Film, Television, and Radio
Dutchess Community College, New York
By Madeline Patton
For Bill Duke, it was Constance Kuhn who played a key role while he was still a student at Dutchess Community College. And it was founding president James M. Hall who did it after Duke graduated.
Duke had entered Boston University on a Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship upon graduation from Dutchess in 1963, but he still had to work to pay his other expenses. When he went home that summer, he told his parents he was going to quit.
"I was not doing well because the work was taking too much time," he says. When he dropped by Dutchess to see some friends that summer, Duke also happened to see Hall. "I hear you are going to drop out" of Boston University, said Hall, who knew most of the students on campus. Duke was a Black militant in those days and his first response to the college’s white president was "very rude," he says.
But Hall persevered. And after a frank discussion of Duke’s situation, Hall gave Duke a personal check to cover expenses for the next two years.
"I was astonished—totally astonished," says Duke. Hall’s generosity "changed my life, my way of thinking about myself, and my way of thinking about other people."
After earning an associate in arts degree at Dutchess in 1963, Duke went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Boston University and master’s of fine arts degrees at New York University and the American Film Institute.
During his 30-year career, Duke has directed more than 70 television shows. His credits as a film director include Deep Cover, The Cemetery Club, Sister Act II—Back in the Habit, and Hoodlum. His credits as an actor include American Gigolo, Commando, Predator, Menace II Society, and Payback.
He sees his work with students at Howard as a way repaying those who have helped him in his career. He has set up a center for Howard students in Los Angeles "so our kids can compete with other kids in the industry" while gaining experience working in television and movie production.