Loras College changed Joe Carter’s (’96) life.
“The most rewarding lesson I learned at Loras College was to stop being afraid of things I didn’t understand or things I wasn’t familiar with,” he said. “I learned to make sure I would not let fear stop me from moving forward and being the best Joe Carter, the best person and the best Christian I could be.”
Carter – who came to Loras from Leo Catholic High School, an all-men’s school on Chicago’s south side – left as a member of the 1,000-point club and the third-leading rebounder in the history of the Duhawk men’s basketball program.
The journey, however, wasn’t always easy for Carter, the oldest of six children and the first member of his family to go to college.
“I was afraid to speak up in class,” he said of his early days at Loras. “When I went to my classes, I was the only person of color in all of them. I started to shut off. I think fear or insecurity is something that all of us, as people, no matter what color you are, have to deal with and get over.”
He was helped in making the transition to life at Loras by people such as the Rev. Monsignor James Barta (’52), who was then the college president; President Jim Collins (’84), who was then vice president of Institutional Advancement; Bob Specht, who was director of the Graber Sports Center, and his wife Jane, who also worked in the Loras athletic department. Carter says he was also shaped as a person by his coaches, Jay Dull (’89), Dan Allen (’90), Brad Soderberg and John Lembezeder.
To help him study, Carter said, Collins gave him a key to his office in Keane Hall. “And I started changing my grades because I had a quiet place,” he said. “Having someone who trusted me, wanted to help and gave me something like his office when he wasn’t there, was a big thing for me.”
It helped Carter look past racial incidents that happened around him in Dubuque at the time. It also helped alleviate the concern of some family members who wanted him to come home. “I had to make sure people got to know who I was instead of just seeing me and judging me as a black guy from Chicago, a basketball player,” he said.
After graduating from Loras, Carter played semi-professional basketball in Rockford, Illinois. “I thought for sure I was going to leave Dubuque,” he said.
Instead of moving back to Chicago after his basketball career ended or to Memphis, Tennessee, where he had relatives, Carter eventually settled down in Dubuque. It was where his girlfriend, who became his wife, Tassie, had grown up and graduated from what was then known as Clarke College.
He also listened to the advice offered by his grandfather, who was in his 90s at the time. “He said, ‘Why don’t you stay in Iowa?’” Carter recalled. “I said, ‘Well, grandad, if you haven’t noticed, there’s a whole bunch of White folks there. I’m a little scared and nervous about it.” His grandfather told him to go learn from people in Dubuque and to help teach them at the same time, Carter said. In Dubuque, he turned down an offer to teach at an elementary school where administrators thought he could be a role model for students of color. “I needed a job, but I wanted to teach middle school or high school,” he said. “I told them if I wanted to teach Black kids, I could go to Chicago or Memphis and teach all of the Black kids I wanted.”
Carter, who has taught sixth-grade science for the past 15 years at Roosevelt Middle School, started his career at Kennedy Elementary School.
“I felt like they needed to see something different from what they saw on TV or what the media was portraying,” he said of his students. “They needed to see me as more than a Black man. They needed to see Joe Carter and who I am. They needed to see the Christian, the father and the teacher.”