Prexy Nesbitt ’62: Fighting Racism Abroad and at Home

Parker has always taught students to use their voice and stand up against injustices in the world. Alumnus Prexy Nesbitt ’62 has truly taken this message to heart and spent most of his life as an educator, activist and speaker on Africa, foreign policy and racism. This week, Nesbitt spoke with US History teacher Andy Bigelow’s Civil Rights Movement class about his career, his relationships with leaders such as Nelson Mandela and his work to end apartheid in South Africa.

Nesbitt first learned about apartheid when he was in 6th grade at Parker and a teacher assigned his class Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. Set in South Africa, the story refers to the country’s that led to the rise of apartheid. This reading, paired with the encouragement of renowned Parker principal Jack Ellison and influence from his family led Nesbitt to dedicate his life to Africa, where he has traveled more than 100 times to date. 

Some of those trips included Parker students, when Nesbitt served as a teacher and administrator at the school. “We were involved in anything going on in support of South Africa,” Nesbitt said. “We had speakers at Parker and took trips with students to Namibia and South Africa.” 

Students asked Nesbitt to compare his experiences working with racism in South Africa and the civil rights issues occurring simultaneously in the United States. Nesbitt drew many parallels.

“We used the slogan, ‘Same Struggle, Same Fight’ because the change in Chicago was also related to South Africa,” Nesbitt pointed out. “People from South Africa would visit Chicago and say, ‘This feels just like home.’”

These issues remain ever-present in society today, and Nesbitt applauded the activism work of the younger generation—our students. He hopes the same Parker principles that inspired his own work against injustice continue to motivate Parker students now and in the future. 

Nesbitt said, “The seriousness with which Parker takes these things—the words over the Auditorium about being a complete community and embryonic democracy—we were engaged. There wasn’t any fearfulness about being engaged.

“Your generation in Chicago is leading the way, and I hope we have had a Parker presence in these protests saying ‘No!’”
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.