Alumni Spotlight

Rashid Dilworth Silvera, ’66: A Success in Two Worlds

Global fashion model; devoted and beloved educator

by Dan Eramian ’66

Rashid Dilworth Silvera ’66 – #85 played end position on both offense and defense teams.

The fact that Rashid Dilworth Silvera, ’66 became an internationally known fashion model…jetting to designer shows and runways in Paris and Milan may not be surprising to those who remember him often coming to school dressed in sharply tailored three-piece suits. Tall and lean like a model he was a natural athlete who was also a star football player at English as starting offensive and defensive end in his senior year. He fondly remembers his QB Mike Thomas, “ a veritable magician with the football. “

He remembers English High “as a school where the students genuinely felt a connection to one another…an animated learning-environment with great esprit de corps. The teachers challenged you to give yourself additional relevant homework. Moreover, they encouraged us to step beyond our respective comfort zones in order to experience the energizing effects of new knowledge born of academic curiosity. My personal compass has been energized by the belief in serious academic inquiry. That love of learning which permeated every facet of my family- life in Roxbury, Massachusetts was powerfully co-signed and marinated at The English High School. I have continued to pass that illuminating ‘academic-torch’ on to all of my students over my four-plus decades as educator and explorer. I too beckoned my students to ‘come to the edge’ and embrace the wonder of that which was not yet known and soon to be discovered”.

One of his favorite teachers was English literature teacher Russell Langley. “I loved  that teacher. He enthusiastically and, at times, sternly urged his students to recognize the value of intellectual rigor. Mr. Langley wanted us to feel proud of the growing pains associated in our own internal intellectual growth.” Perhaps Mr. Langley also helped Rashid travel a lifetime as a much-loved and highly acclaimed educator and mentor for young people. He only recently retired as a teacher at Scarsdale High School in New York after 36 years of teaching.

He remembers English High “as a school where the students genuinely felt a connection to one another…an animated learning-environment with great esprit de corps. The teachers challenged you to give yourself additional relevant homework.

After being graduated from English, Rashid enrolled, as a post-graduate, at the Williston Academy in western Massachusetts. Planning to resume his football career, he was side-lined with a season-ending injury. Notwithstanding, the powers-that-be at Colgate University had seen enough of his athletic potential to offer him a full-scholarship. As fate would have it, after another more serious knee injury Rashid reluctantly decided to hang up his cleats.  Soon, a mid-winter road-trip to the very prestigious, then all-female, Bennington College proved to be life-altering. During that visit, due to a stroke of good fortune, Rashid met and enjoyed an intense and eye-opening, lengthy exchange with the wife (unbeknownst to him) of the Bennington College’s President. It was during his visit that he was convinced to transfer, with a few other male students, to Bennington College to be a part of their move to become a co-educational institution. This caused enough of a sensation at the time to have a major spread and story which was featured in the much-ballyhooed Magazine Section of  the New York Times.

Rashid Silvera in his classroom at Scarsdale High School

After earning his BA in Political Science and Anthropology at Bennington in 1972, he entered The Harvard Divinity School and earned  Masters of Theological Studies in 1974. One year later Rashid entered the Harvard Graduate School of Education, earning an Ed.M. in 1976. His first teaching position was at the private school, Browne and Nichols in Cambridge. Later he taught at three other well-regarded private schools:  The Gill St Bernard’s School in Gladstone, New Jersey and The University High School in San Francisco, California and Rye Country Day School in Rye, NY before settling in at The Scarsdale High School in 1981

After marrying the glamorous super-model Alva Chinn, who also grew up in Boston, the exposure to international fashion scene was mutually enticing and no less inviting for Rashid. “It came as no surprise to our friends that I too entered the world of high fashion quickly enjoying a series of significant, early, successes and breakthroughs”. Rashid soon began modeling for famous fashion photographers such as, Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber, and Rico Puhlman. After such credible validation, his career as a  fashion model took-off. Rashid became one of the first prominent African-American fashion models appearing (solo) on the cover of GQ, Code and Essence magazines.

He was eventually introduced to Ralph Lauren and his iconic world of Polo Style. “My first impression of Mr. Lauren was that he was a completely unpretentious icon of the fashion industry who was himself an authentic example of enduring classical elegance…completely comfortable in his own skin and soul.  When I first met him”,  Rashid recalls,  “he made a comment, as I remember, about me becoming a type of Cary Grant. Needless to say, I was totally flattered and smitten with his vision of men’s fashion and my potential success in that profession.” That ‘connection’ began a long relationship with the Ralph Lauren Company which has continued to this day. Rashid was the first African-American model to have a two-page spread for the Polo line in the Magazine section of the Sunday New York Times. While modeling clothes for a variety of avant-garde designers he always brought his own essence and “fashion-sense” to his job and presentations. He describes his own personal clothing style “as a mixture of classic British forms and joyous, Jamaican, distinction…Universally preppy.”

Rashid Silvera continues to be a model for Ralph Lauren to this day.

In a recent magazine interview, Rashid was asked about the origins of his appreciation for the history of various clothing genres and his personal style. Rashid reflected on his childhood and responded: “I have pictures of myself from my infancy all the way through elementary school, and high school and honestly… they look like images from the present Polo advertisements. I am wearing hand-knit infant outfits, little tweed blazers, rugby jerseys, everything. It is all there. My grandparents, with whom I spent the majority of my childhood, (along with Aunts Edna and Kay — now 102 years young), dressed me in their style—a style that was, at that time, already validated by two generations of fashion-credibility. We lived on Boylston Street across Fenway Gardens, in Boston, and there are photos of me dressed-up and taking walks among the flowers and fauna with my adorable Grandmother in tow. My Jamaican Grandfather grew up with a profound appreciation for the substance of British style. In truth, I feel as though I got my sense of British style from him. The apple did not fall far from its tree”.

Despite the glamour of modeling, teaching remains Rashid’s first and enduring love. He concentrated on the Humanities and Social Studies and elective courses such as: Introduction to Psychology, 19th Century Literary Philosophy, and Race and Ethnicity.

Both parents and colleagues at The Scarsdale High School praise his teaching style and his beneficial effects on the young minds he has encountered for almost 40 years in a way Mr. Langley would be proud of. One Westchester media outlet pointed to his “caring before sharing approach to teaching that has enabled him to bring out the best in his students, building lasting confidence and fueling their inspiration beyond Scarsdale High School.”

“Rashid is a unique educator,” said one parent whose daughter was one of Rashid’s students. “He is a mentor, an unofficial college guru, an internship placement advisor, and one of the greatest fans of and believers in his students that they will ever have outside of their own families.”

Rashid notes that while he has enjoyed having an impact on his students’ lives, he is most grateful for the impact they have had on his life.

“I used to tell my students that right now…many of your stories are about my story, but when you leave my classroom, my story will become your stories,” he says. “In every story I tell, I will be talking about you.”

Asked what his message would be to English High students today when faced with challenges, he refers to the powerfully relevant quote by English Poet Christopher Logue which reads:

COME TO THE EDGE
WE MIGHT FALL
COME TO THE EDGE
IT’S TOO HIGH!
COME TO THE EDGE
AND THEY CAME
AND HE PUSHED
AND THEY FLEW