The Music Lives On, Due to Chalkboard Champion Hortense Parker Gilliam

hparker2Throughout history, our lives have been genuinely enriched by legions of music teachers who have perpetuated the love of music in our young people. One such music teacher was Hortense Parker Gilliam, an elementary school music teacher who is the first known African American graduate of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

Hortense Parker was born in Ripley, Ohio, in 1859, the fourth of six children born to John Parker and Miranda (Boulden) Parker, a free black couple. Her mother was born free in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father was born into slavery, but in 1845 he was able to buy his freedom. John Parker became a noted abolitionist, inventor, and industrialist. Before the outbreak of the Civil War, John guided hundreds of slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad. In fact, the Parker home has been renovated and is now designated a National Historic Landmark.

Hortense’s parents were determined that all of their children should get an education. As children, Hortense and her two younger sisters received a standard education in traditional subjects, and they also studied music. After her high school graduation in 1878, Hortense enrolled in Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, now known as Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Her expenses were paid by a wealthy patron. The institution did not know she was a woman of color until she arrived on campus, but they did not cast her out. On the contrary, Hortense lived on campus in a dormitory along with 250 other students. Unlike many institutions of her day, Mt. Holyoke did not require its black students to live off campus. Hortense was remembered by her classmates as “a quiet ladylike girl, noted especially for her musical ability.” Because of her exceptional musical abilities, faculty and fellow students alike often asked her to play the piano in the seminary in the evenings after classes were done. She had aspirations to continue her music education in Europe upon her graduation, but unfortunately her patron passed away during her senior year. She graduated in 1883, the first known African American student to graduate from that institution.

After graduating from college in 1883, Hortense taught music and piano at Lincoln Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri, from 1906-1913. That same year she married James Marcus Gilliam, a graduate of Cornell University, and moved with him to St. Louis, where she taught music. During her long career, she also taught music at schools in New York and Indiana.

As the first African-American graduate of Mt. Holyoke, Hortense was featured in Our Path: Students of Color at Mt. Holyoke at the 2007 Alumnae Student Conference there. This chalkboard champion passed away on December 9, 1938, near St. Louis, Missouri.

Teaching in the School with No Name: The Remarkable Stacy Bess

about-staceyHere is a teacher who is truly inspirational: Stacey Bess of Salt Lake City, Utah. As a first-year teacher, Stacey landed in a classroom set up in a storage shed in an area homeless shelter. The facility was literally referred to as the School With No Name. As you can imagine, her students wrestled with a variety of issues, including unstable living arrangements, domestic abuse, poverty, and alcohol and drug-abusing parents. Not the most desirable circumstances for learning. But this remarkable teacher created a safe and loving classroom environment for her kids. She went to battle with the local school board for a more suitable teaching space and better resources. And, oh, yeah, she raised her own family and defeated cancer at the same time.

You can read the story of the dynamic Stacey Bess in Beyond the Blackboard, available through

Teacher Appreciation at Barnes and Noble

DSCN3405I truly enjoyed my author appearance at the Barnes and Noble at the Shoppes in Chino Hills last Saturday and Sunday. The event was scheduled to coincide with the store’s celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week. I am so grateful to the store, and Amy, who personally coordinated this event, for all of their year-long support for teachers, schools, and libraries.

In addition to signing copies of my books, I became engaged in many, many conversations with bookstore patrons of all ages about their favorite teachers. I often tell people that I love to tell stories about great teachers, so I truly enjoyed the opportunity to share the stories of some of the teachers in my books. But I was also particularly interested to hear all the marvelous stories about remarkable teachers that others had to share with me.

DSCN3404To honor these educators, I asked the patrons to write a message to a special teacher on an “apple” and then post it on the Teacher Appreciation Board. By the end of each day, there were three layers of inspirational messages to the terrific teachers of Chino Hills and nearby cities. Some of the “apples,” however, were carried away by the writers, who wanted to present them personally to their teachers. I think it’s wonderful to write a message and post if for the world to see, but so much better for the teacher to receive that message personally!

By the time the event was over, I was filled with so much pride for the teaching profession. How wonderful it is to be a fellow educator! I hope to do other events like this in the future. Perhaps next time, I will see you there!

Author appearance at Barnes and Noble

COM_W_PEOPLE_0208c[1]I am excited to announce that my author appearance at the Barnes and Noble at the Shoppes in Chino Hills has been extended to two days! I will be there both Saturday, April 18, and Sunday, April 19, from 1:00 to 4:00, to participate in the store’s annual Teacher Appreciation Day festivities. Why not come over, say Hi!, and check out all the wonderful materials the store has to offer. This company is very supportive of teachers, schools, and libraries, so no matter what city you live or work in, it is worth making a visit to your local Barnes and Noble. See you there!

Rich Franklin: The Multi-Talented Math Teacher

RichFranklinphotoIt’s no surprise that gifted and talented educators possess expertise in fields beyond the educational sphere. This is demonstrated very well by math teacher, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight Champion, mixed martial artist, businessman, and actor Richard Jay Franklin, Jr.

Rich was born on October 5, 1974, one of two sons of Richard Sr. and Valia Franklin. Although he was born in Kentucky, he was raised in Cincinati, Ohio. His parents divorced when he was only five years old, and through subsequent marriages he acquired five additional half-siblings. As a youngster, Rich attended William Henry Harrison High School. Following his graduation, he enrolled at the University of Cincinatti, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and his master’s degree in education. After college, Rich taught mathematics for four years at Oak Hills High School in Cincinatti.

lu25005-edit-199x300During his years as an educator, Rich launched a career as a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), with a goal of fighting professionally. He left the teaching profession to pursue his goal full-time. He quickly moved up the ranks, and in 2005 earned the UFC Middleweight World Title. Following this victory, Rich accepted a position as a coach on the second season of the television show The Ultimate Fighter.

In 2003, Rich launched a clothing company with several business partners. This enterprise was named American Fighter. “The American Fighter message was about finding the fighter in each of us,” Rich once explained, “Whether you are a person battling cancer, an athlete preparing for competition, or a soldier stepping into combat, we all have a fighter in us.” In 2012, Affliction Clothing expressed an interest in American Fighter. They acquired the majority of the company to take the brand to mainstream retailers where it continues to grow. “The American Fighter name had an obvious connection with military personnel and I have always felt it is my civic duty to give back to the troops,” Rich says. “I have visited military bases all over the country, both domestic and abroad. The most recent trip was to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In 2006, I began working with the military extensively, particularly with disabled veterans.” Specifically, Rich is an avid supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) organization.

Rich made his acting debut in a film called Cyborg Soldier,  where he portrayed an escaped super soldier. In 2010 he starred in Hamill, a story inspired by the life of Matt Hamill, a deaf UFC fighter. He can also be seen playing MMA Coach Billings in the 2014 comedy Mantervention.

The multi-talented Rich Franklin: a true chalkboard champion.