Clyde Mayfield, RIP

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By Dan Ebener

When Clyde Mayfield arrived on the St. Ambrose College campus in Davenport in the early 1970s, he was a rebellious Black activist who wanted to conquer the world. He had a history of getting into trouble. In fact, he had “done time” as a juvenile delinquent and had been kicked out of school multiple times.

Fast forward to 2020, and you find a giant of a man who people describe as gentle, loving, respectful, the friendliest person you could ever meet. Involved in the schools, his church, civil rights, and neighborhood organizations. Volun­teering huge amounts of time with kids. Serving on several nonprofit boards. Coaching wrestling. Teaching parenting skills. Retired firefighter. Owner and operator, with his wife Julie, of Greatest Grains on Earth (until recently).

What happened over that span of 50 years is a long story, but St. Ambrose College played a major role in Clyde’s life and legacy. In fact, he flunked out of St. Ambrose at one point, but some faculty worked hard with Clyde to turn his “F’s” into “A’s.” Then, a few years ago, he was welcomed back to SAU to receive an honorary doctorate and to give the commencement speech.

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I met Clyde in 1971 when I was a seminarian at St. Ambrose, at a time when the seminary was a hotbed of social activism. Clyde never could figure out the celibacy part of seminary life, but he was definitely drawn to our commitment to faith and justice. After college, he chose to move into inner city Davenport with a group of mostly former seminarians who wanted to change the world as Dorothy Day prescribed — by living and working among the poor.

Our long and often heated discussions about poverty, war and injustice, which would usually continue late into the night, transformed all of us. Over the years, Clyde became involved in every kind of struggle for justice. He was an early leader in Quad Cities Interfaith. He was a board member with the NAACP. He was trained in community organizing by the Gamaliel Foundation. He used those skills to take on more leadership roles in the community.

Throughout the years, Clyde’s focus was always on kids. He loved to tell stories about his own youth and his rebellious ways. He became a mentor, coach, and role model for thousands of kids, mostly from the inner city. He was passionate about reading. The bottom line for Clyde was that every child should be treated with dignity and afforded the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Clyde has died at a key moment in the struggle for justice, some would say a Kairos moment. Like Father Marv Mottet, he asked me to give his eulogy, and reminded me often of things to say. The gist of it was to “carry on”: live with love in our hearts and be willing to fight the good fight. Conquer the world by keeping alive the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

(Dan Ebener is the director of parish planning for the Diocese of Davenport.)


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