During Black History Month, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension honors Beverly C. Banks with this story about her tireless commitment to the 4-H and Youth Development Program and to the alma mater she serves.
During her youthful days in Bridgeville, Delaware, Beverly recalls watching her grandmother, the late Margaret S. Harris, take great care with the children who would fill her home. The youth members of the Bridgeville Pioneers 4-H club fondly appreciated Mrs. Harris’s leadership and would anxiously await her next 4-H lesson. Mrs. Harris offered lessons on sewing, cooking, interpersonal communication and personal development. Unbeknownst to her at the time, Mrs. Harris was setting the stage for her granddaughter’s future career. In 2019, Mrs. Harris was recognized and received a posthumous award for creating the Bridgeville Pioneers 4-H club; Beverly’s mother, Agusta Carr-Ross, accepted the award on behalf of her mother.
Delaware State University (DSU) represents an educational legacy for Beverly and her family. While DSU’s name has changed since its inception in 1891, the mission remains the same: “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” Beverly’s mother attended the institution in the 1940s when it was called the State College for Colored Students—the only avenue Black people had in Delaware for higher education. Just one generation later, Beverly graduated in 1975 from then-named Delaware State College, where she met her late husband, Vaughn Banks, on campus. She counts many in-laws and siblings as fellow alumni of the institution that finally became Delaware State University on July 1, 1993.
In the spirit of her grandmother, Beverly continues to commit her time, talents and treasures to promoting youth development. Since becoming a DSU Extension agent in 2005, Beverly has brought that same energy and love of young people to her 4-H programs, and has exhibited tremendous dedication to her target communities, to Cooperative Extension and to DSU.
Beverly credits her parents for her work ethic, especially her mother who raised and supported seven children after her husband died. As the second in line and oldest girl, Beverly watched her mother model dedication to a job well done both in and outside of the home; Beverly has replicated her mother’s determination and ambition throughout life as a nurturing big sister and as a youth development professional.
Throughout her years working for DSU, Beverly has created and delivered programs to ‘unserved’ and underserved young people in Kent and Sussex counties, Delaware’s central and southernmost regions. She connects with young people during 4-H Afterschool sessions at schools, at subsidized housing sites, community centers and in churches.
“Unserved and underserved young people need to feel that they are just as important as other young people,” Beverly said. “I started programs at DSU so that the young people we serve will feel accepted and successful.”
Directly and indirectly, Beverly estimates that she has reached nearly 7,500 young people during her 4-H tenure. Her most popular programs include Juneteenth, a weeklong camp for
young men and women, which honors the historically significant date of June 19 and broadens participants’ perspectives about nutrition and healthy lifestyles, public speaking, Black history and culture, personal development, teamwork, agriculture and economics; and the 4-H Fishing Derby, which combines natural resources education with fishing skill-building exercises and fun. Prior to the COVID pandemic, the Fishing Derby was held lakeside each fall at DSU’s Outreach and Research Center.
As is the spirit of Cooperative Extension, Beverly credits her colleagues for providing 4-Hers in her programs with supplemental activities and education in agriculture and natural resources, and family and consumer sciences. In one example, Michael Wasylkowski, Extension agent for Small Farms, helped Beverly establish gardening programs at both Towne Point Elementary School in Dover and the Henotes 4-H Club in Georgetown. With Michael’s help, children have learned about soil composition, seeds and planting, and tending and harvesting food. The children take home the produce—tomatoes, squash, greens—some of which had been foreign to them prior to their introduction to gardening.
When asked why the 4-H hands-on model is so important, Beverly replied: “Experience is the best teacher.”
“As a 4-H Extension agent at Delaware State University, Ms. Banks is a true believer and advocate of youth development and empowerment,” said Donna P. Brown, associate dean for Extension. “She devotes an enormous amount of time, often personal time, to creating memorable, positive, and long-lasting relationships with the youth she reaches. She exemplifies old school values and love for her community.”
“My programs, like all DSU 4-H programs, are designed to meet young people where they are and are developed around their interests,” said Beverly. “The 4-H motto is learn by doing; that has to be the approach.”
Beverly stresses the importance of incorporating experienced adults into program activities who can effectively mentor young people and guide them in developing productive characteristics that will aid them well into adulthood. Young people are provided opportunities to explore their culture, develop strong core values, and become positive forces within their peer groups as they grow into contributing members of society.
“Children appreciate being appreciated,” Beverly shared. “Our annual awards banquets excite and encourage young people to work harder the following year; some even bring friends to the program.”
“I enjoy my job, so it’s not work. I love the challenge of working with children who are underachievers.”