Manassas Journal Messenger 2/09/01



impact – Ordinary lives, extraordinary people


Emily Kuhl



Before changing the face of modern geometry, mathematician Blaise Pascal

suggested that, “The strength of a man’s virtue must not be measured

by his efforts, but by his ordinary life.”

In honor of Black History Month, the Manassas Journal Messenger profiled

four local residents – an author, a judge, a principal and a pastor – whose

ordinary lives are defined by determination, strength and achievement. Each

of these people reach out to society and give back to their community.

Gloria F. Jackson

Principal, Weems Elementary School; Manassas

Quote: “There’s always room for important things, and much

to learn in this world.”

Learn to be respectful. Study hard and apply yourself. Be honest.

They are simple rules to live by, and as Gloria F. Jackson discovered,

the recipe for success.

Jackson, a native of Flint Hill, has been passing that message on to

students, colleagues and just about anyone who will listen since she graduated

from Virginia Union University. Now the principal at Weems Elementary School

in Manassas, Jackson spent several years as a teacher in Prince William

County before breaking into administration in 1977.

“I’ve had so much support here from Manassas and the Superintendent,

from the school board, and from the community and from parents,” she

said, smiling. “When you have all these elements together, you have

no where to go but up.”

Call her ascent a force of will. Jackson studied in a one-room school

house until sixth grade, when she moved to a two-room school house. She

boarded the bus at 7 a.m. to attend high school in Culpeper because the

local high school was not integrated. Heeding advice from her parents, she

studied hard and applied herself. She was rewarded with a bachelor’s in

elementary education, a master’s in guidance and counseling and a degree

in administration.

“Education is very important because, really, what can you do without

it?” she said. Jackson said she relishes her role as principal, but

misses being in the classroom as a teacher.

The best thing about being an educator, she said, is seeing kids who

struggled finally achieve success. She plans to continue to advise and inspire

as many children as possible – with no where to go but up.

The Rev. Dr. Luke Torian

Pastor, First Mount Zion Baptist; Dumfries

Quote: “I tell people, maximize your faith. God has a wealth

of opportunities he wants you and I exposed to, but if you don’t time with

him, you’ll never know.”

The Rev. Dr. Luke E. Torian is good at golf, and he doesn’t mind flashing

a sly grin and telling you so.

It’s not arrogance, but pride – a characteristic he takes seriously,

both with golf and with his work as pastor at First Mount Zion Baptist Church

in Dumfries. Torian is proud of his faith, and said he makes no apologies

for it.

“I tell people all the time, I have the best job in the world,”

he said of his job at the church. “I’ve been here for almost six years,

and each day reaffirms to me what a special place this is.”

Torian came to Dumfries by way of Roxboro, N.C., where he grew up. He

attended Winston-Salem State University, followed by seminary school. By

age 27, he had his master’s and a doctorate – an extensive education that

also gives him much pride.

“When I was an undergraduate at Winston-Salem State University,

Dr. Cleveland Williams was the chair of the political science department.

And he once told me, he said, ‘Luke, go to school while you’re poor,’ ”

he said, laughing. “You cannot have a lot of other responsibilities

because it will keep you from achieving your goals.”

Though Torian attributes his entry into parish ministry as a calling

from God, he credits his grandmother with being “a role model from

the spiritual standpoint,” and the person who taught him the meaning

and significance of prayer.

As pastor, Torian does more than just perform Sunday services and baptize

babies. He fulfills the duties of preacher, pastor, teacher, administrator

and community activist. He also takes the role of counselor – which can

be difficult, he explained, because of the higher standard clergy are held


“You’re not supposed to fault,” he said. “And when you

do, you’re not easily forgiven.”

But Torian said his faith – and the love and support of his wife – help

him through the trying times. It also helps that he has an incredibly positive

perspective on life.

“I don’t believe in stress,” he said. “What people often

describe as stress, I call challenges in the midst of responsibilities.

Being a person of faith, I never walk alone. That’s where my strength comes


Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.

Circuit Court Judge, Manassas

Quote: “Treat life like it’s a roller coaster: know it has

a beginning and an end, and just put your hands in the air and ride along.”

Most people with a competitive streak will join a sports team, enter

contests or engage in friendly debates.

Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. decided to become a lawyer.

“By nature I’m a competitive person, and the courtroom is the ultimate

competitive environment,” he said.

If the courtroom is a battle between opponents, consider Alston the

crowned champion. In October 1998, after practicing law as a defense attorney,

Alston was sworn in as a judge on the juvenile court of the 31st District,

which includes Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park. On Jan. 8, he

became the district’s first African American judge named to the Circuit

Court. The official ceremony honoring his ascension is today at 3 p.m.

“I don’t think one ever aspires to become a judge,” he said,

smiling. “These kinds of things just happen.”

Alston’s accomplishments can be chalked up to more than just chance.

He grew up in Dale City and graduated from Gar-Field High School. A history

major at Averett College in Danville, he went on to law school in Durham,

N.C. After graduating, Alston worked for the National Labor Relations Board

and the National Right to Work Legal Defense. In 1966, he returned to Prince

William County to practice as a defense lawyer.

He acknowledges his hard work, citing humility as an important path

to success, but is quick to recognize his duty to a higher calling.

“One thing I rely on to accomplish everything in my life is my

faith,” he said, reciting the prayer he says to himself each time he

takes the bench: “Lord, help me be an instrument of thy peace.”

While Alston has accomplished much, he is still setting future goals

and furthering his achievements.

“The thing I’m most focused on is trying to be the best Circuit

Court judge I can be,” he said, adding that success also has a simpler

meaning to him: “To have what I do be pleasing in God’s sight.”

Dr. Chalmers Archer Jr.

Retired professor of student personnel and counseling – NOVA,

author; Manassas

Quote: “The cup is not full. In addition to celebrating,

we need to have a plan: What can we do to make things better for everybody?”

Retirement has come as a welcome relief to Dr. Chalmers Archer Jr.;

the former NOVA professor has been somewhat busy.

Archer held several prestigious memberships with organizations like

the Democratic Speakers Bureau for the Clinton/Gore Reelection Campaign,

the Community Information & Education Coalition and an 11-year membership

as an educational researcher with Phi Delta Kappa. He has also earned an

assortment of degrees, ranging from an associate’s in science to a post

doctorate – most of which he didn’t start working on until he was nearly

40 years old. And he has published an award-winning book on his experiences

of growing up in rural Mississippi, with three more books due out later

this year.

So when June rolled around last year, retirement was looking pretty


“Don’t rush it,” he laughed, “but it is absolutely terrific

because you can do what you want to do.”

Archer’s to-do list right now includes promoting his upcoming books,

which emphasize the importance of family and education. Both, he said, have

had a strong bearing on his life.

“Education is so important,” he said. “You can’t take

a kid out of high school and throw him into George Washington University

and say, ‘Go with it.’ You have to have a route to something.”

Despite the honors, achievements and awards, Archer admited, “I

don’t know what ‘education’ means.” He recalled how his father, “one

of the most articulate men,” had the equivalent of an eighth-grade

education. His great grandmother was a freed slave who had no formal education.

Yet they are both two people who taught him much and influenced him greatly.

While proud of his education and writings, Archer said his former job

as professor of student personnel and counseling strikes an equally strong


“I think that I’m a good counselor because I listen to the young

folks and never answer them directly,” he laughed. “I try to give

it back to them and let them make their own decisions. I’ve always been

able to relate to kids.”

And though retirement is enjoyable, he still loves the opportunity to

lend some time-tested advice.

“I think the person who is able to build on what you know, to extend

it, is an educated person,” he said. “In other words, learn from

what you’re doing and what you’re experiencing.”



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