2019 Visionary Award: Karsonya "Kaye" Wise Whitehead

On January 28, Kaye Whitehead, longtime Collegium mentor, was awarded the 2019 Visionary Award. Collegium Director, Tom Landy presented her with the citation below at a ceremony followed by a celebration with members of the Loyola University Maryland campus.

Catholic higher education depends more than ever on the energy and vision of faculty who find imaginative, compelling ways to engage Catholic intellectual and spiritual traditions in the classroom and in their scholarship. Collegium, a consortium of 65 Catholic colleges and universities, was founded to encourage faculty in such creative endeavors.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead, the recipient of the 2019 Collegium Visionary Award, embodies the Collegium ideal and pushes it forward in important and creative ways. Through scholarship, teaching, and mentorship she has enriched the lives of her students, colleagues, and Collegium colloquy participants.

Dr. Whitehead—“Dr. Kaye” to her many radio listeners, “Kaye” to her many friends—participated in Collegium as a Faculty Fellow in 2012, and served as a mentor in 2016 and 2018 and as a panelist at the Pause at 25 conference in 2017. Five faculty who engaged with her at those events stepped forward to nominate her for this award. They cited her “passion,” “boldness,” “energy” and commitment to the kind of intellectual life that serves the marginalized, particularly those marginalized by virtue of race. As one nominee summed it up, the award described just who she is: “a visionary.”

They wrote that she embodies “the values of solidarity, humility, and radical love that informs the humanistic vision that undergirds the Catholic intellectual tradition, Catholic Social Teaching, and Collegium.” Kaye brings the wisdom and strength of the Black Church she was raised in, and to which she and her husband Johnnie remain committed today, into conversation with the Catholic, Jesuit tradition of Loyola University Maryland in fruitful and energizing ways.

All five nominees spoke about Kaye’s capacity to inspire. One alumnus recalled that he started a conversation with her convinced that any effort to model the sacramental imagination in his history course was a “ridiculous” risk for an untenured faculty member. Kaye talked about how she did so in her classes. Her “gracious wisdom,” he wrote, enabled him to get over his pre-tenure “silence… and self censorship” and gave him the courage to take risks that lived up to his students’ needs.

Kaye is a dedicated public intellectual who reflects deeply and continually on the relationship between scholarship and activism. She has a passion for justice, a justice that always seems driven most of all by love. Her commitment to make Baltimore a more just place is manifest in her recent effort to document life in hypersegregated Black neighborhoods, in award-winning curricula and lesson plans for K-12 teachers, in Op-Ed columns, as a speaker at Baltimore March for Our Lives, and as a “Best of Baltimore” radio host on “Today with Dr. Kaye.”

In addition to her role as a faculty member in the Department of Communications, Kaye teaches in the African and African American Studies Program and is Founding Executive Director of The Emilie Frances Davis Center for Education, Research, and Culture. She is author of the multi-award-winning Notes from a Colored Girl: the Civil War Pocket Diaries of Emilie Frances Davis; Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post Racial America; and RaceBrave, a collection that showcases, among other things, her talent as a poet. Poetry, she writes, saved her life, and she uses it as a medium to call attention to the senseless suffering of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Grey, Sandra Bland, and so many others. She is a blessing to others and an exemplar of the prophetic imagination, grounded in love, hope and new possibility.

Collegium is much richer because of Kaye Whitehead’s commitment to its work. In recognition of the dedication she brings to teaching, scholarship, mentorship and public service, we are proud to present the 2019 Visionary Award to Karsonya Wise Whitehead.