BY: Bintia Drame
As a native born Trinidadian and Tobagonian man, Willis Burris adapted to weather that is either dry or rainy. Burris came to New York in the winter of
1987 to get his Bachelor’s degree. When he arrived he was welcomed by an accumulation of 8.1 inches of snow, which was the first snow storm he ever encountered.
Emphasizing on the word “winter,” Burris told his story. Burris, now 55 years old, remembered how the blizzard stopped him from registering for classes. Nearly 30 years later the York College alumni published his first book. The “untold story” of his life experiences to inspire and instill a vision in anyone who reads it.
Although he majored in Ac– counting, at the end of the three and a half years he spent at York, Burris wasn’t the kind of student who focused on only one subject. He took economics and journalism courses, eventually becoming the managing editor for Pandora’s Box. Years after graduating from York and getting his Master’s degree in Business Administration from Pace University, Burris still con– siders his education at York his strongest asset.
“I think the York Bachelor’s – not think, I know – I consider it more powerful than my MBA,” said Burris. “Because I’ve been able to help a lot of people over the years and the York bachelor’s in Accounting was the foundation for that.”
Burris gives credit to the professors who helped him find his footing, and one of them was director of York College’s Journalism program, Professor Glenn Lewis.
“He recommended that I start writing for Pandora’s Box, he was so involved with the paper,” said Burris. “His influence was very worthwhile.”
While Burris remembered the effect Lewis’ guidance had on him as a student who was at– tending an American school for the first time. Likewise, Lewis recalled Burris’ enthusiasm towards learning.
“He was always a very serious minded student, always very mature for his age,” said Lewis. “He was always thinking ahead to career opportunities when he was only a sophomore.”
Vividly thinking back to his childhood and growing up poor. Burris, the ninth of 10 children, remembered the role his father played to ensure him and his siblings became successful. Burris drew inspiration to write his book The Man I Love and Me in dedication to his father.
“My father was a visionary, even though he was a simple rural village man, he always looked at the world globally. He used Bible quotes to guide us,” said Burris. “He had to be a man of strong faith and wisdom to raise us to become self-sufficient and successful.”
The guidance from his father was an influential tool in his life, but his career choice derived from a childhood experience. He traced his passion to pursue his career to an economic-based revolution that took place in his hometown. During this revolution, there was a warehouse fire that really hit close to home for him.
“When I heard it on the news that morning, I started crying and I told my mom ‘where are we going to get food from?’” said Burris sadly. “At that moment I realized I had to do some– thing to reorder the economic affairs of the world.”
A man could leave his home but he most likely will carry its cultures, traditions and values with him. As a student at York College, he was involved with different clubs including one that reminded him of his country, the Caribbean club. There he became close with now chair of the Accounting and Finance Department Associate Professor Robert Clovey. Closing his eyes and smiling as he took a trip down memory lane, he reminisced about the relationship they had over 20 years ago.
“Back then we were a very close nit group, we were all kind of in the same situation, just came to America,” said Clovey. “That was like family to us.”
This month Burris returned to York for a visit and donated several copies of his book to school officials, including the president’s office and the library. Living in the Queens area for some time with his wife of almost 25 years Beverley March, Burris was never too far from the college but he considered this visit a “major return.” Grateful for having Lewis as one of the teachers who taught him some of the skills he has that helped him while writing his first book, Burris gave a copy of the book to Professor Lewis and signed “Thanks for being a professor.”
“Think about how amazing it is to see a student 25 years later, who is saying I wrote this book because of you,” said Lewis. “It makes you feel that what you’re doing has an impact long term.”
Bintia Drame is a staff reporter. She can be reached at