to guide us along the way.