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Tue, 09.14.1937

Colston Westbrook, Teacher, and Linguist born

Colston Westbrook

*Colston Westbrook was born on this date in 1937.  He was a Black teacher and linguist who worked in the fields of minority education and literacy. 

Colston Richard Westbrook was born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.   His father was Sgt. Edward Cody Westbrook died in Germany while serving in World War II.  His mother, Virginia Ruth Colston, was a housewife who held various jobs to raise their five children.  Westbrook attended Chambersburg Primary and High schools, graduating with Honors in 1955. After graduation, he and his elder brother, Cody, traveled from Pennsylvania to Richmond, California, to live with their maternal grandmother.

Colston attended Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California, where he excelled at languages and was an honors student.  He was selected to travel to Rome, Italy, to represent Contra Costa College based on President Eisenhower's People to People Student Ambassador Program.  Westbrook served in the Army, then Air Force. After an assignment in South Korea, he was assigned to Travis Air Force Base in California in 1960. He taught English at the International Christian University in Tokyo after completing military service.  While in Tokyo, he was recruited for a civilian position with Pacific Architects and Engineers, a US government contractor in South Vietnam. He stayed with PAE for five years.  

PAE was a contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency's Phoenix Program, providing services including civilian cover for CIA operatives and constructing 44 Province Detention Centers. Westbrook later denied working for the CIA.  In 1968 Westbrook returned to the United States, then began a stint working with the Los Angeles Police Department's Criminal Conspiracy Section and the State of California's Criminal Identification and Investigation Unit.  Westbrook enrolled in the Linguistics department at the University of California, Berkeley, in September 1970.   By this time, he had mastered Korean, Japanese, Italian, German, and French foreign languages. He also studied Swahili at Berkeley with Bwana Kaaya from Tanzania.  

He worked in the fields of minority education and literacy.  In 1975, he completed his master's thesis on the dual linguistic heritage of African Americans.  As a teaching assistant, he taught African American Linguistics in Berkeley's Department of Afro-American Studies. He continued to teach the class after graduating.  He established his educational consulting company, Minority Consultants, on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley.  He was Dean of Students at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California, from 1978 until 1989.  The Black Cultural Association was formed in 1968 at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville and officially recognized by the prison system in 1971.

At that time, Westbrook became the group's "outside visitors coordinator" for educational outreach from Bay Area colleges and university students. Westbrook's purported prior relationship with the inmate, Donald DeFreeze, in Los Angeles has driven the contention that DeFreeze was recruited by Westbrook as an informant to keep tabs on black inmates with radical political sympathies and on interactions with radical students in the outreach program.  Willie Wolfe, Russell Little, and Mary Alice Siem, who attended his African American Linguistics class, joined the BCA outreach program.  In 1972, DeFreeze invited that group to join his separate study group. An inmate named Thero Wheeler, a former Black Panther, was also in this group. This group would coalesce in 1973 as founders of the Symbionese Liberation Army after Wheeler's and DeFreeze's escapes from prison.  

Westbrook was involved in student politics on campus. He was President of the Pan African Student Union at UC Berkeley for two consecutive terms. In 1979 he hosted a question-answer session with the author James Baldwin on campus. His views on equity and justice often created controversy.   Westbrook married Eposi Mary Ngomba, whom he met on a visit to Cameroon. They had four children and lived in California.  Colston Westbrook died of cancer at Kaiser Oakland Medical Center on August 3, 1989. He was 51.  

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From deep sleep I sat upright And clutched his new lapels, For he was laughing. Back from the dead He came, I say, Laughing I asked not "Are you not dead?" But "What is it?" His talcum chin, And pebbles eyes, And... NIGHTMARE by James Emanuel.
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