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Somerville exhibit honors Philip Reavis Sr.

Amanda Brynn Birbara
Somerville exhibit honors Philip Reavis Sr.
Phil Reavis Sr. and Phil Reavis Jr. at the Somerville exhibit. BANNER PHOTO

Somerville is recognizing one of its own in a new museum exhibit called “Above and Beyond,” a tribute to the life and athletic, musical and teaching triumphs of native son Philip Reavis Sr.

Students from the Somerville High School Local History Club curated the exhibit at the Somerville Museum after discovering that a man who graduated from their high school in 1954 has made a legacy across the world.

Phil Reavis Sr. high jumping at a Villanova track meet. BANNER PHOTO

Reavis is best known for his athletic career in track and field. He broke multiple records as a high jumper while in high school. He was recruited by Villanova University and went on to compete in the 1956 Summer Olympics.

Seeing his life honored in the museum came as a surprise to Reavis, now 86.

“I’m almost shy to it. I’m glad it happened,” he said.

His achievements have publicly come to light recently, which led to a successful local campaign to memorialize a new athletic field at Somerville High School after him.

Phil Reavis on the cover of Sports Illustrated, 1958.

Reavis said he has experienced similar surprises in his life, including being featured on a 1958 cover of Sports Illustrated while he was on Villanova’s track team. The photograph is featured blown up at the exhibit.

After participating in the Olympics, Reavis went on to do much more. The exhibit highlights the many journeys that he has made in his 86 years. Reavis now lives in Macau, China where he taught English and formed a jazz band, but flies back often to visit his family in Somerville. A section of the exhibit is dedicated to images of the Reavis family. Many show him embracing loved ones.

Reavis said he hopes that when people visit the exhibit they experience “how wonderful it is to be together.”

Phil Revis Sr. holds a poster of his Sports Illustrated cover from 1958.

Denise Provost, a Somerville resident and former state representative, attended the opening of the exhibit. Provost said she is a friend of Matt Hoey, the Somerville resident who started the campaign to rename the athletic field.

“The visual images were stunning,” said Provost, calling a photograph of Reavis doing the high jump “breathtaking.” Provost said she was surprised to find out that Reavis has also been a teacher, jazz musician and poet.

Somerville High School Local History Club members: Lillian, Elena, Ryann, Adda Santos, teacher; Ruthanna (behind teacher), Adwoa,
Michael, Michael’s mother (Missing: Ella). BANNER PHOTO

Adda Santos, a history teacher at Somerville High who founded the Local History Club there in 2012, said Reavis has lived a remarkable life that is tied to the history of Somerville.

“[Reavis is] one of the first people of color to have a public space named after him in the city,” Santos said.

“There are so many lives out here of ordinary folk that need to be celebrated, and especially people of color,” she added. “There was so many years we were always behind the scenes, and it’s important to see us kind of coming to the surface.”

Earlier this year, Santos’ team of seven students began to curate an exhibit about the life of Reavis. The group has spent the past few months after school researching and working with the Reavis family, particularly with his son, Phil Reavis Jr., 63, to go through pictures and memorabilia to honor the life Reavis Sr. has led as an Olympic athlete, educator, jazz musician, poet and family man.

Santos said she is proud of the work her students have done to create the exhibit.

“My takeaway from every time I work with young people, it’s like how incredible they are, and how insightful, and how much I can learn from them,” she said.

Adwoa Ampene, a junior, joined the SHS Local History Club at the beginning of this year, and created the world map and “teacher, musician, poet” section of the exhibit. She said that looking at local history and stories “helps to show us that there are so many people out there who’ve done so much, that are so close to us.”

“I noticed that everything that Mr. Reavis did, everything that he loved to do, started in Somerville. Every single thing he did that made him who he is today started locally, and I think that should inspire people,” said Ampene, noting that Reavis started doing track at a Somerville park as a kid. “No matter where you start from, no matter where you come from, you can do just as many things as anyone else.”

The exhibit opened June 8 and runs through July 8 at the Somerville Museum, 1 Westwood Rd., Somerville.

Philip Reavis Sr., Somerville, Somerville High School, Sports