From public housing to university president’s office
Sixty years ago, Ronald Carter was a child growing up without fanfare in the Daniel Brooks public housing community, not sure what his future would hold.
Today, the High Point native is a nationally recognized president of a leading college, directing a campus with 1,387 students and 103 full-time faculty as head of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. This fall, the 65-year-old administrator in higher education began his sixth year as president of the historically black college in Charlotte’s center city.
But Carter said it was his formative experiences as an adolescent and teenager in High Point that have allowed him to achieve in his chosen field. The guidance he received from his parents and other relatives, the teachers who taught him at High Point public schools and the adult mentors who gave him advice all shaped a young Carter into the man he’s become.
“I can say, without any hesitation, that my educational experiences at Griffin and William Penn gave me a vision of educational excellence,” Carter said, referring to his years as a student in High Point.
From the time he was in elementary school until he grasped his high school diploma, Carter said, he was driven by teachers who both supported and challenged him in the classroom.
“My teachers inspired me to embrace education as a persistent, moral striving,” Carter told The High Point Enterprise. “That gave me the foundation to move on to undergraduate school, to graduate school, with a passion for learning, researching and to take calculated risks. That led me to this position I’m in.”
Carter’s trajectory to the presidential office of a university began humbly enough with life in an apartment at the Daniel Brooks public housing community, where he was raised by his parents along with two sisters and a brother. He still has family in High Point whom he visits regularly.
“I was there last year, and I rode through Daniel Brooks just to do a walk through memory lane. That was just a great experience during those days,” he said.
As a child, Carter had ambitious goals, though he couldn’t envision a lifelong career in higher education that’s taken him to countries such as South Africa and Turkey. He thought he might become a local minister, teacher or funeral home director.
“I was looking at the role models in the community — that I could be like that. But I always sensed that I wanted to be in some kind of leadership role, no matter what I did,” he said.
High Point businessman and civic leader Bob Brown, who has known Carter since Carter was 12 years old and Brown was a college student, said Carter’s success doesn’t surprise him. Brown, who has served as a mentor to Carter through the decades, said Carter as an adolescent had an inquisitive mind and ability beyond his age for conversation.
They met when Brown, then a college student at North Carolina A&T State University, worked part-time at the Daniel Brooks recreation center. Carter lived just down the street from the recreation center and came in regularly with other children.
“He was always kind of studious. He wasn’t boisterous like some kids are. I was always encouraging him — he was a smart young man,” said Brown, president of B&C Associates of High Point.
Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey said Carter has made a difference in his adopted city in a relatively short period of time.
“Since his arrival in Charlotte five years ago, Dr. Carter has become one of our city’s most important civic leaders,” Kinsey said. “He has worked diligently to strengthen JCSU’s reputation and offerings, and gone beyond the college to fight for improvements on Charlotte’s West Side. Through his service on numerous boards across the city, he is deeply involved in community affairs, and we are grateful for all his efforts to make Charlotte a better place.”
Though he’s reached an age where he could retire, Carter said that he cherishes his role far too much to put that on his horizon.
“I have a long time ahead to work,” he said with a chuckle when asked about retirement. “I haven’t given that one thought.”
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Personal: Grew up in the Daniel Brooks public housing community in High Point; attended then-Griffin Middle School and the former William Penn High School; one of four children of Rosa “Lady” Carter and the late Talmadge Carter
Professional: Became the 13th president of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte on July 1, 2008; has spent more than 30 years in career of higher education; previously served as dean of students at Boston University, youngest dean of students in college’s history
Education: Earned bachelor of arts degree in sociology and philosophy from Morehouse College and master of theology and Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from Boston University
Honors: Was appointed Sloan Scholar at Morehouse College, Danforth Fellow at Boston University and Merrill Scholar at Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey; received the Newcomer of the Year Award from Leadership Charlotte in 2010 and the 2011 Charlotte Catalyst Humanitarian Award for his efforts in diversity and philanthropy