“I was literally born at the end of a cotton row on Wallace Sills’ farm. My midwife’s (last) name was Willis. That’s where I got my name. This was told to me by my mother.” — Dr. Willis B. McLeod
By LISA FARMER Managing Editor
Dunn native and former Fayetteville State University Chancellor Dr. Willis McLeod will be the guest speaker at the inaugural All America City Coming Together in Love event Thursday night.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Dr. McLeod said.
The event will be held at The Love Center located at 345 Jackson Road in Dunn. Although it is being hosted by The Love Center, which is a church, it is an all-inclusive community event which aims to bring all races, denominations and people from all social economic status together in love. It starts at 7 p.m.
Other speakers include Dunn Mayor Oscar Harris and Dunn Police Chief Chuck West. The Harnett Primary School Chorus and Miss Dunn Elissa Tew will perform.
Dr. McLeod, who is now in Fayetteville, is most noted for the eight years he served as chancellor of his alma mater, Fayetteville State University. During his tenure in sports the school won 17 CIAA championships. And in academics, FSU was No. 2 in the nation for producing the most African-American graduates with master’s degrees.
Dr. McLeod was born in rural Sampson County just outside Dunn.
“I was literally born at the end of a cotton row on Wallace Sills’ farm. My midwife’s (last) name was Willis. That’s where I got my name. This was told to me by my mother,” Dr. McLeod said.
Dr. McLeod said she might have exaggerated and she could have gone into labor while picking cotton and maybe made it inside before he was born, but that was not what he was told by his mother.
He said just Sunday he was in Dunn visiting his cousin he considers a sister because they were both only children. He was riding around northern Sampson County.
“The house I grew up in no longer exits,” he said. What still exists is Mingo Hill Church where his mother attended.
“We moved to Dunn when I was about 4,” he said.
Dr. McLeod grew up working in tobacco and cotton fields and as a paperboy at The Daily Record and went on to flourish into one of the most effective college administrators in the country. He graduated from the all-black Harnett High School.
Prior to his hiring as FSU president, he spent 30 years in public education; the last position as a school superintendent in Columbia, S.C.
In a 2003 interview with The Daily Record after Dr. McLeod left FSU, he credited Dunn businessman Walter Dafford and Harnett County Schools educator Curtis Ray as mentors for him.
“I was blessed to have access to free education. And though segregated, the education did not lack in quality. I listened to those who had been there, developed my goals, planned my life around those goals and did not allow myself to fall off track as I worked at those goals,” he said in that interview.
Several years ago for his contributions to his alma mater, Bronco Residence Hall was named in honor of Chancellor Emeritus Dr. McLeod. Dr. McLeod was the first alumnus to serve as chancellor of FSU.
Since leaving FSU, Dr. McLeod said he did some work in education, but now does work for his church, he’s part of a special ministry working with youth, lectures at FSU and travels.
Dr. Anthony Haire, assistant to the pastor at The Love Center, has been leading the initiative behind All America City Coming Together in Love.
“Thursday evening is an opportunity to pull a diverse people together. We all want the same thing ... and we want to do that in love,” Dr. Haire said.
“This is a community thing. Communities are made up of the same thing the world is made of. We are all one nation and we all have abilities and capacities. We want to see how much alike we really are,” he said.
“When we come together, people see how great they really are. You can’t do it by yourself. We weren’t created to do it by ourselves. It’s greater than you,” Dr. Haire said.
“We would love for it to become something of an annual event,” he said.
He said church is the gas the soul needs to do work in the community.
“It’s getting out in the community, touching the lives who have a need, those who have never experienced unconditional love.
“We want to encourage everyone to come out because you will see yourself in the faces of others,” Dr. Haire said.