When John Jenkins ’74 arrived in Lewiston from Newark, N.J., to attend Bates, the Androscoggin River was polluted and stinky. 

No one would ever — ever! — imagine spending time along the river to bike, kayak, walk, jog, or just hang out. And it definitely wasn’t a place to celebrate someone with imagination and hope. But things change, sometimes for the better. 

Fifty years later, on a former railroad trestle turned walking bridge over the Androscoggin, a big gathering of friends, family, colleagues, and admirers came together to remember Jenkins, who died in September 2020, and to dedicate the span as the John T. Jenkins Memorial Bridge. 

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College
Members of the family of John Jenkins ‘74, followed by Maine Gov. Janet Mills, Auburn mayor Jason Levesque, and Lewiston mayor Carl Sheline, cross the John T. Jenkins Memorial Bridge during the naming ceremony on June 10, 2022. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Everyone misses Jenkins, but every message at the June 10 gathering was upbeat, positive, and hopeful. Because that’s who Jenkins was. “He had the ability to make people feel good just by showing up,” said Maine Gov. Janet Mills, who spoke fondly and respectfully about Jenkins, an unprecedented figure in Lewiston, Auburn, and Maine history. 

Welcome
Arnaldo Contreras ’18

Overview
Kathryn Low, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, and Professor of Psychology

Welcome
A. Clayton Spencer, President of Bates College

Introduction of Keynote Speaker
Chris Petrella, Associate Director of Programs, Office of Equality and Diversity; and Lecturer in the Humanities

Keynote Address: The Education Imperative: Dreaming a New Public Education Dream

Na’ilah Suad Nasir, President of the Spencer Foundation 
Dr. Nasir is the sixth president of the Spencer Foundation, which supports education research. She was a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, from 2008 to 2017, and served as vice chancellor of equity and inclusion there beginning in November 2015. Nasir earned her doctorate in educational psychology at UCLA in 2000, and was a member of the School of Education faculty at Stanford University from 2000 to 2008. Her work focuses on issues of race, culture, learning, and identity. She is the author of Racialized Identities: Race and Achievement for African-American Youth. Nasir is a member of the National Academy of Education and a fellow of the American Educational Research Association. In 2016 she received the AERA Division G Mentoring Award.

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James Reese, Associate Dean for International Student Programs
John Jenkins ’74 seen at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day keynote in the Gomes Chapel on Jan. 15, 2018. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

The naming ceremony was one of two events during Reunion weekend honoring Jenkins. A day later, a long-postponed memorial service for Jenkins was held in the Lewiston Armory.

Bates friends were close by throughout the weekend, and a committee of alumni has been raising funds to endow the John Jenkins Scholarship Fund. There are enough memories of Jenkins to fill a book, and that was another task of the committee: supporting a biography, John Jenkins: The Mayor of Maine, written by Chuck Radis ’76.

For More Information

To order the biography John Jenkins: The Mayor of Maine, contact Chuck James ’78 by email, cjamesjr99@gmail.com, or phone, 703-307-4199. For information about the John Jenkins Scholarship Fund, contact alumni@bates.edu.

Jenkins was also known as the “mayor of Bates.” He was genuine and kind and everywhere; he acted in early modern dance productions for Marcy Plavin, and ran track for Walt Slovenski. He would​ keep everyone laughing on bus rides until the legendary coach stood up and yelled, “No belly laughing!” — he didn’t want someone pulling a stomach muscle by laughing too hard. 

Photographed by classmate Joe Gromelski ’74 during their Bates days, John Jenkins ’74 touched many lives deeply.

Jenkins taught John Emerson ’73 how to be easier on himself as a student. “I felt pressure to succeed and to perform,” Emerson recalled. “It can overwhelm you. John would help you put all of that in perspective. He helped me believe that friendships and relationships and how you handled winning and losing is what really mattered.”

John Jenkins ’74 performs in “Choreosphere: An Experiment in Dance,” staged at Bates on May 30 and June 1, 1975. (Photograph by Leonard Plavin)

After Bates, Jenkins’ talent as a competitive martial artist earned him international recognition — he’s a member of multiple halls of fame. He was a community organizer and motivational speaker.

He was the first Black citizen elected as mayor of Lewiston, as a Maine state senator, and as mayor of Auburn, the latter as a write-in candidate, becoming the only person to serve as mayor of both Auburn and Lewiston. Last year, both city councils voted unanimously to name the footbridge, across which immigrants from Canada once traveled by train to Lewiston when the span was a railroad trestle, in memory of Jenkins.

He was a role model, said Mills. Physically fit and mentally fit, Jenkins “had an attitude toward life that inspired everyone,” including the many children who heard his talks.

Hundreds of people attended a bridge dedication Friday afternoon as the footbridge between Lewiston and Auburn was dedicated to John Jenkins ‘74, the former mayor of both cities. John Jenkins’ partner, Ann Parker, right, addressed the crowd Friday in Bonney Park during the dedication of the John T. Jenkins Memorial Bridge. Also speaking were Gov. Janet Mills, Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, and Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline.Also participating in the ceremony were members of Jenkins’ family, including his sister Mujiba Wadud, Wadud’s husband and Jenkins’s brother-in-law Abdul Razzaqq, Jenkins’ nephew Abdul Lateef (in a Bates sweatshirt), Jenkins’ niece Waridah Wedlock, Wedlock’s son Taj Bonds, 10, and grandson Kamal Wedlock, 13. Another of Wadud’s sons was also there (in black sunglasses).
John Jenkins’ nephew Abdul Lateef holds a red carnation and a copy of the new Jenkins biography, written by Chuck Radis ’76. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Both mayors also spoke at the event, as did Ann Parker, Jenkins’ companion. She said that anyone walking across the Jenkins bridge will never walk alone.  

“I really hope that when you walk across that bridge, you feel the spirit of John,” she said. “If someone’s having a difficult day, walk across John’s bridge. I guarantee it’s going to lift you up. If you’re having a wonderful, awesome day, walk across the bridge, because John’s gonna be there with you in all his awesomeness.” 

Hundreds of people attended a bridge dedication Friday afternoon as the footbridge between Lewiston and Auburn was dedicated to John Jenkins ‘74, the former mayor of both cities. 

John Jenkins’ partner, Ann Parker, right, addressed  the crowd Friday in Bonney Park during the dedication of the John T. Jenkins Memorial Bridge. Also speaking were Gov. Janet Mills, Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, and Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline.

Also participating in the ceremony were members of Jenkins’ family, including his sister Mujiba Wadud, Wadud’s husband and Jenkins’s brother-in-law Abdul Razzaqq, Jenkins’ nephew Abdul Lateef (in a Bates sweatshirt), Jenkins’ niece Waridah Wedlock, Wedlock’s son Taj Bonds, 10, and grandson Kamal Wedlock, 13. Another of Wadud’s sons was also there (in black sunglasses).
Longtime Bates student dean James Reese talks with John Jenkins’ sister Mujiba Wadud and her husband, Abdul Razzaqq, during the June 10, 2022, ceremony dedicating the Jenkins Memorial Bridge. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)
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