Jack Brigham, a retired Bakersfield College professor and social justice advocate, died July 7 from cancer. He was 69. Abdallah Ben-Hamallah writes about how his former teacher changed his life.

Jack Brigham lived his life according to principles he never swayed from until he took his last breath. At an early age he was involved in the civil rights movement because he believed in equality for all. He became very close friends with people of the Bakersfield community who had similar views such as Milt Younger, Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, to name a few.

Brigham was a teacher at the junior high level in a few Bakersfield schools and later became a professor of U.S. history and political science at Bakersfield College; he retired in 2007. That is where he probably touched people the most, including myself.

Many years after they took his classes, his former students would talk about how Mr. Brigham inspired them to pursue the careers they chose. Some said he “saved them from themselves,” while others fondly remembered him as that “father figure they never had.”

I, for sure, wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the influence, the generosity, and Mr. Brigham’s involvement in my life.

I first met him as a young student at Bakersfield College in the spring of 1998. After that encounter, my life changed forever for the better.

He made me believe in myself, mentored me, and always made sure I was prepared to succeed by assisting in any way he could without ever expecting anything in return. What’s special about that is the fact that he did similar things for countless other people.

For many years he opened his condo during Thanksgiving for stragglers and international students who had no place to go because he wanted them to feel at home and know that someone cared about them.

In October 2014, he and I were on our way to Idaho on a road trip and he told me that he respected my charity work so much that he was going to donate one third of his life savings, $100,000, to support my cause. Unbeknownst to him was the fact that my business partner and I had planned to build a health center in Malika, a small town outside Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, to honor him and his mentor, Milt Younger.

When I told him about that project, he added another $50,000, giving a total of $150,000 for a clinic he would never see and a people he had no ties to.

The health center was inaugurated in December 2015 and at least 100,000 patients per year will be using the new facility. Prior to that, for his birthday in 2014, we had a free water pump built and named after him in the same community. A few hundred people per day use that water pump, free of charge.

Halfway around the world, people are touched by his generosity and compassion in a significant way.

Brigham was a man of conviction who believed in doing what is right at all times.

— Abdallah Ben-Hamallah

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