Edison - Liberty City

She was a teacher, principal and the first black teacher of the year in Miami and Florida

Lenora Braynon Smith became the first black Teacher of the Year in Miami-Dade Public Schools and the first black Teacher of the Year in Florida. Lenora Braynon Smith Elementary School, 4700 NW 12th Ave, Miami, is named after her. This photo is of a portrait of her that hangs in the school.
Lenora Braynon Smith became the first black Teacher of the Year in Miami-Dade Public Schools and the first black Teacher of the Year in Florida. Lenora Braynon Smith Elementary School, 4700 NW 12th Ave, Miami, is named after her. This photo is of a portrait of her that hangs in the school. Miami-Dade Schools

Lenora Braynon Smith was the epitome of the term “Finer Womanhood.” When she died on April 29, after a long illness, she did so quietly and dignified, just as she had lived.

Smith had humble beginnings, having been born in Miami’s Railroad Shop District, a small black community in the Allapattah area, in 1927. The area had been designated for black railroad workers who cleaned the railroad cars.

It was an era when it was common for black children to have to walk past all-white schools to get to the colored schools, which often were several miles from where they lived. But Smith and her friends were always encouraged by her parents, who instilled in them the importance of getting an education so they could “become something in life.”

Smith was a 1944 graduate of Booker T. Washington Junior/Senior High School, where she sang in the choir and played varsity basketball. Even then, she was known as a leader and was a member of the school’s Student Council, Drama Club, Girl Scouts and the YWCA Club. She later attended Florida A & M University (then college), where she sang in the concert choir and earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Education.

It was while she was away at college, in her junior year, that members of the Railroad Shop community came home one rainy evening to find eviction notices and locks on their doors. Later, an all-white school — Allapattah Elementary — was built on the property that was once home to several hundred black families.

It was a trying time for blacks who lived in Railroad Shop and had been displaced, as well as for other blacks who lived elsewhere in Miami-Dade County. It seemed there was no safe space for blacks back then. Slowly, the former residents of Railroad Shop relocated — some with relatives and some wherever they could find a place to live.

Still, people like the Braynons, Joneses, the Hortons, the Bendrosses and many others kept hope alive, by stepping over the obstacles placed in their paths. Many of their children (Smith included) grew up to become teachers, doctors, attorneys, judges, pharmacists and other professionals.

Years later, Allapattah Elementary School was renamed for Smith, becoming the Lenora Braynon Smith Elementary School.

Smith had begun her career in education as a secretary at Poinciana Park Elementary. Her principal at the time, Elizabeth N. Pittman, recognized the gift that Smith had with children and often used her as a substitute teacher.

She encouraged Smith to become a full-time teacher. It was a move that years later would get her recognized by the then-Dade County Schools Superintendent Dr. Johnny Jones, who appointed her principal of Little River Elementary.

An educator for more than four decades, Smith was principal of Agenoria Paschal/Olinda Elementary when she retired. She was dedicated to the education of all children and excelled in all that she did — becoming the first black Teacher of the Year for Dade County, and later the first black Teacher of the Year for the state of Florida.

At the time, Smith shared her philosophy on teaching:

“Experience has taught me that there are some basic concepts which are necessary in any learning situations. These concepts should prevail in the minds of all teachers of young children — but even more so, in the minds of teachers of children whose backgrounds are meager… One may never see a good teacher. It is what happens to those we teach that is important. It is in the child who reaches his potential that we see a good teacher.”

I first met Smith as a young mother and admired her immensely. She was married to the late Lt. Leroy Smith, who at the time of his appointment, was the highest ranking black on the city of Miami Police Department. While Smith was a mentor to me, her former husband was a mentor to my older son Rick and hundreds of other young boys.

Lenora Smith was a devout Christian and considered the church as her extended family. She was baptized, confirmed and grew up in the Historic St. Agnes Episcopal Church in Overtown, where she sang in the choir.

After marrying Smith, she transferred her church membership to the Church of the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Liberty City. There, she taught Sunday school and later became superintendent of the Church School. She was a member of the church’s December Birthday Club and was a Daughter of the King, which follows the motto, “For His Sake.”

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She was a distinguished member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Beta Tau Zeta Chapter and took pride in working with young people.

Still, those who knew her received the greatest honor because she was in their life. Smith is survived by her devoted daughter Alexis Jo Smith-Parker; grandsons Derrell Leroy and Leroy Edward Parker; many nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and her cherished friend and former pastor, the Rev. J. Kenneth Major, as well as her church family.

100th birthday celebration

Warm birthday greetings to Mother Mattie Lee Jenkins, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Mother’s Day. She was recognized by Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestine of District 2 on Monday.

Jenkins was born in Burke County, Georgia, and is the mother of nine biological children, and one adopted son.

She worked at Georgia Regional as a foster mother until well into her 80s. She moved to North Miami to be with her daughter Eloise Lathers. They are members of Faith Community Baptist Church.

Jenkins has 26 grandchildren, 53 great-grandchildren, and 24 great-great-grandchildren.

Ebony Chorale concert on Sunday

The annual Pink Tea at the Church of the Open Door United Church of Christ will be at 4 p.m. Sunday (May 19) and will feature the acclaimed Ebony Chorale of the Palm Beaches.

The musical group represents singers, most of whom are not professional musicians, who dedicate their time to singing for the joy and love of music.

Dr. Orville T. Lawton founded the group, which debuted in 1992 with the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and chorus, performing the choral movement to Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” Since then, the chorale has given more than 400 performances throughout Florida, and in California, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Michigan.

The church is at 6001 NW Eighth Ave. in Liberty City. The community is invited.

Grads to be recognized

The community is invited to the annual Grad Day service at 10 a.m. Sunday (May 19) at The Church of God Tabernacle (True Holiness), 1351 NW 67th St. in Liberty City.

The service will honor graduating youngsters from kindergarten through college. More than 30 scholarship awards will be presented to first-time college students and those who are returning to college. Bishop Walter H. Richardson is pastor.

Trip to Washington in the works

If you have thought about a trip to Washington to tour the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, you don’t have to think about it any longer.

Event Coordinator Dorothy Heard has organized a tour of the museum, to leave from Miami on Oct.16 and return Oct. 24. The tour will also include the World War II Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument and other sites.

The cost of the nine-day, eight-night tour is $825 and will include meals, hotel and transportation.

If you go, a deposit of $75 per person is due by June 16, with the final payment due Aug. 9. For more information call Heard at 305-965-8205 or email her at, dhppig@att.net