He had a vision. And, his efforts were focused on highlighting Lubbock’s African American community, its assets, its history and bringing it all together for the entire city to enjoy.
Eric Strong passed away March 11 at age 64. He leaves behind a legacy of work that will be difficult to replace, but it will always be remembered, especially by those in the East Lubbock community. Strong was a driving force behind the Lubbock Roots Historical Arts Council, the Historic East Lubbock Gateway and the Caviel Museum of African American History to name just a few.
The gateway project was perhaps his most ambitious endeavor. Strong saw the project as a way to bring some history and beauty to East Lubbock via a walking track, water features and art to a piece of land adjacent to the Caviel museum. It will essentially be a public park that will hopefully also include sculptures, performance stages and other beautification attractions.
The project isn’t something new. Strong, who grew up in Lubbock, had been pushing for something like it for more than 40 years. Back in the 1970s, Strong was aware of an opinion among the African American community that there were no opportunities for them in Lubbock because of too much inequity. That shook his soul, so he began searching for something that would instill hope in the community. He even took the step to have T-shirts printed that had “Is there any hope for the blacks in Lubbock?” on the front and “There’s always hope” on the back.
Strong’s initial quest was stonewalled by the City Council, but he remained undeterred. The donation of a building by Alfred and Billie Caviel gave new life to Strong’s dreams. That building now houses the Caviel museum and the Roots council, which Strong said gave he and others the traction to move forward with seeing that dream come true. It was largely through Strong’s efforts that the gateway project went about trying to secure grants and donations.
The museum and gateway projects weren’t the only community efforts Strong was involved in. He became involved in Texas Tech’s Upward Bound program, where he began as a counselor and eventually served as its director until 2007. That allowed him to be a role model for not only the African American community but also for youth of all races across the city. He also served as director of student services at Tech before retiring after 25 years of employment at Tech.
Strong was also known as a storyteller, speaking often of the contributions of African Americans to Lubbock and the surrounding area.
His work did not go unnoticed. In 2013, Strong was given the Role Model of the Year award by the 100 Black Men of West Texas organization. At the time, he called it the proudest award of his life. He was also named Man of the Year by the Confederated Women’s Clubs of West Texas and by the area chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. The National Business League of Texas named him a Texas Man of Distinction and Tech honored him as a Top Techsan.
His influence did not go unnoticed by those also involved in the gateway project, the Roots council and the Caviel museum. Roots council member Cosby Morton mentioned that parents have told him Strong played a key role in getting their children to go to college. “He was always encouraging people to bring out their talents,” Morton said.
Strong’s passing definitely leaves a void in the leadership he displayed in his various projects, especially the East Lubbock Gateway. Those left behind will now be charged with picking up the mantle to continue his vision, and we feel assured that will be the case. Vernita Woods-Holmes, a Roots council member and former educator and school board member, said, “He will definitely be missed, but because of his passion for what he wanted to do, we’re all on board. We’re seeing to it that it gets done.”