LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Our second honoree for Black History Month is William Mayo, dean of Transportation and Applied Technology at SOWELA.
William grew up in a household with seven siblings, two boys and four girls. His mother was a maid/housekeeper for 40-plus years in Southwest Louisiana and his father was a brick machine operator.
Mayo recalls a time another kid asked him about his mother’s occupation. The kid said, “You’re not ashamed of that?”
“I remember looking up and thinking, ‘Wow! People think like that? Because if you’re able to be a nurse, a lawyer, a doctor, you need to thank a maid. Because it was a maid scrubbing somebody else’s floors to make it possible for you to go on to the next level.' ”
As a child, Mayo was diagnosed with a learning disability, which he still has it to this day. He repeated the first and fourth grade. Still, it never held him back.
Mayo graduated from Washington-Marion.
His mother encouraged him to attend a historically black college, although some told him he would never go to college.
“Grambling was the catalyst that opened up the door. So, once I finished, the world was my oyster.”
One of his sisters became a judge, another sister a chemical engineer, one sister retired from the plants, and the last worked in auditing. All of the Mayo children graduated from college.
After graduation, Mayo wanted to be one of the best social workers in the state. He started working at a place called Parenting and Substance Abuse.
He never knew he would become a dean.
“I wanted to do what God wanted me to do. I was on God’s mission,” Mayo said.
Mayo started working as director of Workforce Development. He’s now the dean of the School of Transportation and Applied Technology.
When he first started working at SOWELA in 2008, the college was still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Rita.
“Being black has been one of my best attributes because I can bring a perspective that some may not know,” said Mayo. “By helping the black students, I’m helping the white students, the Asian students.”
His favorite part of the job is the students.
“You get to see them at the end march across the stage with that accomplishment,” he said. "That is the best feeling you can ever have as an administrator. It’s an accomplishment that we are turning out a qualified workforce that is ready.”
Longtime friend Dr. Kathleen Bellow recognized Mayo’s relationship with his students. She’s known Mayo since he was a young boy.
“If you go to dinner with William, you can bet that three or four former students are gonna stop by the table and give him an update on what they’re doing and that they will thank him,” she said.
SOWELA offers summer camps, such as culinary camp, that allows students to learn.
“When those students left here, they went home and they could make mom and dad a gumbo,” Mayo said.
Also, SOWELA started a small business summit and a camp to go along with it.
Mayo said SOWELA tries to stay away from forcing students to use student loans to pay for school.
The school also offer job opportunities for the people of Southwest Louisiana.
May said he’s happy to take part in the positive things SOWELA is doing.
“I’ve overcome some obstacles," he said. "Some of them I’ve handled well, some of them I handled OK, and some of them I just failed at, but I keep trying.”
Mayo describes his job as advising students and getting them to where they’re happy.
“The worst thing in the world is do a job where you don’t want to be,” he said.
Mayo is also very passionate about getting young people to vote.
“Voting is a right that no one can take for granted,” Mayo said.
His mother and father were a part of the civil rights movement.
“My fondest memory is going to the polls at Eastwood School on Opelousas Street to vote with my parents," he said. "The race that Jimmy Carter was in. This a right people died to have, both black, white, and indifferent.”
As for the future, Mayo said, “God gives me my assignments. He comes in and tells me where I go next. I don’t know where the next assignment will be, but when it comes, I’m gonna be ready for it. And I hope to leave SOWELA better than where I found it.”
Mayo is expected to get his doctorate in May 2019. You can learn more about opportunities at SOWELA at sowela.edu.