By Edie Gross
A first-year seminar on civil rights activist James Farmer was the highlight of freshman year for Charles Reed Jr. ’11. Before the class, Reed knew very little about Farmer, who co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), organized the 1961 Freedom Ride through the South to protest segregated public transportation, and taught history and American studies at Mary Washington from 1985 to 1998.
“Come to find out he was a civil rights pioneer and a force to be reckoned with, and he actually taught at the university. I thought, ‘I have to get in on that,’ ” Reed said. “That played a huge part in me contributing my time to issues of social justice.”
Among a host of other activities at UMW, Reed served as president of the Black Student Association, vice president of Brothers of a New Direction (BOND), a member of Students Educating and Empowering for Diversity (SEED), and a student aide at the James Farmer Multicultural Center. He capped off his senior year by earning the university’s Citizenship Award for Diversity Leadership – as well as a coveted seat on the PBS-sponsored 2011 Freedom Ride bus, which took 40 college students from around the country and a handful of original Freedom Riders along the route of Farmer’s harrowing 1961 ride.
Reed, who missed commencement to participate in the 50th anniversary trip, called the 10-day experience “life-changing,” the perfect bookend to a college career defined by a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“What do you really want to get out of your university experience? Every chance I get, I tout UMW, what the university meant to me, and what I was able to expose myself to,” said Reed, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting. “I honestly feel like the four years you spend in college is what you make of it. You have to be driven. You have to be the one saying, ‘I want to be part of this opportunity.’ ”
Reed, a New Jersey native who lives in Sterling, Virginia, said he applies that same drive to his professional life. After college he worked for three years as a client financial management analyst for Accenture, tracking resources, expenses, and staffing for 20-plus federal government contracts totaling $100 million. Since November 2014, he’s been a management consultant at KPMG, advising federal clients on issues such as profitability and efficiency. He credits his extensive extracurricular involvement at UMW with helping him hone the skills he uses daily to communicate and collaborate with others.
In 2017, Reed received one of five inaugural UMW Young Business Alumni Awards. And in July 2018, he became engaged to sociology graduate Missira Amuda ’12, whom he met at Mary Washington. Over the years, Reed said he’s embraced several opportunities to coach at-risk youths on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and the importance of working hard to achieve success.
“You can aspire to be something else other than LeBron James or Tom Brady or whatever famous athlete is out there,” he tells youngsters. “I want you to be the next doctor. I want you to be the next CEO.”