By Leo Cabral
A silence befell the Riverside City College Quadrangle, something out of character for a usually-bustling college campus.
A solemn crowd of over 60 faculty, staff and friends of Oliver Thompson, former criminal justice instructor, gathered in the Quad to collectively celebrate his life and legacy May 26. The intimate function was made possible by the Black Faculty and Staff Association.
The celebration of life opened with Kristi Woods, dean of Instruction, Languages, Humanities and Social Sciences, following African tradition and asking the elders present for permission to speak.
Woods and Miguel Reid, English instructor, commenced a libation ceremony with Riverside Community College District Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac’s permission. Pouring the libation is a ritual performed in remembrance of ancestors on special occasions.
A brief memorial video brought some viewers to tears. The video was filled with several snapshots of Thompson’s life and testimonials of his influence on friends, colleagues and former students.
Many at the service shared memories of Thompson and how he impacted their lives.
“He lived a life remarkably dedicated to education,” Isaac said. “During his career at Riverside Community College District, he became a beloved friend and mentor not only to students but also to faculty to staff and administrators alike.”
Many alluded to his dedication to student equity and justice. Some remarked that Thompson was much like a father figure, and everyone said they would miss him dearly.
“Oliver was my ride or die at RCC,” Woods said. “We tag teamed in meetings, on committees, discussions, programs, initiatives. We worked together to consistently remind the college of the data …Oliver would say, ‘We’ve been looking at these data for 20 years. What are we going to do about it?’”
The celebration of life’s climax was a eulogy delivered by Edward “Ed” Bush, president at Cosumnes River College and former RCC Student Services vice president. His eulogy evoked an array of emotions from attendees.
“We might not have a physical structure to memorialize Dr. Thompson but I submit that your presence today represents something more powerful than any structure could do,” Bush said. “In fact, you are the structures that memorialize Dr. Thompson’s legacy. It is through your work, your commitment, your spirit, your energy, your fight for justice that would keep him alive on this side of creation.”
The celebration concluded with Thompson’s wife Christine offering thanks and closing remarks.
“I want to thank you for just taking Oliver in,” she said. “You don’t know but you loved on him. You really loved on him. And everything that he did, he did wholeheartedly.”