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Councilman Champions Change

An alumnus who has dedicated his career to public service is continuing the push for progress, this time as a top D.C. official.

Vincent C. Gray, BA ’64, was elected chairman of the D.C. Council last fall with a campaign to build “One City.” Gray, whose career in social services has spanned more than two decades, says he is committed to creating a District free of gender, age, race, or socioeconomic biases.

New D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray says GW helped prepare him for a career in advocacy and politics. GW was a “microcosm of the world in terms of adapting to racial and ethnic barriers,” Gray says about his education in the 1960s.

“It means recognizing the larger issues than just one’s self, one’s street, one’s neighborhood,” says Gray, a native Washingtonian. “We need to recognize our overall diversity as a city.”

Gray is used to breaking such barriers.

As a black man at a predominantly white university, Gray stood out at GW during the height of the civil rights movement with a dedication to academics and leadership. In the early 1960s, Gray became the first black member of a GW fraternity and later served as chancellor of Tau Epsilon Phi for two consecutive terms. He says the opportunity was an impetus for University-wide growth.

“There’s no question that the principal reason [for joining] was to bring an end to segregation at GW’s fraternities,” Gray says. “By the time I left the University, two other fraternities had opened their doors to minorities. But by no means were the flood gates opened.”

Racial and social barriers inside and outside the classroom led Gray to consider dropping out of GW more than once, he says.

But he didn’t give up.

A close mentorship with late GW psychology professor Eva Johnson kept him on track and eventually led him to his first job at the Association for Retarded Citizens after completing the clinical psychology program in 1964.

“When faced with difficult times, it’s easy to say it’s just the circumstances,” Gray says. “I knew that walking away from GW would be walking away from a challenge.”

Today Gray credits his college experience with preparing him academically and socially for a career in advocacy and politics. In addition to his employment with the ARC, Gray was appointed director of the Department of Human Services and, in 1994, co-founded the Covenant House, a youth services nonprofit organization. He continues to keep in touch with some of his fraternity brothers, he says, and has served as a D.C. Councilman since 2005.

As chairman, Gray draws from one of his most important lessons in life as he spells out priorities in education.

“I’ve learned,” Gray says, “that education is far larger than what happens in a building or a classroom.”

Jaime Ciavarra