Rashid Dilworth Silvera ’67 swept into Williston Academy as a postgrad football player ready to take the field for the Wildcats. A pre-season injury sidelined Mr. Silvera, but he forged friendships and a new path outside the locker room. After Williston, he became a man of “firsts:” among the first class of male students to attend Bennington College and among the first African American models on the cover of GQ magazine. He also attended Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Graduate School of Education. Mr. Silvera teaches psychology, race and ethnicity, and public policy at Scarsdale High School.
What teacher had the most impact on you?
His name was ‘Thugsy’ Thorner. This chap was out of a Dickens’ novel. He had the little tweed coat that was crusted with meals from months past. This guy and I liked one another immediately. I was on crutches because I had been hurt in the pre-season. This little ogre, this mean little twisted-nose chap, comes to the door, takes my books and ushers me into class. Do you know what a tender moment that was? And then I wanted to work for him. People may have not seen the cool in him. I thought this cat was completely cool.
What was it like to be one of only three people of color on campus?
I was patently aware that there weren’t many people of color. That was a visual reality. But it didn’t dampen my spirit about what the school could do for me or perhaps what I could contribute to the student body. I did begin to realize that not everyone was ready for a bright brown person everywhere. It was a violation of people’s expectations. I learned to calm myself down. At Williston, as much as I think I grew, I think I realized that not everyone could be as happy about me as I could be about them.
What type of student were you?
I was a connector. I wanted to take one hand and open the other. In the hand that I took, I’d become a part of a chain. I ended up at the Harvard Divinity School. It’s like, ‘Oh, of course he would end up going to divinity school. He’d been rehearsing all of his life.’ I wanted to find good and praise it.
What do you remember was going on in the world while you were at Williston?
Big stuff. Vietnam. Cities were burning. There was the killing of Malcolm X, Dr. King. Everything was turning and churning. The music was telling us, what the Rolling Stones were saying, what Motown was saying, what Marvin Gaye was saying: ‘Listen up. What’s going on?’ Everybody was beginning to take a different and new look at life.
What fashion statement were you making in 1967?
I was a preppy. In that way, a brother fit in. If you could see some of these pictures of me wearing an argyle sweater and a herring bone jacket and a nice red tartan tie. I’m so insouciant. The clothes aren’t wearing me.