We Are HU Family
Faith Walton (B.A. ’69) hardly expected to meet her husband at a football game. It was her sophomore year at Howard, and she was in the stands with a girlfriend whose homeboy was a member of Omega Psi Phi. The ladies were sitting near the fraternity, when one of its members stood up.
“I remember Bert standing up in his [ROTC] uniform, turning around and preening,” Faith Walton McKeithen said. “I thought, ‘He’s so full of himself. He thinks he looks really, really good,’ which he did!”
As Bertram McKeithen Sr. (B.S. ’67) remembers it, their meeting was love at first sight.
“I happened to turn around, and I saw her and said, ‘Wow.’ That was it,” he recalled. “I introduced myself. I don’t know exactly what I said, but whatever it was, it worked.”
A chance meeting nearly 50 years ago was the beginning of a dynasty of sorts: The McKeithens, married for 46 years, are both graduates of Howard University, as are all three of their chil- dren. The family wears their shared status as Howardites as a tremendous mark of pride, and Bert and Faith’s romance unwittingly seduced their son and daughters into following in their footsteps.
Faith and Bertram both arrived on Howard’s campus and in the big city of Washington, D.C., from rural settings— she, from what is now Virginia Beach, Va., and he from Rocky Mount, N.C.
The couple met when Bert was a junior. Dates consisted of spending time at fellow classmates’ apartments in the city, going to the monuments, or hanging at The Punchout, bowling or playing cards.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, so you just did things that you could do,” Faith said. “A lot of time was spent studying, because you had to keep your grades up. So we studied together, too.”
Over the next year, the two fell in love. A year after Bert graduated, he proposed to Faith at her parents’ house over the holiday break during her senior year.
One month after Faith graduated, the couple married in Norfolk, Va. In November, Bert—who had entered the Army after graduation and was stationed nearby at Ft. Meade in Maryland—was sent to Vietnam.
Gone for a year, he said Faith wrote to him every day, and the couple also made tape recordings.
“That got me through. I still have the letters,” Bert said.
After the war, the young couple settled in Baltimore and started a family: A daughter, Piper, was born first; then a son, Bertram Jr.; and another daughter, Alison.
Faith began her career in education working as a speech pathologist—a career she stumbled into at Howard, after a pro- fessor encouraged her to pursue the field.
“It just really caught me, working in the speech lab. ... We worked with students who had speech difficulties,” she recalled. “The coursework did prepare me for what I have done in my career.”
Faith stayed home to raise her children for 13 years before going back to school to get a master’s degree in special education and technology. She taught for nearly three decades, including teaching special education for four years, before becoming a technology coordinator in the Baltimore school system. She retired in 2010.
Bert taught physical and biological sci- ence for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2009. He said his path to teaching was formed by his experiences at Howard.
“I never wanted to be an educator because (in my experience) the prevailing attitude was, ‘I got mine, you got yours to get.’ I worked hard not to be like that as a teacher,” Bert said. “At Howard, the student body was good at working together. I like that mentality, where if one makes it, everybody makes it. That was my approach as an educator.”
Though they both had fond memories of their alma mater—which they returned to over the years—neither of the McKeithens pushed the children to follow in their academic footsteps. Still, they consider the fact that they did very special.
“We still have friendships with people that we met at Howard, and that’s important,” Faith said. “I know of many African Americans who have gone to predominately white schools, and they don’t have ... that same closeness, the feeling of belonging. That’s why I wanted my children to go to an HBCU. We are very proud that our children decided to choose our alma mater.”
All three of Bertram and Faith McKeithen’s children are also graduates of Howard University. Below, they each reflect on their experiences and what it means for their family to share in the Howardite tradition:
Piper Faith McKeithen (B.A. ’96)
I remember looking through my parents’ yearbooks. We were very familiar with... their experience at Howard. That endeared me to the school because I knew about the importance of attending an HBCU. It instills a sense of confidence and pride, and there’s also a comfort level there.
Bertram McKeithen Jr. (B.B.A. ’99)
Piper going there had some influence. I helped move her in, and over the next two years that she was going there, before I applied to schools, I had gone up there a few times with my father. Being on cam- pus a few times, I was pretty much sold! It was just the atmosphere there.
When people ask me where I went to school, I always enjoy saying, “My whole family went to Howard.” I’m proud of it.
Alison Jo McKeithen (B.B.A. ’02)
I followed my brother and sister to every school since I was a child. For me, it was like, “Should I be the black sheep and not be a part of the crowd?” I got accepted to other schools, but I think it was a little bit of the fear of the unknown. I’d be the only one who didn’t have the Howard experience!
If there was no Howard University, there would be no us.
Hear the McKeithens tell their story