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From the Projects to the Presidencies - My Journey to Higher Education Leadership

From the Projects to the Presidencies

My Journey to Higher Education Leadership

By James E. Lyons Sr.
Series: Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies

Hardcover : 9781496851444, 128 pages, May 2024

The compelling story of a self-made, driven, and industrious higher education professional


Raised in a public housing project in New Haven, Connecticut, James E. Lyons Sr. overcame the difficult circumstances of his childhood to flourish academically, eventually becoming president of six universities—Bowie State University, Jackson State University, California State University Dominguez Hills, Dillard University, the University of the District of Columbia, and Concordia College Alabama. From the Projects to the Presidencies: My Journey to Higher Education Leadership charts Lyons’s personal and educational journey, from saving money for college by shining shoes in front of Yale University at fifteen to returning to the same building thirty-seven years later as president of Jackson State.

Though his mother never graduated high school, she worked hard to provide opportunities for him. Championing his desire to escape what experts considered one of the worst areas of Connecticut, she helped him dodge pitfalls, change course when necessary, and reach his goal of achieving a successful career in higher education. Throughout his journey, there were as many friends supporting him as there were adversaries attempting to hold him back. He successfully navigated both the positive and negative influences in his life. A Jewish mother took him to college and wrote a personal check for his registration. Yet neighborhood “friends” stole all of his clothes so that he could not return to the university after the Thanksgiving recess. Classmates laughed at him because he could not afford to be on the university meal plan. But a track coach invited him over for dinner whenever he was in the neighborhood. Mistaken for a student by the board chair at one presidential interview, he was later embraced by a different board chair who told him, “We know you did a great job at that university, and we would like you to come and do the same for us.”

Overcoming his difficult socioeconomic background and the institutional racism that denied educational opportunities to many young Black men, Lyons prevailed despite the odds. His inspiring story illuminates the success and hard work that lead him to dedicate his life to education and bettering the lives of students across the country.