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Shakespeare: Poverty to success

Looking at Dr. Daniel Shakespeare, Andalusia High School principal, one would never guess he was once – in his own words – ‘a poor, abused thrown away boy’ until a ‘white teacher saw something in him.’

Friday, students in grades four through eight heard Shakespeare tell his motivational and inspirational story as part of Florala City Middle School’s black history month program.

He began his story about a “boy” who remembered the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy; about a “boy” mortified to have to pay for groceries with food stamps; and a “boy” who tried to protect his mother from an abusive, alcoholic husband and was hit in the head with an iron pipe for his efforts. He told about that same “boy” who was told he didn’t have “what it took to go to college” and instead should get a job at the River Falls lumber company.

“Do you know who that boy was?” Shakespeare asked the group. “Me. I’m going to tell you why teachers are so powerful. That boy – me – ended up in a ninth grade biology class taught by Dorothy Crawford.

“It was 1973 and the racial tension was more significant then that it is now,” he said. “That white teacher – and I hate to use that term – saw that boy had potential and stayed on him. She said, ‘Determination is inside you. No one can gauge your determination or how hard you’ll work. It comes from inside you.’

“That white biology teacher taught him to believe in the most precious resource – himself,” he said.

Shakespeare then told the students how he earned a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree and eventually a doctoral degree – a quest that led him to his present position as AHS’s first black principal.

“See, you can be anything you want to be,” he said. “People look at our outward appearance all the time, but no one can see inside.”

He then likened the education process to an arcade game.

“You know how your parents take you to those places where you get tickets for playing games?” he said. “You go in, play those games, earn those tickets and then redeem them for prizes, right? Your teachers do the same thing. They get you to pay attention, to do your homework. All the time you’re collecting tickets, or good grades, that you can use to get a better job, a better future. They invite you to learn, and that’s what it’s about. It’s your responsibility to accept that invitation to learn.

“That is the power of education,” he said. To prove his point, Shakespeare then led the grades in a group quizzes where correct answers earned lucky students $1.

Other special guests included Towanda Stinson who read the poem, “God, Why Did You Make Me Black;” Toi DeVaughn who recited Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and performed a song; local midwife Maria Milton, whose performance was delayed due the birth of a new baby, who read “We Can Make King’s Dream Come True;” another poetry reading by James McCurley; and musical numbers by Bishops Nathaniel Belcher and Fred Belcher.