Activist Professor Empowers Student

After sitting in numerous jails for civil rights, working in the Pentagon and returning from two Vietnam War tours, Charles Ervin Jr. is still impacting lives. Ervin is a professor at Florida A&M in the College of Education, where he was chosen as “Teacher of the Year” for 2005 – 2006.

Ervin was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist for two consecutive terms to the board of directors for the Florida Fund for the Minority Teachers Foundation.

He is also vice president of the board of directors for the Big Bend Homeless Coalition.

“Dr. Ervin was the first to really open my eyes about culture in the classrooms,” said former student Joseph Mclemore, a 4th grade teacher at Bond Elementary School. “He prepared me for education as a male.”

Sheena Thomas, 22, a senior English student from Miami, agreed, and added that his mentorship extends beyond merely the classroom.

“One thing I admire about Dr. Ervin is that he is very knowledgeable and can carry on a conversation about anything or any topic,” Thomas said. “He’s just smart like that.”

Ervin was born in a small town in Western North Carolina and was the first in his family to attend college.

While in school to obtain his Bachelor of Science in sociology at North Carolina A&T State University in the early 1960s, Ervin had two purposes: finishing school and fighting for civil rights.

“Several times I was jailed for attempting to integrate the movie theaters, local lunch counters and restaurants,” said Ervin. “Our goal was to weigh the financial system down in the segregated city because each time they jailed us, it would cost them.”

He reminisced about his experiences with student leaders on campus, including working with Jesse Jackson, renowned civil rights activist, who was student body president at the time.

“I remember Jesse would often tell us to bring our tooth brush to school when he would say that we knew he had something for us to do and we would not be going back home that night,” said Ervin.

After graduating from North Carolina A&T, Ervin joined the U.S. Army. He specialized in infantry, and later became a lieutenant colonel and battalion executive officer during his two tours in Vietnam.

“It was like the jungle out there,” Ervin said of his military experience. “We would hear tribes of monkeys coming down through the bushes; it would sound like rain. Vines were everywhere, the temperature was very hot and the smell out there was that of human waste.”

May 5, 1967, stands out to him as one of the most memorable days during his first Vietnam tour.

“I was standing on a rice patty dike and as I started to walk away I stepped in a booby trap,” said Ervin. “With that first step there was an explosion, instantaneous pain, and I went flying through the air. When I landed, all I remember hearing was gunshots.”

Shrapnel was lodged in Ervin’s right ankle, and he was also shot in the right leg. He vaguely remembers being airlifted to a hospital where he spent almost four weeks recovering.

His worst experience during the Vietnam War, however, happened on Nov. 30.

“My 26th birthday was the one day when I had the greatest loss of members in my unit as a company commander,” said Ervin. “I lost 11 people. So, for a number of years, I just kind of put that birthday out of my mind.”

During Ervin’s military career, he and his family visited and lived in several different countries.

His family includes two sons Rev. Charles P. Ervin III and Todd Ervin, and one daughter, Eunice Anita Ervin.

After leaving the military, he attended Central Michigan University, where he graduated with a Master of Arts degree in personnel management. He later received a Ph.D. in social foundations of education from Georgia State University.

Outside of teaching, Ervin is a certified chef, enjoys marathon running and is fluent in Korean. Despite his multi-faceted interests, Ervin said teaching always takes first priority.

“One of my favorite things about teaching is seeing my students graduate,” said Ervin.

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