LARGO - James E. Feazell Sr. was born in Mississippi when Mississippi was, well, Mississippi - at least for black folks.
Separate but unequal.He
came into the world 58 years ago in a black-only hospital.Later, his
folks moved to Pinellas County, which for African-Americans was only marginally better than Mississippi.
...James E. Feazell
always tried to obey his
still does, in fact.But he
refused to accept the inevitability of racism.
That is one reason that next month, he
will travel to Los Angeles to accept the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award given by the National Education Association
will be the first Floridian so honored.Among the first black teachers at Largo High School, Feazell, who taught social studies, helped develop a human relations council, founded a Black Culture Club and taught the first African-American history class.He
started a black baseball league and a black Boy Scout troop, and he
helped students apply for scholarships, choose colleges and find jobs.Later, as a recruiter for Pinellas schools
was responsible for hiring 648 black teachers in a decade.Even after retiring in 2003, he
started a free tutoring program to help students pass the FCAT.
...Feazell was a teacher of second chances, says BeBe Hobson, a former student who is now director of a Christian youth group.
had no money for high school graduation, a white lady showed up like an angel and took him shopping.James Feazell's
future wife, Gwen, lived four doors down.They met when she
was 13 and he
By eighth grade, Feazell
wanted to be a teacher.They helped the most people.After graduating, he
won a full scholarship to Bethune-Cookman College
in Daytona Beach.
gazed back at the sea of white faces.
It was 1968, and he
was taking an exchange class at Stetson University
was the only black person in the room.
The Bible told him he
could do all things through Christ.But he
couldn't help but remember how his
teachers said whites were better students.
got back his
first test, he
didn't look at his
grade right away.He
scanned the room.Some of his
white classmates scored Cs and Ds.He
grade was an A or a B.
Students were students, he
realized.It had nothing to do with skin color.
never imagined it was possible to do anything to change decades of injustice, not until he
saw the sacrifices the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was making for civil rights.When King was assassinated, he
wept in frustration.
"When I get back to Largo
decided, "I'm going to start making changes in my village."Feazell
was only 21 when he
started teaching at Largo High in 1969.The school recently had been desegregated.
Crowds of angry whites demonstrated at schools elsewhere.Racially charged fights broke out at Dixie Hollins and Boca Ciega high schools.Black students, frightened, didn't know what to expect.But many of them already knew Feazell
was their ally.
became a master at working the school system.He
loosened height and weight restrictions that had the effect of excluding some black girls from cheerleading.He
started a Little League for black boys.He founded a Black Culture Club and helped schools such as Dunedin, Osceola, Seminole and Gibbs High introduce African-American history in their curriculum.
"The one way you kill people is to take their history," he
told students."They took smart Africans from Africa.They brought them over because they knew they would W-O-R-K.You can't say we won't work; we worked 300 years for free."
When teachers sensed potential problems, they would meet with students to talk things out.Feazell
told black students they needed to get help from white folks to succeed.He
told white teachers that black students who acted up in class wouldn't turn violent; they were just being loud.
asks Jasmine Smith.
Jasmine's parents forced her
to join the tutoring program founded by Feazell
had failed the FCAT by 17 points.Feazell
would pull her
away from her
would tell her
not to talk to anyone.Pray.Study.Sit in the front row.Do your best.
After finishing Feazell's
passed the FCAT - by 2 points.Feazell
started the free program in 2003, to help Ridgecrest students improve their FCAT scores.If a student has a problem learning, there's a reason, said Feazell
"Find out how the kid learns," he
said."Find out about the kid's background."
Tijuana Diarra, 28, now a teacher at James B. Sanderlin Elementary School
, watched some of her
former classmates end up in jail or drop out of school.But Feazell
to attend college, writing her
reference letters and notarizing documents, checking on her
through friends, aunts, even professors.
"Every year, all four years, that smiling face encouraged me to keep going," Diarra said."He
said if you make it, I'll be there for you."
Some people love teaching, Feazell
loves the people he