Honoring a Living Legacy

By: Todd Martin
Celebrating courageous leaders for guiding an oppressed people to greater freedom, a specialized high school in Killeen saved the highest honor for one of their own.

At Pathways Academic Campus Wednesday, during the heart of Black History Month, school and community leaders recalled Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, Carter Woodson and other powerful contributors of the past.

In the end, a group of Pathways students presented a Living Legend award to Byrolyn McDonald, a business teacher going strong in her 38th year in Killeen ISD.

“She is the backbone of the campus,” said Pathways Principal Bobbie Reeders, following the surprise presentation.

“It was a surprise and quite an honor,” McDonald said following an emotional presentation that included family members as well as leaders from her church and the school.

“I just want my students to move up in life,” she said. “You have to get an education. I want them to be successful, to be the best in whatever they do.”

Killeen ISD Deputy Superintendent Desmontes Stewart explained to students and guests in the audience the history of Black History Month and acknowledged many African-American leaders of the past.

It was scholar Carter Woodson who initiated National Negro Week in 1915, celebrated in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

That annual focus on a neglected part of history stretched to a month-long celebration in 1969.

Stewart recalled America’s civil rights movement marked by heroes who stood up for their constitutional rights in diners and on buses and those like King, who mobilized a movement through powerful rhetoric and peaceful protest.

“How are we building on the past,” the deputy superintendent asked audience members, challenging students and adults to continue a legacy of rising above obstacles.

He shared elements of his own past. Raised in a one-parent household with little means, Stewart acknowledged he made mistakes, but said he learned to focus on academics, athletics and surrounding himself with encouraging people.

Those principles led him to be the first in his family to obtain post-graduate degrees including a doctorate degree.

The Rev. R.S. Lewis, Jr., pastor of Unity Baptist Church, also encouraged students to take advantage of their opportunities to further their education.

He pointed out that Joseph Searles, who was part of the first integrated high school class in KISD, played professional football and was eventually a floor leader on the New York Stock Exchange.

Pathways student leaders said the celebration of Black History Month was an important reminder of the difficult path that national and local leaders have blazed for a new generation.

“It acknowledges what they went through to get equal rights,” said Jose Olivo. “We can see how far we’ve come,” said Michelle Gathara. “We can see the strength they have.”

“When you look at our community, we are a menagerie,” said Reeders. “It is who we are and we celebrate everyone.”