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Sometimes pause, reminiscence and perspective offer food for the soul

By Vernon A. Williams

It is easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment – particularly when the so-called leader of the free world fashions vitriolic, divisive rhetoric that constitute Weapons of Mass Distraction. The truth is closer to center.

The truth is, we have come a long way, even in the face of far greater obstacles than the unprecedented meanness and rancor of one president. And yet, equally true is the fact that we have a daunting distance yet to journey as a people before we can rest.

JOINED BY VELT classmates (from left) Ernest Battle, Jackie Davis, Pat Bundy, Juanita Robinson, Corenza Adams and Carlton Nichols.

The Gary Roosevelt High School Class of 1969 celebrated its 50th anniversary of graduating from that revered educational institution. Current conditions notwithstanding, few can argue that the legacy of Roosevelt is an untold American success story. For those unfamiliar, the school came into prominence during a time in which racism and discrimination restricted African American residency primarily to the midtown, or central district of the Steel City. Roosevelt is the centerpiece of that reality.

Roosevelt was designed to facilitate that segregated educational climate. Though city fathers may have meant it for evil – as a tool to keep separate Black and White students, God meant it for good.

TEACHERS: Barbara Taliaferro, Ruth Hoyle, Victor Thornton and Hazel Thornton.

Some of the best prepared, most compassionate, intellectual and effective teachers in the nation had few options because of the color of their skin. That meant that Gary Roosevelt High School became a crucible for learning and character development.

The latter resulted from constantly drilling into the minds of cohorts traipsing those hallowed hallways on 25th Avenue that they were not merely students, they were part of a rich tradition because they inherited the duty of sustaining a precious legacy.

Imagine that. Black students in every course of study programmed to believe that they had both a rich, powerful past as well as unlimited, boundless prospects in life if they only adhered to tenets of education, citizenship, tenacity, work ethic, respect for self and others, and community.

TEACHERS: Coach John Campbell, Doris Thompson, and Sgt. Louis Stewart.

What was even more impressive than these Black educators’ commitment to conveying this message through loving instruction, was the absolute buy-in by virtually the entire student body. Students accepted the indisputable veracity of this empowering philosophy – their Roosevelt birthright, if you will.

When Roosevelt students traveled to downstate basketball games during the tournaments in March, they dressed in shirts and ties and maintained a high level of decorum – no matter how flagrant the referee’s preference was for inevitable white opponents.

More important than any basketball game was the Roosevelt tradition.

Principal Warren “The Hawk” Anderson once entered the packed student auditorium to deliver an important message. He strolled from the back to the front of the noisy edifice where students were talking and laughing aloud, as students were apt to do. But when he reached the podium, with no words spoken, he raised his right hand, head high.

Without a word or any admonition or threats from teachers, the din suddenly and completely faded into respectful silence. You could literally hear a pin drop before his first words spoken. That was the Roosevelt way.

Yes, that was another time. But it actually lasted for generations. Many Roosevelt teachers taught children and grandchildren of those who sat in their classrooms.

That was a time when getting in trouble at school carried multiple consequences. That was a time when teaching, indeed, was the noblest profession and student aspirations were nurtured.

I owe whatever modicum of “success” God blessed me to experience in large measure, to those dedicated teachers (as well as those at Beckman Junior High School and Garnett Elementary). So do hundreds of my classmates who attended that recent reunion held at Marquette Park Pavilion (the same venue for our first reunion).

The Velt Class of ’69 was blessed to have several of those iconic educators attend the Golden moment. They included Barbara Taliaferro, Victor Thornton, Ruth Hoyle, Coach John Campbell, Sgt. Lewis Stewart, Doris Thompson, and Hazel Thornton.

Tender reflections and nostalgia permeated the atmosphere as reunion goers were amazed at how many friendships that date back to our earliest beginnings were still intact, how many beloved classmates were lost along the way, how intent we were to sustain the Roosevelt tradition of achievement, pride and lifting as you rise, how blessed we are and, finally, how much we still want to give back.

For where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going from here, the consistent theme resonates in the title of our school song, “Roosevelt, Dearly Loved.”

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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