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Mica Willis: Living the legacy

  • Mica Willis
    Mica Willis  The William & Mary sophomore's father and grandfather both attended the College.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Though Mica Willis '12 never met her grandfather, she feels especially connected to him when she walks across campus at William & Mary.

Hulon Willis, Sr. M.Ed. ’56, passed away exactly a year before Mica was born. He was a graduate of the College. He was also the first African-American to attend William & Mary. When she was accepted into William & Mary, Mica knew there was no other school for her.

“It’s surreal. Sometimes when I am walking through campus, I think about my grandfather and realize that I am walking the same paths he did,” said Mica, who is majoring in both government and sociology.

Mica is now the third generation of her family to attend William & Mary. Her father, Hulon Willis, Jr., was a member of the Class of 1977.

“I cannot imagine the hardships my grandfather faced as the only student of color,” she said. “With my father’s generation and mine, William & Mary has come a long way.”

This year marks the 59th anniversary of African-Americans being admitted into the College community. In recognition of Black History Month, William & Mary News online recently sat down with Mica to learn more about her family’s legacy at the College.

Mica comes from a family of educators and sees herself as a political and civil rights activist. In 2008, Mica was recognized as a key leader in the Teens for Clinton campaign in Washington D.C. that included over a thousand students.

“I am a strong supporter for education reform in the United States,” said Mica, whose aunts, father and grandfather were all educators.

Mica’s future goals are to make it to Capitol Hill and become the first African-American woman to serve as chief justice on the United States Supreme Court. She hopes to work as an attorney and advocate for better education policies to benefit inner-city schools across the country.

Along with Mica’s passion for civic change, she is a member of Pi Beta Phi Sorority, the surf club and does work with Pins for Africa and Operation Smile service organizations. Mica is also a poet and can be found playing guitar around campus as an avid lover of music.

She often thinks of the differences between the educational experiences between her time at William & Mary and the years her father and grandfather spent in Williamsburg. When Mica’s grandfather attended the College, blacks were not allowed to be served in Williamsburg restaurants.

“It is incredible to compare three generations of the African-American experience at William & Mary,” said Mica, adding that her grandfather was a strong advocate for social justice. One trait in particular that Mica feels she has inherited from her grandfather is courage.

“When I have to speak my mind, I speak it,” she explained. “I’m not afraid to speak out against inequality.”

Mica noted that her father is one of her many inspirations. He was an active member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity while at the College and was also dedicated to service and activism. Mica often compares notes with him about how W&M has changed.

“How much my dad loves William & Mary is how much I love William & Mary,” she said.

Mica feels very connected to her grandfather because of the lasting legacy he left on this campus. He was admitted into the College in the summer of 1951, and his admission paved the way for hundreds of students of color who sought to study at the College.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he received his Master’s degree in health and physical education and worked as an internationally known sensei throughout his life. He also founded the Southside Virginia Police Karate Association and taught as a professor of health and physical education for over thirty years.

Hulon Willis, Sr.  also worked on the security team for Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement.

An organization, the William & Mary Hulon Willis Association (HWA) was founded in his name. It promotes William & Mary as a place “where people of all backgrounds feel at home, where diversity is actively embraced, and where each individual takes responsibility for upholding the dignity of all members of the community.” The HWA holds annual events to recognize diversity at William & Mary.

Mica said she feels fortunate to have a connection to such important history at William & Mary.

“My grandfather had such a great impact on William & Mary and the community,” Mica said “Now, it’s my time to do it.”