A school of our own

Published 8:20 pm Saturday, February 23, 2013

By Dennis Edwards

We had one growing up. Actually there were three in our neighborhood. They were born in segregated times. But soon they became integrated into every facet of our lives.

Old Booker T. Washington High was next to Andrew J. Brown Elementary at Smith and Leigh. Two blocks away, there was John Randolph Elementary at Smith and St. James. Like bookends, Booker T. sprang to new life as the educational anchor of the city’s east end, while Suffolk High with its majestic appearance held court at downtown’s center.

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Times have changed. But the needs of people who live in Suffolk haven’t. Back then, schools of our own were the center of community life, the pride of generations and the academic centers of culture, work ethic, shared values and team as well as individual accomplishment.

Decades after Suffolk High and Booker T. closed, reunions are still being planned. Graduates of all types scattered around the country long for opportunities to reconnect with schools, teachers and friends who helped make us who we are.

We were challenged academically by great teachers who not only taught English, grammar, literature, math, languages, arts and science, but also carved into our spirits a sense of self reliance, respect, kindness, courtesy and fair play.

In a previous column I’ve described those qualities as “The Suffolk Way.”

With no school of our own in or near downtown or southwest Suffolk, where do our children learn to be the men and women we got a chance to be? Where is the shared sense of pride about being from Suffolk? Where is the incentive for young couples to settle into quality housing from Saratoga Street over to Lake Kilby?

How do we expect to revitalize a downtown that makes no room for young families by providing at least an elementary school with teachers who get viable reasons to live where they teach?

Former Mayor Andrew Damiani is sounding a clarion call by urging a new school for Suffolk C\city. Should we really have to think about that? Maybe the better response is to ask where in the downtown area would be the best location?

Would it be improper to ask what kind of partnerships might work between a church with available space and the School Board? Maybe a test site might work with, say, kindergarten through second or third grades to gauge need and interest?

There are visionary renovation projects under way, like Ruth Baker’s bed and breakfast plans for Truitt House, Jennifer Seebo’s and Mickey Boyette’s exciting transformation of the old I.O. Hill Funeral Home into the First Lady and chef Harper Bradshaw’s culinary metamorphosis of an old store on Main Street into a world-class restaurant called Harper’s Table.

Isn’t it clear that folks see a bright future for downtown Suffolk? If their plans and successes are evidence, then shouldn’t there be a vision for a new school in or near a revitalized downtown?

Remember the Proverbial writer who said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”?

We’re all excited about the growth of North Suffolk. But were it not for downtown, would there be northern suburbs to celebrate?

Our city’s long-term future depends on how much our community is willing to invest in passing values unique to Suffolk down to every child born here.

What would it take to get that done, to get a school of our own?

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at dedwards247@comcast.net.