The cafeteria at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School was filled with people who are difference makers.
Some of them have spent as much as 50 years making a difference in public and private schools in and around Nashville.
It didn’t make the evening news. Most of the 1.5-plus million citizens of Davidson County will never know about it. Banquets to honor the unsung don’t command the media attention a murder, four-alarm fire or a rape case does.
It was the 17th annual Nashville Black Coaches Association banquet. It was a vision of retiring MLK boys basketball coach, James “Doc’’ Shelton.
“I thought about it in 1994,’’ Shelton said. “I told (the late Pearl coaching legend) Cornelius Ridley and Leroy Wright about my vision for it. Coach Ridley said, go for it. About 40 coaches met with me and when I told them about what I wanted to do, they all came on board.’’
The group honored six exceptional educators Thursday night. At least three in the group made teaching their profession before integration. Their stories are historic, but most will never be told. The world continues full speed ahead, leaving them behind.
Those honored were announced in alphabetical order. The longtime headmaster at Christ Presbyterian Academy, Richard Anderson, led off. Each honoree was introduced by people closest to them. Anderson was presented by former Vanderbilt and NFL linebacker Nate Morrow. He is replacing Anderson as CPA’s headmaster.
Dr. David Jones was presented by Darwin Mason.
“I was teaching at Maplewood when I learned about Dr. Jones,’’ Shelton said. “He was a pastor and one of the top administrators in Metro. They didn’t have many black administrators at that time in Metro. Dr. Jones always worked to help make teachers and administrators better.’’
Dr. Samella Junior-Spence is widely known as a former teacher, high school principal and administrator. She is retired, but told me she is continuing to work in the education field. The mother of former Alabama and NFL football star E.J. Junior learned a lot about students from her son. She was introduced by Dr. Watechia Lawless.
“Dr. Spence was one of the first black principals,’’ Shelton said. She filed a lawsuit when passed over for a principal’s position. In 1986, she became the first MLK principal, a nationally recognized school.
“She would buy a kid some shoes or a coat if they needed them,’’ Shelton said. “She really cared about those kids.’’
Mrs. Julie Waters worked in administration. She became an executive secretary for the Metro superintendent.
“You couldn’t get to the superintendent unless you went through her,’’ Shelton said. She was presented by Kay Stafford and Susan Martin.
John Younger was a high school coach, teacher and administrator. He became an assistant superintendent, the No. 2 man in Metro.
“He had a lot of power,’’ Shelton said. Younger was introduced by Wayne Parker.
Last, but not least, Dr. Aldorothy Wright was honored.
“I remember Dr. Wright as an assistant superintendent,’’ Shelton said. “She, Younger and Martin were all assistant superintendents.’’
Wright was introduced by Kenneth Martin.
There was a common word that was applied to every honoree. It was “impact.’’ All of them left an impact on students they mentored. They changed lives for the positive. There were the father figures and mothers some of their students were missing.
They are local treasures. They were more than important figures in Metro schools. They were the heart and soul.
Most important they provided love and discipline, whatever the case might have been to put students on the right path to success.
They were impactful. They didn’t do it for glory, or to get their pictures in the newspapers. They did it because it was the right thing to do. Some of them made the transition between segregation to integration when the atmosphere around Nashville was filled with strong feelings both pro and con.
A significant number of those who learned under these honorees will never forget where it all started for them.