Interviews

Published on May 22nd, 2020 | by Percy Crawford

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Justin Wimberly Mourns the Loss of His Mentor Dr. Gerald Glisson

“He showed me, especially while working under him for two summers, what it takes to separate yourself from others and how to have a huge impact on the community.”

Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey was recognized in the 1989 movie, “Lean On Me,” where Principal, Joe Clark ruled with an iron fist. Fast forward 30-plus years and you had a gentler and kinder soul holding down the principal position at Eastside High School Dr. Gerald Glisson; the gentle giant who impacted many lives before his recent untimely demise from Covid-19. Although, his approach was much different from Mr. Clark’s, the message he projected was loud and clear and his reach was wide and broad. One person who held, Dr. Glisson in high regard was, fraternity brother and former standout football player for, Glisson, Justin Wimberly. It’s a family affair between the Wimberly and Glisson family with a long-standing history and Dr. Glisson’s loss it felt throughout the Paterson area. There has been an out pour of tributes for Glisson who served as Eastside’s principal and athletic director.

Wimberly shares his history with, Dr. Glisson and elaborates on what a great man he was during our recent conversation.

My condolences for your loss. It sounds like Mr. Glisson’s heart was as big as his frame. A giant man with the heart to match. What was your relationship like with him?

Justin Wimberly: Growing up, I met him when I was 5-years old. He was the assistant coach under my dad at Paterson Catholic High School. Our relationship just got closer and closer over the years. I was actually a player on the team once I became a freshman in high school, so then he became my coach. Then he became my fraternity brother. He was already a part of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated. So, it went from uncle and nephew relationship to little bro big bro relationship as we became fraternity brothers. He was also my mentor throughout the years of high school and college. He gave me a summer job when I was working home during the summertime. That’s just a little bit of our relationship. He was definitely someone I was really close to. I have done a ton of community service projects with him as well.

He was the principal as well as the athletic director at Eastside High. If that name sounds familiar it’s because it’s the high school that was featured in the movie, “Lean On Me.” He held down those two positions while dedicating a lot of time in his community. He wore a lot of hats and he wore them well.

Justin Wimberly: Definitely! Once he came to the city of Paterson, he worked in the school district. He started off in the classroom and then worked his way up to administrative positions. He got his masters. After getting his masters, a few years ago he got his doctorate. He was the athletic director first at Eastside High School and then the principal position became vacant and he ended up serving the last 3-years as the principal and athletic director. During this course of time, I would say 5-7 years ago, he obtained his Black Belt in Karate. That’s something that he stuck with throughout the years. He was very serious about that; moving up through the different ranks to obtain his Black Belt.

He passed away from Covid-19. Was this something that was ongoing, or did it happen relatively quickly?

Justin Wimberly: He was in the hospital when he passed away from Covid-19. He was trying to fight it. He was admitted I believe around the 17th and he passed away on the 3rd.

He impacted a lot of lives. What are some of the things that you remember most about him in terms of his impact on you?

Justin Wimberly: If I was having a community service event or anything I had regarding my company, it was always a yes, and if it wasn’t a definite yes, “Let’s figure out how we can make this happen.” One of his favorite lines to me was, “Whatever you need, just let me know.” He always wanted me to keep him posted on what we had going on so that he could help out. Even right before he passed away, we had an event that we were working on with some of the student-athletes at his school, and he was just like, “Tell me what you need. Get me a flier and we will make it happen.” He was just that type of person. His energy was just unmatched. Whenever he walked into a room, you were always going to feel his presence. He always had a big smile and he would always make you laugh. He was not just a principal or athletic director to these kids. You could see that his relationship was more than that. He was almost like a father to some of the kids in the school or players that he’s coached in the past. It was more than education in the school; it was more than sports while he was a coach. He was a father figure to many.

We discussed off record the love he received in Paterson even though he’s not from Paterson and that’s rare. It’s a testament to the lives he touched.

Justin Wimberly: Definitely! He moved from the Neptune area to Paterson in 2000. With his personality, he was able to create a friendship with everyone in the community. When you meet him once, he stays connected to you. If two people didn’t like each other or they didn’t have a friendly relationship, he was a bridge builder and he would bridge that gap. He was great at connecting people, and that’s why he is getting a lot of love. If you met him once, he made sure that you would have some type of friendship with him for the rest of your life. And that goes for everyone he came across or crossed paths with. That’s why you see so many tributes because it was more than just knowing him. He literally had a special bond with everyone that he’s crossed paths with. Everyone who has come across him could tell a unique story about him or talk about their friendship with him.

Governor Murphy called him a pillar in the community. The term, pillar in the community could mean so many different things depending on what that particular community was in need of. Sounds like he covered a lot of ground to make that description of him very accurate.

Justin Wimberly: Yes! It can come from the recreational sports like our tee-ball program that we do in the springtime and every Saturday morning. He was always there at 10:00 am doing an instructional and after the practices, he would get on his grill and grill hot dogs and hamburgers for the kids. It can be “Bitty” basketball in the wintertime for the kids, or it could be community service with the Omega Teen Program that he ran. And that taught kids proper educate. How to tie a tie, mannerisms and how to basically be on the right track educational wise since he was really big on that. He was a man that wore many hats in different fields of the community as far as giving back to the community. It wasn’t a monthly thing or bi-monthly thing. It was a weekly thing with him. When you look back at it, especially with him having two daughters, it’s like, how did he juggle all of this at one time? He was running a school, making sure athletics is right, then making sure his daughters and his family is okay, and giving back outside of Eastside High School and to the community and the younger kids. There are no excuses for anyone to not try and do something for their community at the end of the day.

Being that you have known him for so long, what was it like for you to watch him transition from, coach, teacher, athletic director, principal, obtaining a masters and doctorate as well as a Black Belt in martial arts?

Justin Wimberly: Honestly, it was motivational. I think it really got me when I saw he was involved in karate. He got his daughters involved in karate. He was always talking about how he was moving up the ranks. Then I saw he got his master’s degree. The icing on the cake was the doctorates degree. During all this time, I’m going to Hampton University, graduated. Then it’s like, “Okay, that’s not enough.” I went to get my master’s at the University of Arkansas. He showed me, especially while working under him for two summers, what it takes to separate yourself from others and how to have a huge impact on the community.

This was a 46-year old man who was full of life and energy and Covid-19 took him out. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to speak on the severity of the virus because sometimes people don’t understand it until it hits home.

Justin Wimberly: This virus doesn’t discriminate. I know there are things out there like, “Certain people’s immune systems are stronger than others.” Honestly, especially if you have a history of health issues, it’s something you really have to take this seriously. Stay isolated as much as you can, stay inside, if you don’t have to go outside, please stay inside, wear a mask, wear gloves and wash your hands. Those are some of the things people should be doing. I think we shouldn’t jump the gun once things open back up right away. This is something that the nation has kind of underestimated honestly. I’m praying that things do turn out well, but it’s not meant for us to go outside right away. It’s okay to sacrifice a few months, so we can save lives.

I appreciate you sharing great memories of Dr. Gerald Glisson and my condolences to you and his family. Is there anything else you want to add before I let you go?

Justin Wimberly: His wisdom… he’s one of the smartest people I know besides just being a big brother and mentor, he was just a very smart man. And that’s how he was able to obtain all those degrees and to have the discipline to become a Black Belt. He was a very smart person who shared his wisdom with others and I believe that’s what really made him special to everyone in the community, he always was trying to spread knowledge and always trying to teach people how to strive for greatness. His intellect was off the charts for sure. I want to thank you for taking the time out to let me talk about my mentor and Mr. Bobby [Cervino] for connecting us for Dr. Glisson’s story to be shared.


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