Like an excursion down a slow-moving river on a sometimes cloudy sometimes picturesque day, Crossing Learning Boundaries is a journey into the sometimes cheerless sometimes uplifting life and times of C. Z. Wilson. Throughout, he shares his insights, reflections, and accomplishments, not only about his own life but about the African Americans in and around his life, and he uses these views to make judgments and offer suggestions to black people to save them from themselves.
Charles Z. Wilson is obviously a man of considerable accomplishment: a Ph.D. in Economics in 1956 from the University of Illinois, (quite a feat in the days when black people still referred to themselves as Negro and Colored), graduate and post graduate studies with such notables as Franco Modigliani and Herbert Simon, (both Nobel Laureates in Economics), Marvin Frankel, James March, and Robert Eisner. Perhaps however, his highest achievement came in 1970 when he was appointed vice chancellor of academic programs at UCLA thus becoming the first black vice-chancellor in the University of California system. Then after leaving UCLA, Wilson became the owner for two years of The Wave, one of the largest black newspapers in the United States.
Occasionally Wilson takes on the voice of an uncle or grandfather sharing life lessons with his progeny, nonetheless he recounts events with an academician’s objectiveness, not only the significant occurrences but his reactions to them. There is a certain persistence and determination that characterize his strivings for success that also flavors the writing of this 413 page memoir. Also, the constancy and steadiness of reporting leads to a rather remarkable detailed recollection of people, conversations and stories about the important events in his life.
Throughout the book, one gets the sense of conscious decision making to learn more, make the best choices and thoroughly understand the people around him and the milieu in which he and they function.
Here and there, Wilson offers rather interesting personal insights into the lives of African Americans, e.g., his frustration,(and that of many middle class African Americans), in not being better able to help inner city families (even some of his own extended family), “shake the demons of four generations of segregation and poverty;” and when reflecting on living and socializing in black communities, the phenomenon of, “Black fraternities, sororities, and social clubs and professional circles still gave preferences to ‘light skin’ for black leadership roles,” two perspectives with which many black people can identify.
In the latter third of the book Wilson devotes considerable space to his time at UCLA, his appointment to vice chancellor, and his own efforts and those of various key university people (administrators, faculty and student leaders), and the university as a whole to grapple with the critical issues of the day, student activism and the inner cities’ crises of unemployment, poor housing, violence, health problems, and uneven educational opportunities.
However, it is in the last chapter that Wilson brings together all of his past learning and insights and offers sage advice to black people: “We must be entrepreneurial and relentless in our pursuit of problems,…. not be afraid to bring together our best and brightest talent… to forge new approaches to identifying and analyzing problems in inner-city black America… .the black church must become the leading advocate for change and improving the quality of social and economic life for black people… sponsor gifted-children workshops, tutorial workshops for working parents… To survive and grow means that we must embrace learning over a lifetime, ….every individual, family and organization in black America can make a contribution toward improving our lives through the aggressive pursuit of knowledge.”
Crossing Learning Boundaries is a book to study and reference not simply as the story of another black man’s trials and tribulations along the way to the top of the middle class, but it should be used as a guide and keel forothers wishing to row upstream to success against the tide of racial discrimination, poverty, inadequate secondary education, and fixed defined boundaries.