Renford Reese is paying tribute to a friend and former colleague, the late Professor Emeritus Toni Mokjaetji Humber, by helping students in need.
The political science professor has gifted Cal Poly Pomona with a $25,000 “Black History Month” donation in memory of Humber, who taught courses on African American studies, Africa, and Black culture in the Department of Ethnic and Women’s Studies from 1995 to 2016. Humber died in 2023 after a battle with cancer.
The funds will be used to create the Dr. Toni-Mokjaetji Humber Memorial Book Scholarship, which will provide a $500 annual scholarship, $250 each semester, to 15 students to help cover books and other educational expenses. Reese wanted to recognize Humber’s contributions as both a scholar and mentor to students.
“As a friend, colleague and scholar, there is no one that I admired and respected more on this campus than Dr. Humber,” he said. “She embodied King’s ‘Beloved Community,’ which she created with her students and mentees at CPP.”
Reese recalled first meeting Humber when he arrived on campus in 1996. She came by his office dressed in Kente cloth, a Ghanian textile, and asked him what classes he taught.
“I told her that I would be teaching, ‘Introduction to American Government,’ and she abruptly interrupted me and asked, ‘How does a Black man teach American Government?’ I remember being caught off guard by the question and then responding, ‘The best way I can.’ She smiled and gave me a high-five while saying, ‘Go ahead, my brother.’”
That was the start of a long-lasting friendship, Reese said, adding that they would often compare notes about their respective trips to Africa.
This donation marks the second gift Reese has given the university in recent years. In 2022, he donated $100,000 to support study abroad programs. Reese believes in prioritizing philanthropy. He never spends more than $20 on a meal for himself, uses a flip phone with no data plan and wears mostly gear from CPP or the Prison Education Project, a program he founded. When he decided to establish the book scholarship in Humber’s name, he taught some extra course sections during the summer and winter sessions to help raise the funds. He encourages others to give what they can. Gifts large and small make a difference.
“If we are intentional, we can move mountains and transform lives,” he said.
Humber made an impact with her dedication to her students and campus. She was a part of several department committees. She also served on the Academic Senate, the International Center Advisory Committee and the Black Faculty and Staff Association. She was also involved in the McNair Scholars Program, the Black History Month Program Committee and the Cross-Cultural Retreats.
She introduced the annual Kings and Queens Pageant and Kwanzaa celebrations through her classes and worked closely with the campus’ Black Resource Center, Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education and Native American Student Center to integrate cultural programming. Humber also served as a faculty mentor for the Diversity Ambassador Program, which initiated and developed the annual trip to Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana to tour Underground Railroad sites.
“In my 28 years on this campus, I have never met a person with a more upbeat and radiant spirit,” Reese said. “She was electric. She lit up every room that she was in. She wore a million-dollar smile – and she smiled even when being critical of ‘the system.’ She had an unwavering and tireless commitment to social justice.”