Tradition Spring 2021
Tradition Spring 2021

Honoring a Life, Advancing a Mission:
The Sidney Barthwell Jr. Scholarship

Honoring a Life, Advancing a Mission

The gift of the new Sidney Barthwell Jr. Scholarship celebrates the life of an alum by changing the lives of future students.

When Cranbrook alum and Cambridge Associates founder James N. (Jim) Bailey ’65 decided to establish a new scholarship at Cranbrook, his decision was much more than a purely financial calculation. For Bailey, it was a profoundly meaningful way to memorialize a friend, to ensure that friend’s story would always be told and to recognize how much he had personally gotten out of his own Cranbrook experience. 

The scholarship is named for Sidney (Sid) Barthwell Jr. ’65, who passed away last spring, leaving behind a loving family, lifelong friends and a legacy that is one of the great Cranbrook stories. 

One of Cranbrook’s first African American graduates, Barthwell was a devoted brother, husband and uncle, a marathon runner, a published poet, a graduate of Wayne State University and Harvard Law School (where he became good friends with the future President of the United States, Barack Obama), a successful attorney, founder of his own legal firm and ultimately retired as a magistrate in the 36th District Court in Detroit.

His sister, Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans ’64, remembers Sid as both a renaissance man and a man of great integrity. She also remembers the profound impression he made on all those who knew him, recalling that, as she shared the news of his death, “What always amazed me when I would talk to people who knew my brother was that they all thought they had really lost a special friend.” 

One of those people—indeed the first person with whom she shared the news outside of the immediate family—was Jim Bailey, Sid’s close friend of nearly 60 years. 

Jim and Sid first met on Jim’s very first day at Cranbrook. Jim’s mother had literally just dropped him off in the family pickup truck that they used on their farm.   

“I arrived at Cranbrook as a very poor person and knew no one at the school,” Jim recollects. 

As Jim was just learning to navigate the dorm, Sid approached him in the hall and introduced himself. The two connected over basketball and immediately began a friendship that would continue their whole lives. 

“It was one of those kinds of relationships that began out of nowhere but that, over time, led to be incredibly close,” recalls Bailey.

Both ended up as anchors on the basketball team and both became prefects. Ultimately, they would both go on to graduate from Harvard Law.

Dr. Evans, herself the first African American student at Kingswood and who would graduate as president of the student council, recalls “(Sid) was very effervescent, people naturally liked him, he was very confident.”

Nonetheless, the social climate of the day presented tremendous challenges, and there were times that, despite his remarkable talents and intellect, Barthwell found himself up against a prevailing culture of prejudice. 

Barthwell used his poetry as an outlet for his thoughts and feelings regarding his own struggles and the obstacles facing African Americans—a practice that he began while a student at Cranbrook. 

“He was an intellectual,” recalls Dr. Evans, ”and would write reams of poetry as a kid.” 

He was also the author of the book Runner: Traversing the Road of Life which describes many of his insights about his experiences, particularly as an African American man.

Those inequities and obstacles must have been particularly confounding for a young man who grew up in a household like the Barthwell’s. A respected civic leader, Sid’s father, Sidney Barthwell Sr., was founder and CEO of Barthwell’s Drug Stores, the largest chain of drugstores ever owned by an African American. He also manufactured the popular Barthwell’s Ice Cream. Mr. Barthwell was the President for two terms of the Booker T. Washington Trade Association (an organization of African-American business persons); served on the boards of many not-for-profit organizations, including the Detroit Urban League and was a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention. His mother, Gladys Whitfield Barthwell, was a librarian and schoolteacher, and was deeply involved with their local community. She was also the president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and in 1947, established the Delta Home for Girls, which gave unwed mothers a chance to continue their education and be valued—something unheard of at the time. 

“We grew up in a house where we were told anything was possible,” says Dr. Evans. 

It was partly out of the desire to remove such obstacles that the scholarship was born. The scholarship benefits “a demographically disadvantaged Upper School boarding student who has faced social inequities. The scholarship covers the full cost of tuition, room and board.” In other words, it provides a talented student with an opportunity—a Cranbrook opportunity—that would have otherwise been impossible. 

As Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans puts it, “There are other ‘Sids’ in the world, male or female, who could also be wonderful and accomplish a lot but who don’t have the means to have the best education. To me, (the scholarship) is very special. Now he’s really being recognized and being recognized in a way that he deserves.”

According to Jim, “Three things motivated me—one, I would be absolutely nowhere if I had not gone away to Cranbrook School. Two, Sid got a huge amount out of the Cranbrook experience. Third—and to me this is incredibly important—there are going to be more ‘Sids’, there are more ‘Sids’ and there need to be more opportunities for people like him: talented people who need the opportunity to realize that talent and be supported by the school.” 

Thanks to the shared friendship of two young Cranbrook students all those years ago, The Sidney Barthwell Jr. Scholarship will provide that opportunity for generations.