Professor, Dr. Wilmot Max Ramsay was born on July 13, 1962, and grew up in Cambridge, Saint James, Jamaica. He was raised mainly by his mother Gwendolyn Victoria Scotland Ramsay, and grandmother Selina Chambers, who instilled in him the strong desire and sense of responsibility to serve his community in whatever capacity he could.
Ramsay attended high school — Cornwall College — in Jamaica. He was an ambitious and dedicated student; a repeat first-place winner of awards for French and Spanish, member of the UNESCO Club (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and other leadership school organizations as well as serving as a prefect for his class.
“My crowning moment, however, was winning my local government seat — Cambridge Division — on Monday, March 2, 1981, at age 18 years old, thus becoming the youngest elected Councillor in Jamaica.” – Wilmot Max Ramsay
Max greeting the royal family in February 1983 on the occasion of celebrating Jamaica’s 21st anniversary of independence.
“At such a tender age, Politics was the natural choice as I was encouraged by fellow Cantabrigians to do so. Looking back today, mine was a novelty of entering politics at such a young age, but from a tender age, once you mean to serve your country (and humanity), you can do it!“
On a visit to Cambridge, Massachusetts where his father, Charles Adolphus Ramsay, Professor of English, resided, Wilmot Ramsay was honored by the Boston City Council for his dedication to public service and the week of September 27th through October 3rd was proclaimed Wilmot “Max” Ramsay Week in the City of Boston.
Though Max did yearn to further his education and attend university, he committed to putting that off in order to serve his full term as an elected Councillor serving his country and community. Ramsay found that he was able to be quite effective in his position especially as an advocate for the youth and young people like himself. He was after all just out of high school when elected. His concern for the well being of the youth of his community, wherever he may be, and globally, has been a common theme and priority in his life and public service.
President G.H.W. Bush, Councillor Max Ramsay along with Mayor Shalman Scott of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and other members of the St. James Parish Council welcomed to Jamaica in October of 1983.
In 1986 Ramsay’s term in office was completed, and the following year he returned to the city where five years prior he’d been honored, as a foreign statesman, for his commitment to public service. The same city that’s designated a week on its calendar, naming it for Max, in reverence for his service and dedication, would receive him again as a resident. He came to join his father who still lived and taught in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and to begin to pursue his higher education, which he always intended to return to after public office. Upon his return to Massachusetts, Max was awarded The-Key-To-The-City-of-Cambridge by Mayor Walter J. Sullivan in 1987.
Max continued in the realm of public service in the United States, while he began to make moves to become a full-time student, working for a couple of years at the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services.
He would enroll at UMass, Boston in 1989 as a Spanish and French major. Max picked up college in the same manner in which he conducted himself through high school, an ambitious and diligent student, thoroughly focused on his academic goals. He served as Editor-in-Chief of The UMass Times, and in a very short time would become the first black member and Secretary of the Honors Program, now the Honors College, at UMass, in the history of the university.
What would happen next would be a complete shock and turning point in Max’s life, and would be a defining moment in the fight to confront long standing institutionalized racism in the world of academia.
On April 4, 1990, Max was falsely charged with plagiarism by Professor Fiora A. Bassanese, for his now famous paper, “A Look at Dante and Petrarca’s Styles.” This erupted into what would come to be dubbed “the UMass Boston Honors Program War.”
Max’s own accounting of what occurred and all that he endured can be found in the links below:
” For the duration of the Class on Wednesday, April 4, 1990, there was much uneasiness especially after Fiora A. Bassanese’s: “Max, I want to see you after Class with Professor [James F.] Brennan, [the Honors Program Director.“]
“On our way to the Honors Program Office (where I served as Secretary), on the second floor of Wheatley Hall, there was complete silence and the silence was strained. Once in my office we all three sat down with Fiora leading the charge. James Brennan, for the most part, only listened and observed. He is a psychologist. It is nearing 3:15 pm and Fiora exclaims that I am to bring in the sources — books — from which I got my material as the ball is now in “your court” and she does “not care.” I calmly said that it is my honest work and that is what will stand the test of time. Brennan makes a guttural sound. We adjourn with Fiora, the Italian, Brennan, the Irish and me, the Jamaican (and later, a Jamaican American, to the surprise of many). Robert H. Spaethling, the German, was not present at the meeting. He already knew very well that as Deputy Provost he would be hearing all sides. He further knew that being an acquaintance I would, naturally, be telling him about the dramatic development which I am now confident that he already knew about.“
“Yes, Fiora Antonia Bassanese made me cry. She said to me: “It is in your court and I do not care!” I thought I was going to die. My honors were about to be taken right before my eyes. However, by God’s help they were not moved.”
Max would hold out and persevere and prove his complete innocence and integrity with incredible courage, he would win the “honors war” with a written apology from the accusing professor Fiora A. Bassanese. The fight had taken its toll on Max, and though his name had been cleared the damage had been done.
“As a byproduct of war, I suffered a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which left me broken as to the bold and daring advances others can undertake to your detriment. It took gubernatorial intervention, in 2005, for me to receive my Diploma even after graduation. My basic Human and Civil Rights were debased.“
With all the emotional hardship and trauma, Max needed to take time for himself, away from the university, though he never had intention of not completing his degree. Though he was thoroughly shaken he was not deterred from returning at the right time, and in 2005 he graduated from UMass Boston earning his Bachelors degree after a long 16 year battle. The matter was sealed completely with the intervention of then Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, ordering Max’s “well earned” diploma be released.
In 2004, Max launched his non-profit organization called The Global Youth Trust with the purpose being “Participation, Development and Peace,” uniting to address youth programming and community development issues. He later received an honorary Doctorate in law from Cambridge University on Tuesday December 4, 2007. In 2014 Max returned to a dream delayed when he became an independent researcher at Harvard University.