‘HistoryMakers’ Are Still Making History|SPOTLIGHT

When I was a student at Druid High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., during the early 1960s, I always looked forward to Career Day. Our principal, Mr. MacDonald Hughes, had high hopes for students in my all-Black high school and he made sure we had high expectations of ourselves. It was a simple concept: Former students who had made a name for themselves were invited back to their alma mater on Career Day to show students that people from their school and neighborhoods had attained success despite having grown up in America’s version of apartheid. The point was that if these former Druid Dragons could make it, so could the students who followed in their footsteps.

I am being charitable when I say Mr. Hughes “invited” us back to Druid High. Our conversation usually went something like this: “Old big-headed boy” — Mr. Hughes called everyone big-headed, regardless of the size their head — “I want you here on May 10 for Career Day.”  Mr. Hughes didn’t ask if I could take the time off from work, he did not offer to pick up my expenses, and it never crossed his mind that I could possibly have something else to do on the day he wanted me back in Tuscaloosa. He just told me when to be there and I answered the way I always answered Mr. Hughes: “Yes, sir.” Then, I would tell my editor at Sports Illustrated or the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that I had to be in Tuscaloosa that day. And I was.

Because I remembered the impact Career Day had on me as a student, I would gladly pay my way back home, hoping to inspire students in my old high school. I got as much out of those visits as the students. Mr. Hughes is deceased and Druid High School was torn down and replaced with a new building carrying a different name that I will not utter.  If they have a Career Day, it is certainly not on the scale of the one organized by Mr. Hughes.

The HistoryMakers has taken on the role of Mr. Hughes in my life.  Last year, I participated in their first “Back to School with the HistoryMakers” program, a day when HistoryMakers descended on schools around the nation to inspire and encourage students. More than 170 HistoryMakers spoke at nearly 100 schools in 50 cities.  Because I was scheduled to give a speech at Tuskegee University last Sept. 16, I accepted an assignment to participate at Booker T. Washington High School the following day.

At my request, we had a males-only session that morning. It was an hourlong conversation about life, the sacrifices one makes to be excellent and following one’s dreams. We talked about peer pressure, especially the pressure to not live up to one’s academic potential. Several young men stayed after the session to continue talking.  Lt. Col. Herbert E. Carter, a retired Tuskegee Airman, spoke to the entire student body in the afternoon.

The Tuskegee News story by Jeff Thompson observed: “On Friday, Sept. 17, Booker T. Washington High School in

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