In a few weeks, students will return to Miami’s historic Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Overtown. Also returning are former students — members of the BTW Alumni Association — who will resume afternoon and evening meetings at the school.
Although many of the alumni members retired more than a decade ago, they go back each year at the beginning of the first semester to start planning activities for the second semester. The signature event is the spring Living Legends Awards and Orange and Black Scholarship Gala.
This awards scholarship gala is presented in partnership with the Booker T Washington Alumni Foundation. At the 2017 year event, eight former students were recognized for distinguished service and 25 graduating students received scholarships for excellence in learning and achievement.
The recognition of former graduates began in 2003. Eight to 10 are honored annually. Years later, there are many more whose accomplishments deserve to be noticed.
The 2017 Living Legends represent classes of more than a 60-year span: 1953, 1956, 1955, 1960, 1961 and 2004. Students in the earlier classes earned undergraduate degrees at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), at a time when white institutions did not welcome black students. As a result, HBCUs such as Tennessee State University, Knoxville College, Bethune-Cookman College, Howard University, Florida A&M University and Morehouse College were favorites.
Following passage of federal legislation in the 1960s, more white undergraduate and graduate schools accepted black students. The honorees then chose University of Miami, San Diego State University, Nova University, Indiana University and Florida International University. Their career paths included the armed services, education, government service, healthcare, law, religion and sports.
The evening of Saturday, April 29, at the Biscayne Bay Marriott Hotel in downtown Miami was special for the 2017 Living Legends honorees and the graduating scholarship winners, their families, and friends.
“The Living Legends seek no special recognition for their achievements and they do not pretend to be flawless,” said alumni President Roberta Daniels. “In light of societal changes, personal and/or professional difficulties, they continued the course and succeeded past many challenges. Each embodies the Washingtonian ideal of individual creativity, conviction, dedication and exuberance. Their accomplishments and sense of commitment show they have enriched our community and society in a variety of ways.”
A profile page of each honoree was printed in a colorful souvenir journal distributed to those in attendance. Gala chair Eunice Davis, co-chair Cora White and the entire committee made it a special night of celebration in the expertly decorated orange-and-black ballroom. Media personality Vickie Frazier-Williams emceed and Booker T Washington’s Principal William Aristide was among the speakers.
In addition to the decorations, the beauty of the evening was the mix of Living Legends and other alumni members now 50, 60, 70 and 80 years old, presenting scholarships to the school’s ethnically diverse teenage senior class members. Each year, alumni classes, individual alumni members and the public donate named scholarships to help students further their education.
Unlike the graduates of the past, this year’s class can attend any school depending on their intellect and finances. Dreams of careers in information technology, becoming billionaire entrepreneurs or careers yet unimagined are theirs for the reach utilizing the skills they learned in high school.
Throughout 90 years, Booker T. Washington has been transformed from a once-segregated school with a limited curriculum and resources — the only public junior-senior high school for black students in South Florida — to a comprehensive senior high school with open access in memorable.
The school’s current focus is to provide an academy with emphasis on performance-based instruction, as well as enhancing school-to-work readiness; and to foster a creative partnership with the community at large establishing the linkages necessary to meet the diverse needs of every student.
This school serves as a vehicle to ensure that students are aware of rapidly changing technology, possess good leadership skills, participate in interscholastic extracurricular activities, as well as develop self-esteem and a sense of good citizenship.
Scholarship Committee Chairwoman Laura Jones’ plea is passionate: “As alumni, our concern for the students and school continues. We genuinely care. We encourage all graduates to give back, to help future generations at our beloved alma mater.”
In the meanwhile, alumni members are starting to plan for more scholarships and the 2018 Living Legends Awards Gala.
Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.