Biography of Colston Richard Westbrook

Shared on 15th September 2012

Remembering the life of our Beloved Colston Richard Westbrook 1937-1989
Dean of Students, Contra Costa College San Pablo, California 1978-1989

Biography

Colston Richard Westbrook, MA, PhD in abstentia, University of California, Berkeley, Linguistics Professor, Noted Scholar, Dean of Evening Instruction at Contra Costa College, Researcher, Owner of Minority Consultants, Educational Consultants in Berkeley California.

Professor of English, Linguistics, African American Studies, Humanities at Contra Costa College, and the University of California, Berkeley, a walking encyclopedia, path-finder, researcher, scholar in the fields of minority education and literacy, and one of the leading Linguists, Educational and Literacy Scholars in the world, died of cancer at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland on August 3, 1989 at a tender age of  was 51.

The Native of Chambersburg Pennsylvania,  Colston was born to Sgt. Edward Cody Westbrook and Mrs Virginia Colston Westbrook. He had 4 siblings namely; Cody Westbrook, Naomi Westbrook Martinez, Diane Hill, Tanya Hill. His father fought patriotically and died honorably for the US Army in World War 11 in Germany, while his mother was a housewife, who held various jobs to raise their  children. 

Colston had an infectious enthusiasm for life; he was energetic and compassionate, he loved his children, family and friends, he loved to help others.  He attended Chambersburg Primary and Highschools and graduated with Honors in 1955.  After he graduated, he and his elder brother Cody, travelled by Greyhound bus from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania,  to Richmond, California to live with their grandmother, Mrs Elisa Colston.      Colston attended Contra Costa College, in San Pablo, California where he excelled and was an honors student.  He was elected student Ambassador, to represent Contra Costa College, based on President Eisenhower's People to People program.  He represent Contra Costa College in Rome, Italy.  He spoke Italian fluently, he had excellent Italian instructors at Contra Costa College.

Early on Colston had a love of languages and he was good at learning languages. He spoke 7 l;anguages and he loved to travel and exprerience various cultures.. 

He followed his brother's footsteps and joined the Army/Airforce  and worked at Travis Airforce Base, in California, from there he was deploid to Korea, and then to Vietnam.  He was honorably discharged in 1967 and then he worked as a civilian with Pacific Architects and Engineers and later on he went to Japan as a civilian to teach English at the International Christian University in Tokyo. 

Colston returned to the United States and enrolled as a student in the linguistics department at the University of California at Berkeley, from 1968.  He was fascinated with the scientific study of languages, all he had to do was hear the structure of a language and he would analyze the way the language functioned.  Colston was an ardent student.  He spoke and wrote Korean, Japanese, Italian, German, French, and English fluently, we studied Swahili, in Berkeley with Bwana Kaaya, from Tanzania.  He understood and had a working knowledge on  Bakweri. 

He enjoyed traveling and was curious about the world and Africa in particular.   As an African American, he was curious about his heritage and so he made friends easily.  While in Japan, he had a friend from Cameroon named Steven Mbandi, who invited him to visit Cameroon.

During his visit, to Cameroon, he met and fell in love and married his wife Eposi Mary Ngomba, a Bakweri speaking girl from Buea Cameroon. They were blessed with 4 wonderful children, namely; Ngeke Colston Westbrook, Enjema Diane Westbrook, Nalova Elaine Westbrook, and Menyoli Cody Gerard  Westbrook. They lived in California.

His theories on the continuum of  Afican-American linguistics and his extensive study of the dialect of African Americans brought to light documentation of how Black Students learn within the urban context.  He did extensive work on Teacher Training to sensitize urban teachers on the plight of African Americans and to educate teachers on how black children have to switch codes to successfully teach black children to succeed academically and socially across environments. 

Colston lectured extensively across the United States, Cameroon, Africa, at the Pan African Institute in Buea, Yaounde University, Japan, France and Rome in Italy, using a chronological approach to teaching teachers to teach black students and other ethnicities.  He worked closely with Black students and  other scholars and professionals in psychology, education, the humanities and the social sciences, one of his collaborators was the renowned Psychologist, Dr. Alvin Pouissant.  They collaborated on workshops and conferences to inform the public of  the dual standards that black students must attain by switching codes from their neighborhoods to the school environment and vise versa. 

“In every article on the subject of minority education, inevitably there are references to Colston’s work,” “He devoted his life to the study of a very difficult problem—differential educational achievement among minority populations in the United States,” “He pursued this issue from a wide variety of standpoints, he created curriculums that were adopted in many school districts in Alameda, Contra Costa and other Districts around the United States.

At the heart of his work was the way Colston believed that all students have the capacity to learn.  He believed that if students were given the opportunity to learn, based on their cultural attributes, they would excel like any other groups of students.  He understood the barriers that stood in the way of black student achievement, and his life quest was to narrow that gap. 

He observed African students from the continent  of Africa, and how they forged ahead, dispite the miriads of problems that confronted them.  He asserted that most African Students worked in  groups, they did not work in isolation, therefore they drew strength from one another.  Whereas , there was an emphasis among African American students to work in isolation, causing them to feel detached from the mainstream education system.

During one of Colston's extensivel travels to Africa, Asia and Europe in addition being a student ambassador, to Italy from Contra Costa College he was a Full Bright Scholar to La Sobourne France, representing UC Berkeley.  His experiences  gave him great insights as to the level of respect that Black Americans received when they were out of the United States.  He also learned that the barriers that Black Americans  faced could be conquered through education.  This is the core of his belief.  "No one can take away your education" he always said.

In the 1970's and early 1980’s, Colston organized conferences across the nation with other notable black scholars such as Dr. Alvin Poussant, Dr.  John Ogbu, Dr. H. Eugene Farlough, Pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond, California, Mr. David Romain, Rev. Hertzfeld of the Oakland Lutheran Church, Rev. Thomson of the Berkeley Baptist Mount Zion Church----to bring to the forefront the plight of Black Student education and to create models for teachers to be trained to teach black children by understanding the dialectic differences that exist between standard American English and non-standard Black American English.  He played a prominent role in showing that black American  English retains a chronological continuum of African languages especially languages on the West Coast of Africa.  His Master's Thesis, the dual  linguistic heritage of Afro-Americans, 1975 illustrates this continuum theory.

His analysis stressed beliefs held about “standard”  English and the dichotomy that requires that Black students switch codes to adapt to the classroom from their homes to the school environment.  Sometimes, they found that school environments were hostile to their livestyles which resulted in conflicts due to mixed cues resulting to constant anxiety for black students.

He further exerted that if teachers understood the structure of Non Standard Black  English, spoken at home and out of school, that would be the key to unlocking the communication gap that exist between the Black community and their achievement in school. Colston's work has been used as the framework for other scholars to emulate in education, anthropology, sociology, sociolinguistics and Literacy of education.

Colston dared to document and make educators accountable for the success of Black American students.  He owned Minortiy Consultants, an education consultant firm in Berkeley, California, which was responsible for acculturating many immigrants such as Haitian, Ethiopian, Somalian and Vietnamese Refugees into the United States.  He helped students from other African countries, namely, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa
and the Caribbean.  He wrote and received grants from the State of California to put seminars together, coordinate refugee, programs for Haitians, African and Vietnamese Refugee groups from Somalia, Ethiopia and taught them how to acculturate these groups to the American society.  Colston worked tirelessly to collaborate with churches, community groups, such as the Neighborhood House in North Richmond, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church, Glyde Memorial and other institutions in the North Bay Area of California.  He collaborated with these community groups to set up literacy centers in Berkeley and Richmond.  He believed that literacy was the key to narrow the gap and eradicate poverty and dispair from many in the Black and minority communities. 

Colston was close to the African-American and the Cameroonian community in the Bay Area.  As a student in Berkeley, he was  President of  the Pan African Student Union in Berkeley, for two consecutive terms.  His views on equity and justice created controversy. 

As a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the 1970-80s he and a group of Black Students started a project to teach black prisoners literacy skills in the California Prison System, so that when black and other minority prisoners were released from these institutions, they would have the skills necessary to adjust to the larger community, thereby increasing their chances to succeed in the larger society.  He was alarmed at the disproportionate amount of Black men in the Prison System in America. 

At first the project was very successful, later on some hippies became interested in the project.  The reasons for the hippies going to visit prisoners was different from what Colston and his colleagues wanted to achieve for the prisoners.  The hippies started a clandestine movement to undermine the efforts of Colston and his colleagues of the Black Culture Association. 

The hippy movment split to form the conflict that led to the Symbionese Liberation Army.  These hippie movement targeted Colston, Markus Foster and other Black intelligencia and labelled them as Black boujoise,  they announced in the media a death warrant against black men who were considered not (militant enough).  These hippies questioned, how  a black man could be so intelligent, know so many languages and speak so eloquently, they thought that he has to be a CIA Agent. 

 Although, there are many intelligent black men who come from Pennsylvania and other eastern states who received an excellent education, since Colston did not speak like a street ganster, he did not fit into the stereo type image that many hippies had of black men., many of these infiltrators could not fathom how Colston Westbrook could be such an intelligent man, have access to so many resources, they concluded that he had to be a CIA agent to do such things.  Colston was never in the CIA he was a scholar,  and he enjoyed teaching,  collaborating with other community workers to make life better for blacks and others who wanted to lift the standards of their lives out of misery and poverty, ignorance and dispair, which is so prevalent in many urban communities in the United States of America.

Colston’s contribution to minority education has been recognized in numerous ways. Throughout his life, he was invited as keynote speaker  in various linguistic, educational and socio/cultural institutions.  In 1980, he was invited to be a keynote speaker at the National Conference of Linguistics at UC Santa Cruz.  He was invited to attend the Cameroon Student Union of the USA in Washington DC in 1976 to speak on student achievement in the United States. 

Colston received numerous awards. In 1970 he received first place award in the Japanese language competitiont in Japan Town.   American Educational Research Association’s Research Contribution to Education Award, which was given “to honor a meritorious contributor to educational research; its purpose is to publicize, motivate, encourage, and suggest models for educational research at its best.”  He was awarded exemplary teacher of the year at Contra Costa College and at the Neighborhood House.  A few other honors include: Distinguished Achievement Award, Kiwanis Club; Alumni Distinguished Scholar, UC Berkeley; and Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

An avid researcher, Colston published several articles and chapters in books, motivational tapes, his writings translated into French,  Japanese, Italian,  Spanish, and German. He was a frequent lecturer and interview subject around the world.  He was also a Distinguished Visiting Scholar to numerous universities nationally and worldwide. He was consultant and board member to many school districts.  Colston ran for the position of school board member for the Albany Unified School District in 1982.  He organized government select committees, policy workgroups, and commissions on education, minority education, race, and employment.  He received several grants from different foundations, such as The Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, The Rockefeller, Foundation, National Institute of Health, California Department of Education, and a number of other foundations and institutions.

Many referred to Colston as a walking encyclopedia, he had an unncanny ability to learn languages, he was warm, caring and a true humanitarian.  He knew where the resources were and he was never hesitant to share these resources with others.  His company, located on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley was " Minority Consultants" "Anyone can be a Minority"  was created to consolidate and assist Africans and African Americans in the diaspora with the resources that they needed. To educated the masses about how African Americans learn, also to assist immigrants on how to adjust to the American society.  

Colston and his family attended and were members of  Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond California headed by the Reverend Dr. H. Eugene Farlough.  Colston and his family grew with the belief that each person had a responsibility to give back to their community.  The family did volunteer work with various institutions of education and in the prisons. 

Since 1968, Colston has been closely associated with U.C. Berkeley. He earned his Associate Degree from Contra Costa College, San Pablo, California, a B.A. in linguistics from UC Berkeley,  a Masters degree, and his PhD, in the Language and Literacy Department, from University of California Berkeley. .He worked as teaching assistant at the Afro-American and the Linguistic Departments,  he taught English for the Alameda County Unified School District in Alameda, California.   He became full time instructor at Contra Costa College in 1975 and as Dean of Student services in 1978 until his untimely death in 1989. 

Colston’s compassion and warmth guided all of his intellectual and personal relationships and work. He didn’t avoid the controversial questions but always brought a fresh comparative perspective to the answers he sought. He will be missed as a scholar, but also as a mentor and a friend,”  A scholarship award  in Colston's name was set up by his family and friends at Contra Costa College to encourage educational excellence of Black Students in America and around the world.

Other than Linguistics, his passions included teaching, travelling, he always had a heart for the underdog.  His slogan was, give me your incorrigibles, your hard to teach and I will turn them around and he did.  He enjoyed beautiful music and he had a great voice,  he played many musical instruments including the saxophone which was his uncle Gordon's instrument.  His laughter was contagious and his personality lit up everywhere he went. He loved his family; which consisted of,  siblings, wife and children, he played tennis, loved to cook,  remained active with the African American and Cameroonian communities in the U.S. and in Africa, and enjoyed dancing with his family.   He was a Pan-Africanist.  His oratorical skills were unsurpassed and he was a guest speaker at many educational and social gatherings locally in California, around the nation and internationally.

Colston is survived by his wife, Eposi M. Ngomba-Westbrook Tokeson of California; children; Ngeke Colston Westbrook,  Enjema Diane Westbrook, Nalova Elaine Westbrook, and Menyoli Cody Westbrook; all residents of California.  After his death, his family grew he has five grandchildren, Kreshona Westbrook, Naveah Westbrook, Nia Eposi Hudson, Nikaela Nduma Hudson, Nailah  Hudson.  He is also survived by his sisters, Mrs. Naomi Westbrook Martinez of California, Ms. Diane Hill,  Ms. Tanya Hill of Chambersburg, and their children.  His brothers in law; Dr. & Mrs.  Mbella Ngomba Maija, Mr. Daniel Menyoli of blessed memory and his family, Sisters-in-law: Mrs. Martha Enjema Noah and family, Mrs. Marian Mojoko Kayode and family,  Mrs. Joan Nduma Enem and family, Mrs. Sarah Ewokolo Sako and family . He is also survived by many nieces, nephews, cousins and a host of extended relatives in the U.S. and in Cameroon. His students and colleagues continue to talk about him.  Colston's love, warmth, and life will never be forgotten.   

A Colston Richard Westbrook Memorial was set up at Contra Costa College to award scholarships to students of African American Descent who want to pursue their education but have a financial need.


We are grateful for family and friends, members of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church, who have supported us through the years, for the outpouring of love and sympathy during the time of Colston's illness and his passing to glory, to be with our heavenly father. May the almighty God continue to reward all of you with His infinite love and blessings.

    The Colston Richard Westbrook Family Memorial 2012