Dr. Melissa Crum: Thoughts about Diversity Education

As educators, it is always fitting and proper to think about how we can best serve the needs of the students of color who comprise our classroom population. This is particularly true during Black History Month. In this TED Talk, the issue is explored by Dr. Melissa Crum, an education consultant, diversity practitioner, and artist who conducts workshops with many educators in urban schools. Dr. Crum was inspired to do this work when she remembered incidents from her own childhood, and when she observed that many teachers have challenges teaching and relating to students who do not share their same cultural background. In response, she worked with a museum educator to create an arts-based professional development series that helps educators reflect about how they are interacting with their students. Here she shares her inspirational and eye-opening message that everyone who works with students should hear.

Roanoke’s Lucy Addison: From Slavery to Honor as a Virginia State Woman in History

There are many examples of African American educators who have made an indelible mark on their communities through their tireless and selfless work in schools. One such amazing teacher is Lucy Addison, a public school teacher from Roanoke, Virginia.

Lucy was born the daughter of slaves in Upperville, Fauquier County, Virginia, on December 8, 1861. After her parents were emancipated by the Civil War, her father purchased a farm where he raised his family. As a young girl, Lucy attended the Institute for Colored Youth, a private school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that boasted an entirely African American faculty. She graduated with her teaching degree in 1882.

Lucy began her teaching career in Loudoun County, Virginia. In 1886, she transferred to First Ward Colored School in Roanoke, Virginia. The following year, the principal of the school passed away, and for the next year Lucy served as the interim director. She continued in this role until 1888, when a new school was built and a male principal hired. Lucy then served as both a teacher and an assistant principal for the school in the decade that followed. Miss Addison, as she was known, was prim and proper in appearance, but all considered her fair and approachable. 

In 1918, the veteran teacher was named the principal of the newly-built Harrison School, which at that time offered classes only through the eighth grade. In those years, Roanoke’s African American students were not able to earn a high school diploma. By gradually introducing new coursework, Lucy eventually created a full high-school curriculum. The State Board of Education recognized her tireless efforts in 1924 by accrediting the Harrison School as a secondary school.

Lucy retired from the teaching profession in 1927 and moved to Washington, DC. In January, 1928, the Roanoke City School Board announced that a new high school for African Americans would be named in the former educator’s honor. On April 19, 1929, Lucy attended the formal opening of Lucy Addison High School, the first public building named for one of Roanoke’s own citizens. Lucy passed away from chronic nephritis on November 13, 1937, in Washington, DC. She was 75 years old. In 2011, this remarkable educator was honored by the Library of Virginia as one of the state’s Women in History.

To read more about Lucy Addison, see Virginia Women in History or Encyclopedia Virginia.

Clara Belle Williams: First in the Hearts of New Mexico State University

Many African American teachers are distinguished for their firsts. One of these is Clara Belle Williams, a beloved New Mexico educator who was the first Black student to graduate from New Mexico State University (NMSU).

Clara Belle Drisdale was born in Plum, Texas, in October 29, 1885. As a young woman, she attended Prairie View Normal and Independent College in Prairie View, Texas. The institution is now known as Prairie View A & M University. A brilliant and diligent student, Clara Belle was named valedictorian of her graduating class in 1908.

After her graduation from college, Clara Belle accepted a teaching position at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she taught for more than 20 years. During this time, Las Cruces public schools were segregated. While teaching in 1928, she enrolled in summer school courses at the New Mexico College of Agriculture & Mechanic Arts (NMCA&MA). Shamefully, many of her professors would not allow her inside the classroom because she was Black. But that didn’t stop the intrepid teacher. She took notes from the hallway, while standing up. Clara Belle finally earned her Bachelor’s Degree in English from NMCA&MA in 1937. She was 51 years old at the time. Always a lifelong learner, Clara Belle continued her education well beyond her graduation date, taking graduate level classes into the 1950’s.

In 1917, Clara Belle married Jasper Williams. The union produced three sons: Jasper, James, and Charles. When her sons were grown, all three of them attended college and graduated with medical degrees.

During her lifetime, Clara Belle Williams was awarded many honors.  In 1961, New Mexico State University  named Williams Street on the main campus in her honor. Additionally, NMSU conferred an an honorary doctorate upon her in 1980. The university named Sunday, February 13, 200t, Clara Belle Williams Day. Included in the festivities was the renaming of the NMSU English Building as Clara Belle Williams Hall.

This remarkable educator passed away at the age of 108 on July 3, 1994, in Chicago, Illinois. She was interred at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. To learn more about Clara Belle, click on this link: New Mexico State University Library.

Florida School Shooting: Mourning the Loss of Three Chalkboard Heroes

Once again our nation mourns the tragic loss of life in a school shooting which occurred two days ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This most recent shooting brings to national attention three exceptionally courageous chalkboard heroes who were killed while attempting to protect their students from the gunman, a former student described as mentally ill who was expelled from the school last February.

Scott Beigel

Among the slain is geography teacher and Cross Country Coach Scott Beigel, age 35. Student Kelsey Friend remembers her teacher with great respect. “Mr. Beigel was my hero and he still will forever be my hero,” said the grieving teen. “I will never forget the actions that he took for me and for fellow students in the classroom. I am alive today because of him.”

Chris Hixon

Also killed in the attack was Athletic Director and Wrestling Coach Chris Hixon, age 49. Known for his generosity to students, he would give them rides or lunch money and, if they needed it, welcome them into his home, remembered his wife, Debra Hixon. “He just loved being around kids and giving back to the community,” she said. Also a United States veteran, Chris served his country as a Naval Reservist and was deployed to Iraq in 2007.

Aaron Feis

The third chalkboard champion who perished was Assistant Football Coach Aaron Feis, age 37. An alumnus of Stoneman Douglas High School, Aaron had been a football player when he was a student, and in 2002 he returned to the campus to serve as a coach. Witnesses say Aaron shielded students with his own body, and was hit by oncoming bullets which caused his fatal wounds. “He died the same way he lived –he put himself second,” expressed football program spokesperson Denis Lehtio. “He was a very kind soul, a very nice man. He died a hero.” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel concurred. “The kids in this community loved him. They adored him. He was one of the greatest people I knew. He was a phenomenal man,” said the sheriff.

To view CNN’s story about all 17 victims of the shooting, click on CNN: These Are the Victims. You can also read the story at Times: These are the Victims.