Drew High School was the all Black high school in Monticello, AR where my parents and most of my aunts and uncles attended. Future FBI agents, factory workers, garbage men, educators, scientists, ministers, medical professionals, attorneys, engineers, mechanics, carpenters, brick masons, and even business leaders walked the halls of the white school building nestled in east Monticello along Highway 278. I grew up hearing stories about Mr. Williams, Ms. Sadie Johnson, Ms. Effie E. Brooks, and Mr. Hicks who are still held in high regard by former students of Drew. My parents told me stories of the delicious, home-cooked meals served at the school and the atmosphere of love at Drew. Growing up, I always thought Drew High had to be an amazing place, but it wasn’t until I volunteered at the past two all school reunions that I really realized how special Drew High was.
During the reunions, I still felt the love and the spirit of Drew High School through the people that attended the reunions. Hundreds of people came from all over the United States to celebrate the legacy of Drew High School. My aunt Corine Baines graduated in 1948, and she made the trek from Detroit, MI. She represented the oldest graduate of Drew High at the reunion. I had another aunt come from Marina, California and another one from Detroit. I met people from Texas, Kansas, and Wisconsin who shared their memories of Drew High with me. From the welcome reception on Thursday to the church service on Sunday, I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering and participating this year.
Drew High School existed during a time when separate but “equal” was the norm and backdoor service was the only option. My parents told me stories about the secondhand books they received from Monticello High (the all White school at the time), and how the Drew High teachers still provided the students with an excellent education. As an inquisitive child, I often asked my parents how they felt about receiving second-hand books and the answer was always, “it was what we knew, and as children it didn’t matter that much.” From their response, I began to see the desegregation of my parent’s school very differently. I always assumed that everyone wanted to attend an integrated school. As a child, I even asked my mom (Class of 1969) why she didn’t attend Monticello High School when she had the opportunity to. She quickly let me know she loved Drew High, she loved being with her friends and she loved the sense of community at Drew. My dad even told me that at Drew High “everybody was somebody.”
As I imagine what it was like to be a student at Drew, I ask myself how do we create a sense of community in schools where educators don’t live in the neighborhoods where they teach? How do we create a sense of community in schools where students are constantly expelled or suspended? How do we create a sense of community where dropout rates are problems all over the county? How do we create a sense of community when distant corporations run local schools? How do we create a sense of community when parents and teachers never cross paths? How do we create a sense of community when students are bused for hours to schools in foreign cities and towns? How do we foster love in schools the way Drew High did? Maybe the former students of Drew High could help me answer these questions. After all, the spirit of Drew still lives on and the community still comes together.
Article Submitted by Andrea Price, Social Change Strategist and Radio Show Host @thegivingnet