"Determined to Make a Positive Difference in the Lives of Others"
By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
APRIL 14, 2021 – Today, the Rev. Teddy Reeves is the Curator of Religion at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
His family is from Winston-Salem – his grandmother participated in the Woolworth sit-ins and his mother graduated from Parkland High and Winston-Salem State University – and his educational and spiritual journey began in Winston-Salem.
Here, his family’s church – St. Stephen Missionary Baptist – provided the spiritual foundation for his life.
Reeves is a 2004 graduate of Parkland High and going to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools gave him experiences – both comfortable and unsettling – that provided different perspectives on life as an African American male.
Even before he started school, Reeves was aware of the importance of the Civil Rights movement.
Not long after another group of students had staged a sit-in at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, his grandmother, Mary Deloise Reeves - along with Vic Johnson who went on to become a member of the Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County Board of Education and other students at Winston-Salem State University and Wake Forest University – made local history when they sat down at the whites-only lunch counter at the old Woolworth’s on Liberty Street.
“She was a part of the movement,” Reeves said. “I grew up knowing my grandmother was an activist.”
Reeves and his mother, Kim Reeves, lived near Easton Elementary, and, when Reeves was a student there, the majority of the students were African American and most of his teachers were African American women.
It was a comfortable place to be, he said. “Easton has a special place in my heart.”
When he headed to what was then Philo Middle School, he had his first African American teacher who was a man and the principal, William Peay, was African American.
Reeves’ life took an abrupt turn when he started riding the bus to Meadowlark Middle for the eighth grade. There, students were divided into two teaching teams. He was the only African American boy in his team and the other team had only two African American boys.
It was an uncomfortable time in general. It hit a low when, in the gym one day, a white boy called him by a racial slur.
“It shook me,” he said.
That led to a fight.
Going on to Parkland for high school restored his sense of comfort at school.
Early on, Reeves decided that he wanted to become a journalist/news anchor one day. A visit to his class at Easton by Cameron Kent – who has since retired as an anchor at WXII television – cemented that desire.
At Parkland, he worked on the school newspaper and studied journalism at the Career Center.
Reeves had many other positive experiences at Parkland. He served as the treasurer for the Student Government Association and was named Homecoming King.
“Parkland allowed me to develop my skills,” he said. “It was an amazing time to be at Parkland.”
At Parkland, one of his friends was Kia Harvey.
“I have had the pleasure and honor of being a close classmate and great friend of Teddy while at Parkland High School and beyond,” Harvey said.
“We matriculated through Parkland at a time where our Administration, Faculty, and Staff instilled in us (the students) that we were the ‘Best School in the State.’ The students held fast to that idea and as adults moving through life. Many of my classmates – like Teddy Reeves – have carried that belief through to completing college and pursuing great things, despite what societal statistics may claim.”
“Teddy is a versatile individual able to adapt and still retain a true sense of self identity. He grew up in the Easton community with his mother and has not been afraid to experience and explore the world. I have witnessed his growth and his tenacious spirit of setting a standard of excellence and meeting the moment.”
“As a curator of the Smithsonian, he takes his versatility and respect of history and is able to be a dynamic contributor.”
“Teddy has always had a thirst for knowledge and a desire to understand all things. His desire to study theology has taken him to Africa and beyond. He has a gift of capturing people’s attention and being a genuine positive influence on those around him. He honors his relationship with God and, through that ability, he has graced the halls of Parkland High, Hampton University, Princeton University, and now the Smithsonian.”
“I am extremely proud of him as a classmate and friend.”
After graduating from Parkland in 2004, Reeves headed off to Hampton University where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English.
It was there that he met his future wife, Briana.
After graduating from Hampton, he was called to become a minister, and he went on to earn a Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary. He went on to serve as the executive pastor at a church in Jamaica, N.Y.
After going to work for the work for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), he stepped down from serving as an executive pastor and now serves as an Associate Minister at the church he attends in Arlington, Va.
In May, Reeves will earn his Doctor of Philosophy degree in religion and education at Fordham University.
Reeves was named Curator of NMAAHC in March.
Brenda Diggs, who was a Trustee and Deaconess at St. Stephens when Reeves was growing up, knows he will do an excellent job.
“Teddy Reeves is an outstanding young man,” she said.
“He has always been a person who was determined to make a positive difference in the lives of others. He was always focused, an achiever and did not allow the negatives that can occur in life to alter his determination to achieve goals that he knew were already God ordered and ordained.”
“I am so very proud of Teddy and his accomplishments. He is most deserving of this promotion at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and will use his incredible skills and determination to continue to positivity impact the lives of people.”
Reeves had been working for the museum for more than four years when he was named curator.
His responsibilities have always included collecting artifacts, doing research, and talking to African American about their spiritual experiences and beliefs. He has done research into and talked with African Americans not only about Christianity – Protestant, Catholic, Mormon – but also about Judaism, Voodoo, Islam, Buddhism.
One of the goals of the museum is to shed light on all aspects of belief or non-belief. He has also talked with people who consider themselves spiritualists, atheists or simply non-believers.
“It runs the gamut,” Reeves said.
One thing he has found is that many people in the wider community, presume that most African Americans are Protestant Christians. That is still true for a high percentage of African Americans.
But, these days, that is changing. For one, a higher percentage African Americans don’t identify with any religion and the percentage of African Americans who are Muslim is rising.
Talking with people in person is best when possible, and, before the coronavirus put a stop to traveling, he spent a lot of nights in hotel rooms around the country. His travels included going to New Orleans to talk to the women at a nunnery where all of the nuns were African American and to Houston to talk to a woman who was a Buddhist monk.
One of the greatest joys of his work has been hearing the stories of people’s lives.
Going to Israel to talk with African Americans there is just one of the trips had to be postponed because of coronavirus travel restrictions, and he is looking forward to being able to talk with people in person again about their spiritual journeys.
His experiences have produced growth in his thinking.
“It has really helped me understand who I am and how I experience God and how I experience Christ,” he said. “It’s expanded my understanding of spirituality.”
While Christianity is still the heart of his spiritual life, he has come to appreciate other spiritual paths and to see the value of such practices as meditation, something he now does.
When talking with people, the interviews are often recorded and become available through the Smithsonian as oral histories that people can watch. Artifacts can also be viewed online.
Reeves and his wife live in Baltimore. She is from Charlotte, and he still has many family members in Winston-Salem. So they regularly come to North Carolina to visit.
Over the years, Reeves has stayed connected to Parkland. When Reeves was at Parkland, Alecia Harvey was an assistant principal there.
“Teddy Reeves was an outstanding student at Parkland High School,” Harvey said.
“He was a student leader while attending Parkland, and he returned every holiday and during the summer months to work with our student remediation programs.”
“He set up a program with our students and the students from Africa while he was a student at Princeton. Our students were exposed to their culture because of Teddy.”
“He came every year to share his experiences with the youth. He is an example to our young people.”
“He exemplifies the positive role model that Parkland and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system produces. He reminds us that Parkland had outstanding students before the IB Program.”
“I am so proud of the man that he exemplifies. He is also a wonderful son. Just ask his mom.”
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