Last Sunday, I was the guest at the 70th high school reunion luncheon for Booker T. Washington Junior Senior High School’s Class of 1949.
There were speeches, musical solos and laughter. And lots of hugs for Georgianna Johnson Bethel, 96, who was a young teacher at BTW at the time.
Still, it was a bittersweet time. The 49ers, as they call themselves, have decided to call it quits. This would be their last class reunion.
“We decided in May of 2016, that if we were spared, our 70th class reunion would be our last,” said Whittington Johnson, Ph.D., vice president of the class. “Most of us are in our late 80s. We’ve had a good run.”
Indeed they have. A few years ago, Johnson did some research, and learned that the life expectancy of African Americans in 1949 was 58.
“We have lived to celebrate our 70th class reunion. We really beat the odds on that one,” said Johnson, 88.
There were 236 graduates that year. At the time, it was the largest class ever to graduate from BTW, Miami’s first high school for blacks. Today, there are at least 75 surviving 49ers, Johnson said.
The 49ers graduated post-World War II. And many of the guys in the class were older, having dropped out of school earlier, to join the Armed Forces. After the war, many returned to BTW to finish high school.
“We were football champs our senior year because a lot of the guys who had gone off to war, came back and bolstered the football team,” Johnson said.
At a time when it was hard for blacks to graduate high school, many of the 49ers were high achievers in the community.
Enid Pinkney was the first black to head the Dade Heritage Trust; the late Earl Carroll was Miami’s first elected black official; Percy Oliver, class president, was the first black to be president of the Greater Miami Athletic Conference; and Johnson was the first black to hold a tenured faculty position at the University of Miami.
Others, like Harold Branon, became a judge. William Campbell was a medical doctor and two members of the class were field grade Army Officers — Lt. Col. Albert Ferguson and Maj. Moses Jones, Jr.
So, on this day, I am seated at a table with two dear 49ers — Enid Pinkney and Winnie Cox. I look at their faces, beautifully lined by more than 85 years of living.
Winnie jokes about how she is so forgetful these days. Enid laughs. We all laugh. Then, somebody said, “I’m thankful that I can still remember anything.” Everybody agrees.
That got me thinking … I was 11 years old and getting ready to enter the sixth grade when the 49ers graduated from BTW, the school I’d wanted to attend ever since I was a third-grader at Frederick Douglass Primary School. (Back then, Douglass only went to the third grade).
And it hit me: We have watched each other grow old.
Growing old is one of those wonderful mysteries of life. Each day, from the minute we are born, we start aging. One day you are a child, playing house, then, all too soon, you are a young adult, living in a grown-up world, with grown-up problems.
Yet, I am in awe, and thankful for the changes that come with growing old — in my body, the way I look (I still have all my teeth), my white hair.
I am grateful each morning when I wake up and can still hear the birds singing in the trees in my backyard. I walk into the tiny room on the east side of my house, where I have my morning prayer and worship, and I see the sun through the curtains, already peeking over my neighbors’ rooftops.
I am thankful that I can remember what day it is; that I remember where I put the car keys and my glasses. I am so blessed to be in this season of my life.
When we were young, we didn’t think much about growing old. Oh, we wanted to live to be old, but it wasn’t a big deal. I do remember asking the Lord, that if I am blessed to get old, to please help me to grow old gracefully. I didn’t want to be the little old lady, wearing the too-short skirts.
Looking back over my life, there are some things I would have done differently. If I were still young, I would dream more and pursue them. I would take more trips to the beach to listen to the waves as they rush to the sandy shore. If I were still young, I would pack up my boys and we would take that road trip that we always talked about before they left home.
Walking this journey has taught me many things. I learned to be open to advice; not to be a know-it-all. Just this little nugget has served me tremendously well.
I learned that I couldn’t share my dreams with everyone because some people just wouldn’t understand. As a single mother, I learned to listen to the older women around me. After all, they had been where I had yet to travel and they knew the road wouldn’t always be easy.
These were some of my thoughts as I sat with the 49ers at their last high school class reunion luncheon. I was happy to be among them. I knew many of them when they were young. Now, many of them no longer drive, but got to the event anyway, dropped off by grandchildren or friends or Uber.
So, hats off to you, BTW’s 49ers. You have served your community and your country well. And you have left big shoes to fill.
Congratulations are in order
A special tribute to Cecily Robinson Duffie, Esq., who was presented with the 2019 Eunice W. Thompson Merit Award at the 64th National Convention of Charmettes, held at the PGA National Resort And Spa in Palm Beach Gardens. The award is the organization’s highest honor.
Duffie is the daughter of the late Thelmarie Mitchell Robinson and Andrew Robinson. She graduated with honors from North Miami Senior High School and received a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Florida, where she was a presidential scholar and a recipient of the Karl and Madira Bickel Assistantship. She earned her law degree from Nova University in 1988.
Duffie was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1989. She worked for the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, Legal Services of Greater Miami and the Florida Attorney General’s Office before starting her own practice.
The mother of five, including a set of twins, Duffie successfully changed the Miami-Dade County School Board policy related to the admission of twins and multiples to magnet schools. She did this while her twins were in kindergarten.
Married 33 years to Minister Troy Duffie, she serves as a deaconess and Sunday school teacher at the historic St. John Institutional Baptist Church in Overtown. She attributes the success of her marriage and her loving family life to her devotion to God, having accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior when she was only 5.
Aside from her family and her career, Duffie is devoted to her church. She is the founder of the St. John Youth Retreat and has served as its chair for 20 years. She also is program director for the Miami Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, board member of The Alternative Program (a pre-trial diversion program for first-time criminal offenders) and Iota Phi Lambda Sorority.
In addition to the twins — the Rev. Cecil Andrew and Cecily Anastasia — Duffie and her husband are the parents of Minister Troy Adam, Caitlyn and Trinity Duffie.