The Dallas Examiner
The experiences of segregated school systems and the contrasting, modern promise of evolving and inclusive teaching for all students intersected at the African American Educators Hall of Fame 2017 induction ceremony held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Duncanville April 8.
The luncheon, established by the African American Education Archives & History Program in 2004, celebrated the careers and accomplishments of current and former educators, administrators and civil rights trailblazers Joseph T. Brew, Dr. Lois Harrison Jones-Fears, Mildred Newton Finch, Michele Anderson Goady, Kathryn Mitchell, Lucious L. Newhouse Jr., Shirley Ison-Newsom, Annie Heads Rainwater and Jimmy V. Scales Sr.
Built upon the philosophy of “Remembering our past / Acknowledging our present / Embracing our future,” the event began with a welcome from State Representative Yvonne Davis, District 111, who also acted as mistress of ceremonies. However, it was the words from a student and those of the respected teachers, faculty and game-changers of Dallas County schools through video presentations that vividly conveyed the purpose of the ceremony.
Terrence Dean Jr., sophomore at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, attempted to illustrate the depth of the value that proper education has on children during his address.
“Those of my generation don’t understand the luxury of education that others were not so easily granted,” he began. “Because during my grandmother’s time and during my great-grandmother’s time in education, all that you were taught as part of African studies was that the only contribution that your people, or people like you, or people with a similar skin color as you, have only contributed to America is picking cotton. That’s it.”
He denounced that notion as false and affirmed that there was far more to African American history than the predictable, passed-down narrative.
“And I want to thank the educators that came before me today because they have challenged that. A lot of educators forget their presence,” Dean noted. “And a lot of educators think that what they are doing isn’t important. Well let me tell you … your job as an educator is not only to teach the curriculum, but it is to shape and mold a young mind, a mind that will soon be the next president, a mind that will soon be the next city council member, a mind that will soon be the next engineer, or the architect or the next scholar. That’s your job; to instill within that young mind, despite the color of their skin, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Upon the conclusion of the speech, the inductees were briefly introduced by Dr. Alfred L. Roberts Sr., president of the AAEAHP. Video segments for each honoree played as the surviving guests of honor described high points and experiences in their careers.
Newhouse said that he attained his greatest achievements in Dallas ISD.
“From that point on, life has been a successful moment for me because after 30-some years in the military, what I learned from that situation as an observer, I carried those knowledge activities twelvefold, and worked on every child,” he said. “Every child – every child – can be a learned child. Every child can be successful. My goal was to be the best that I could be and train others to be the best that they could be in everything and whatever they will be at.”
Mollie Finch Belt, publisher of The Dallas Examiner, spoke during the video segment about the ground her mother, Mildred, broke at El Centro – the first Dallas Community College – where she was not only the first African American professor, but also became the entity’s first African American chair of the mathematics department.
“She loved teaching calculus and other higher math courses,” she said. “I can remember that she was very, very disappointed because students were not prepared to take calculus. They graduated from high school and they did not have the basics that they needed to take calculus, so that’s why she started the learning center at El Centro.”
Since that time, Finch’s efforts have been commemorated with the establishment of the Mildred Finch Endowed Scholarship, and the mathematics learning center officially has been renamed the Mildred Finch Learning Center.
As the video for Goady was projected for attendees, she remarked that helping to establish Head Start programs as the leader of the district’s Early Childhood Education department is what was most important to her.
“I believe we have a rich century of education and we have to pass it on …” she shared about the positive influence Black teachers have had upon students in the district. “What we do impacts them for the rest of their lives. It’s not a matter of saying, ‘Yes we can.’ It’s a matter of saying, ‘Yes, we must.’”
There was a bit of light humor during Ison-Newsome’s video clip.
“The first year I was awarded teacher of the year, my first year teaching, because I knew my stuff,” she laughed. “And secondly, I wanted the kids to learn.”
She explained that – even though she was in charge of some of the most “challenging” children when she began her career in Louisville, Kentucky – her pupils produced results because she demanded results from them.
“But what those kids understood was that I expected them to hit the moon.”
The teacher maintained that adults who held lower expectations for students were costing everyone in the long run.
“If our children are not doing well, our society is not doing well. My philosophy with our kids is, I want for everybody’s child what I would want for my very own.”
Rainwater was an exception within the group because she was not specifically an educator. Still, her son Willie asserted that her place in the Hall of Fame was well-deserved.
In 1963, with the assistance of the NAACP, she sued the Carrollton School District when her children were barred from being educated in the city where she lived and paid taxes since the local schools were White-only at the time. Black students had to be bussed into Denton or parts of Dallas. The drive could be time consuming, the transportation would occasionally break down, and the bus stops provided no shelter from the elements. Due to Rainwater’s lawsuit, R.L. Turner High School became the first high school in Dallas County to integrate.
“The first one off the bus was Nancy Rainwater,” Willie announced proudly about his sister, the first Black youth to crack the campus’ wall of segregation. “I think Nancy was about 16 years old. The first one off the bus, the first one to walk into R. L. Turner High School.”
The concerned citizen, who led the change toward a more fair and inclusive district, has since been memorialized by the naming of the Annie Heads Rainwater Elementary School in 1992.