On a January evening, Silas Garrison ’20 stood before 150 people at Meadville’s 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and Fellowship Dinner, captivating them as he expounded on five of Dr. King’s quotes. Garrison, a broad-shouldered football player, spoke at the annual event with a practiced ease that seemed at odds with his youth.
Darnell Epps, assistant director of Allegheny’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEAS) Center, suggested Garrison speak at the dinner because of the first-year student’s “great promise and endless potential to change the world for the better.” Epps was also struck by the expansiveness of Garrison’s vision, by “his ability to build bridges between diverse groups of people while helping them find common ground.”
Others have recognized Garrison’s strengths. The first was his grandfather, a church pastor and later a traveling pastor. Garrison characterized his grandfather, who died last year, as “stern, strict and fair” and credits him with his speaking skills. “My upbringing was the absolute reason why I was able to do it,” Garrison said. “It starts at home, seeing him speaking at different churches.”
Garrison also spent four years under the aegis of another inspirational speaker: Joe Pargano, his high school football coach. “He could motivate anyone; see someone (who) needed that spirit brought up, and always had the right thing to say,” Garrison said of his coach.
Garrison’s love for football and his intellect carried him to Allegheny College, with initial plans of becoming a teacher. He also chose Allegheny because he felt an affinity for the college’s tradition. Tradition is important to Garrison. His grandparents, who live in DePew, New York, a suburb 15 miles east of Buffalo, infused in Garrison a “powerful sense of tradition,” rearing him in the overlapping spheres of the church, school and football.
During his first semester at Allegheny, Garrison took a philosophy class with Associate Professor Steven Farrelly-Jackson and found the class, as well as the professor, exhilarating. Said Garrison of Farrelly-Jackson: “He doesn’t make himself seem important, but you know he is, and so does everyone else.”
Apparently it was a meeting of minds. “I was immensely impressed with the quality, energy and depth of his thinking,” Farrelly-Jackson said of Garrison. “He seems to have the ability to cut to the real heart of an issue. He has genuine intellectual integrity; he doesn’t try to impress; he tries to get to the/a truth about an issue.”
Garrison also took a course in multicultural education with Heather Moore, assistant professor of community and justice studies. In 2016 she spoke with impressive verve at the MLK dinner. “Professor Moore might be the biggest role model I have on campus,” Garrison said. “I heard her speak so many times; if I could implement anything from the ways she does it, I would.”
Moore noted how receptive Garrison was to new ideas. At the end of his first semester, he confided to her that he didn’t want to be a teacher anymore. “I tried to fight it, but I’m starting to realize I want to do activism work,” Garrison told Moore. “That’s going to be my career goal.”
Moore thinks Garrison certainly can do that work. “He listens and responds,” she said. “He has the ability to accept constructive criticism. That will make him a better community worker.”
Allegheny Head Football Coach B.J. Hammer also has seen Garrison’s determination and drive. Garrison had a solid first season as a Gator, contributing as a backup in the defensive backfield and on special teams. And Hammer said Garrison is looking to be a three- year starter beginning next season and a key figure in the program’s continued growth.
“He has done a great job in the offseason to really improve him- self physically with his work in the weight room,” Hammer said of Garrison. “He’s continued to do a good job in the classroom, and he’s the perfect example of everything a student-athlete at Allegheny College should be.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Allegheny magazine.