This qualitative study examined the life experience of Mr. Benjamin S. Ruffin through an interpretative biography and portraiture. The interpretative biography is a nontraditional approach to biography that creates the subject in context (Denzin, 1989) and portraiture extends the narrative from a story of life experience to a "dynamic interaction of values, personality, structure, and history" (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 1997, p. 11).;The American university is one of society's key institutions, perhaps the leading organization available to respond to changing social imperatives (Benjamin, 2003). Examining the life experiences of Ben Ruffin as a social activist and education leader in North Carolina enhanced our understanding of governance in higher education.;The data drawn from interviews, observations, document review, photo elicitation and archival research concluded that Ruffin's black consciousness, cultural cohesion, and leadership development informed his practice in university governance.;Ben Ruffin's life experience provided him with a black consciousness that helped him analyze and empathize with the difficulty of growing up poor and black in America. This phase of his development shaped how he would come to view the world. Through cultural cohesion, he achieved success against difficult odds and recognized the role of poverty and racism in the marginalization of first a community and then a people. The Civil Rights era resulted in the development of Ruffin as an activist. Ruffin's formal and informal roles within organizations propelled him to assume leadership positions as he engaged in activities that ensured social justice and access to opportunities for blacks in the Jim Crow South. This phase would define Ruffin's leadership style, one that would require him to create a bridge between his world in black Durham and that of white Durham.;The development of key leadership skills strengthened his resolve to enhance life for blacks and also to reach beyond the boundaries of race and class to affect change across North Carolina. The Ruffin model demonstrates an individual's ability to transcend circumstance and move beyond circles of race and class to affect change on significant levels for the broader community.