TeachLINK Revised
Making the Connections
Issue: # 11
Spring / 2015
The Oklahoma Teacher Connection 
 A Division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
A Message From the OTC Director:

                       Celebrating Black History Month 2015


In this special issue of the TeachLink, we shift our focus to the issue of poverty and education.   Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."  Much of this sentiment is echoed in the voices of African American educators featured in this newsletter.  Abstract qualities such as the caring attitudes educators exhibit toward students, and how these attitudes are expressed as actions, are not easy to quantify; therefore, it is rare that we hear about the contextual and practical experiences that surround the issue of poverty in a schooling context.  This situation is the reason we decided to dedicate this issue to those educators who work diligently each and every day to care for students by helping them to grow both academically and socially. 


Please join us in observing the wonderful reflections of Oklahoma educators as they share their experiences working with students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.


As always, we appreciate all you do to help Oklahoma flourish in the field of education.  I hope you enjoy this edition of the TeachLink!













Dr. Goldie Thompson,

Director of Teacher Education and the

Oklahoma Teacher Connection

Direct from the Editor's Desk

 Focusing on Potential over Poverty



Greetings Colleagues,


Welcome to the second annual edition of TeachLINK's Celebration of Black History Month.


I find extreme pleasure in sharing with you the stories of 9 African American educators who have made tremendous contributions to our state. Each featured educator grew up in an environment with limited resources and in some cases, staggering, and almost nonexistent sources of financial backing. However, with the generous support and resources of others and their hard work, they made it!


None of our honorees allowed their start in life to dictate their destiny.


They all championed their way by earning a college degree and advanced degrees, which allowed them to reach their potential. Along the way, they took the hands of their students and encouraged them, and worked over and beyond to make sure they achieved academically as well.


This year, the TeachLINK will be featuring professional development opportunities which will be taking place throughout the state that address and are working to improve and close the achievement gaps of the marginalized.


The Oklahoma Teacher Connection's 2015 theme is Focusing on Potential over Poverty. Be sure to watch the transformation - Amazing!


Continue to invest in lives, educators!



Deena V. Thomas, Editor


Making the Connections,










Celebrating Black History Month


The Freedom to Choose Potential over Poverty


To earn a college degree is not simple, easy, or free. Choose to pay it forward!


On the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the landmark piece of federal legislation signed into law by former President Lyndon B. Johnson that prohibited racial discrimination in voting, marked an era when African Americans triumphed and championed their civil right to vote - an opportunity to choose.


Not every facet of life grants an individual choice. A person cannot choose his race, gender, or where or to whom he is born.


However, despite a person's physical make-up, upbringing, or socioeconomic status, most can make the conscious decision to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them, one being the privilege to acquire a post-secondary degree.


Regrettably, far too many poverty stricken children in some instances cannot see past their stifled, stagnated environment to view their educational choices. However, when choices are promoted and exercised and resources are made available, a larger pool of the underserved would ultimately reposition their goals and repurpose their aspirations.


In a January 2015 article entitled, Oklahoma Watch: Poverty Declines in Oklahoma, but Disturbing Trends Persists, the Oklahoman reported Oklahoma's official poverty rate fell from 30 percent in 1959 to 17 percent in 2012; however, the rate for children under age 18 has risen from 20 percent to 24 percent over the same period. For children under 5, the current rate is 31 percent. Oklahoma is still a comparatively poor state, with the nation's 16th-highest poverty rate.


Poverty rates for people of color


The article went on to say that the poverty rate remains much higher for black people - 30 percent, but Oklahoma's rapidly expanding Hispanic population is not far behind at 29 percent.


For poor people of color, their perception is their reality.


In his critically acclaimed book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, the father of Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson said, "When you control a man's thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don't have to compel him to seek an inferior status, and he will do so without being told. His education makes it necessary."


The fallacy with poverty is that it does not determine nor measure a person's intelligence.


The article entitled Study: College Completion Gap between Rich, Poor Widens, which appeared in a February 2015 issue of the Journal Record, reported the percentage of students from the lowest-income families - those making $34,160 a year or less - earning a bachelor's degree have inched up just 3 points since 1970, rising from 6 to 9 percent by 2013.


In contrast, college completion for students from the wealthiest families has risen dramatically, climbing from 44 to 77 percent.


These disproportionate degree completion disparities speak to the urgent need for more backing to enlarge the degree completion rates among low income students.  


The study findings also disclosed degree completion gaps are growing. While 99 percent of students entering college from the highest-income families - those making $108,650 or more a year - graduate by age 24, and just 21 percent of students from the lowest-income families finish by that age, the Journal Record reported.


Therefore, in an effort to create more opportunities for support and resources for the people who live in impoverished conditions, as well as inspire the mindsets of those, who can build and open up the flood gates of prosperity for the marginalized, the Oklahoma Teacher Connection's 2015 theme and purpose is Focusing on Potential over Poverty.

A poverty mindset is a perpetrating bankrupt notion that is influenced by the cause and effect of poverty. However, in reality, access to opportunities and resources, as well as genuine, concrete support and encouragement are the true catalysts, which drive the potential of the underserved, who are seeking higher educational attainment.


Woodson, a man from humble beginnings and one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate from Harvard said, "No man knows what he can do until he tries."


The foundational framework needed to help the underserved obtain a college and/or advanced degree is shaped by the leadership, the teaching and learning of science, mathematics, English, arts, and history, while practicing and respecting the inclusion of all cultures.


Considered as poor children by American standards, but as adults, the honorees of the 2015 TeachLINK's Black History Month Celebration are rich in character and honor. In this special edition, we will examine the lives of 9 prominent and impactful African American educators. In their roles, they reached back into the poor rural and urban communities and replenished the sooner state's reservoir with a countless productive, educated citizenry.  


These change agents' abundant contributions stretch across the mega themes of wisdom, relationships, speech, work, and they say their successes are rooted in helping others.


Each honoree contends there is a direct correlation between their modest starts with their educational progression, their position of influence, and their ability to relate and effectively communicate the importance of education to those they have served and continue to serve.


The unified message that Oklahoma's African American educators tirelessly echo is that to earn a college degree is not easy. It's not simple. It's not free. Choose to pay it forward!  



It starts with the LEADERSHIP


It is not simple - The Simplicity of Wisdom


Betty J.C. Wright,

Chairman, Rose State College Board of Regents

Rose State College

2014 Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame Inductee


She was the fourth child of 10 children from a small rural town in Florida, who knew early on that she wanted to go to college and become a teacher.

Chairwoman, Rose State College Board of Regents 
Rose State College

Betty J. C. Wright, Chairwoman,

Rose State Board of Regents


With no money and no education himself, her father, a paper mill employee, who often worked double shifts, went to his supervisor, asking if someone could help send his daughter to college for one year.


Two weeks later, Betty J.C. Wright was called into her  father's supervisor office and was told she would receive a full four year scholarship, making her the first person in her family to complete a college degree.


"People invested in me. I am grateful, and I have joy in my heart," Wright said.


Today, Wright is a 2014 inductee into the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame (OEHF), and her portrait proudly hangs in the Oklahoma State Department of Education among other Oklahoma educators who have been honored for their life's selfless contributions to educate the people of this state.


The love of teaching


When asked what she thought contributed to her longevity in the field when separate was not equal and the poor had few options, she simply replied - "I love to teach!"


"I know it sounds kind of corny, but it is my love for teaching. It is such a deep love that I can't even describe it. I have always wanted to be a teacher, and I have always practiced it as a child. It is like being a parent. If you have a child, you love that child. You don't like to potty train. You don't like changing diapers. You don't like sitting out in 20 degree weather, watching them play a saxophone in a band, but you do it, because you love that child," Wright said.


Wright stated a parent does what he has to do, because in the back of a parent's mind, "It's that love you have for your child," she said.


Her first assignment as an elementary teacher was in Mainz, Germany in the American School, integrating military schools over 50 years ago. Later, she returned to the United States to integrate Lawton, Oklahoma's north side sc



Wright also worked in Oklahoma City Public Schools, where many of her students did not enter her classroom on grade level. She explained there are two differences between those who live in poverty and those who do not.


"The two basic differences between kids who live in poverty and the kids who do not are motivation and basic skills level. The kids from low income homes have not been told they can do the work. 'They will say I can't do this.' Secondly, they do not have the things in the home that they need to bring their skills up to where they need it to be," Wright said.


She said there are some underserved kids who are self-motivated and can perform at the same level as those who are from middle to higher income homes. However, when t

eachers have children who require additional help to succeed, Wright said it is the teacher's responsibility to promote and encourage growth.


"When you know you have kids from poverty, a teacher has to instill in them that they can do it. Many suffer from low self-esteem. When you tell a child you made 20 percent on a test, they begin to feel they cannot do the work, and they begin to feel badly. It is up to the teacher to say you can do this. I can't start them at the top, but instead, you have to start them from where they are and bring them up to where you want them to be," Wright said.


The Rose State Chair said many teachers neglect to encourage their low achieving students, because it requires extra work. Her work in and out of the classroom speaks to her commitment to her students, and her teaching philosophy does as well.


"All children can learn and it's my job as a teacher to find ways they learn best," Wright said.


Kyle Dahlem, a 2010 fellow Oklahoma Educator Hall of Fame inductee and Wright's OEHF nominator said her friend was way ahead of her time.


Dahlem the former director of Teacher Education and the Minority Teacher Recruitment Center with the Oklahoma Sta

Kyle Dahlem, Executive Director of Oklahoma DaVinci Institute
Kyle Dahlem, Former Director of Teacher Education and the Minority Teacher Recruitment Center, OSRHE


 Regents for Higher says she has known and worked with Wright for a number of years, and has grown to truly appreciate and value what she does.


As the two prepared for the Hall of Fame nomination, Dahlem said, "In getting to know all the work Betty has accomplished during her tenure and her career is phenomenal."


Transformational Teacher


"Betty was a transformational teacher even before the word transformational was an educational term. She has kept newspaper clippings and numerous awards, so there's quite a record of what's she has done. She took the time to know each child individually and to design a learning experience that met the needs of those children. She considered each one of them as her own, and because she was so skillful at that, she impacted her teaching colleagues as well," Dahlem said.


In a time of tension when civil rights activities were taking place in the states and abroad, Dahlem said Wright was a civil rig

hts leader in Germany and was actively recruited to integrate Lawton's prominently white schools as well.


"Wright has received local, state, and national recognition for economics, STEM, business, civic, community awards and honors. Before you could buy manipulatives, she made hundreds and hundreds of manipulatives like coins out of cardboard, allowing her kids to get a sense of handling money,"


Dahlem told a story about a letter she read addressed to Betty from a mother of one of her students, talking about ho

w their family had to move across the city, which is a common occurrence when low income families can no longer afford to pay

 the rent. The mother wrote her son was troubled and had issues and had run away from home.


"There was a city-wide search for this child. The bottom line is he worked his way back and by the next the morning, he was sitting in Betty's classroom. He would not and could not leave his teacher. The parent described a story of how Betty loved each student so specially, so personally, and this particular one had run away and traveled by foot for miles and miles to get back to her. It was an amazing story. She one of a kind," Dahlem said.


Former U.S. President, George W. Bush, Sr., recognized Wright in the White House Rose Garden, awarded her with the 1991 Presidential Award for Excellence in teaching Mathematics - an honor befitting of one who is the greatest among the people, a servant - Betty J.C. Wright.             



Dr. Donnie Nero, Former President of Connors State College


The former President of Connors State College, Dr. Donnie Nero said, today, students have an array of opportunities to go to college.


"Students have the prerogative, the choice, and

the responsibility to attend college. They have are no excuse not to attend," Nero said.


No Excuses


Nero stated that if students do not enter college directly after high school, they begin to accumulate a lot of baggage, prohibiting immediate access and ultimately stopping out before they begin,

Former President of Connors State College
Dr. Donnie Nero, Former President of Connors State College

more excuses.  


Excuses were not accepted by Nero's support groups of the home, church, and school where he grew up in Green Pastures, a rural community in Spencer, Oklahoma.


Upon the urgent prompting of his teacher and pastor, Rev. W.B. Parker; teacher and mentor, the late Clara Luper; his parents, and extended community supporters, Nero completed his Bachelor's of Science degree at East Central University after graduating from the all Black Dunjee High School. He began his career at Sapulpa Junior High, working as a math, science, and social studies teacher, and gradually moving up to hold the positions of counselor and assistant principal.


He obtained a Master of Science degree in Educational Administration from Oklahoma State University (OSU), certifying in administration and superintendent, as well as holding 5 other teaching certificates. Finally, the lifelong educator earned his terminal degree in Occupational and Adult Education from OSU as well.


Over the course of his 38 year education career, Nero climbed the ranks working in more than a dozen positions from teacher to president of Connors State College, serving as Oklahoma's first and only African American president of a predominately white institution, a post he held for 11 years.


Nero said the single most paramount inroad he has established is that what was once thought to be impossible - he made possible.


"It is possible. It is doable. Set your goals, and do not let anyone discourage or persuade you to take up different goals. Do what you desire to do. If your goal is to be a teacher, be the best teacher you can be. If your goal is to be a principal, president, or a chancellor, set those goals and be persistent in those goals. I always believe never forget from where you came. If you do not forget from where you have come, the road is clearer. Once we attain a certain level, we should not get to a point where we become too proud, or see ourselves as if we have done what we have accomplished on our own. We always have to remember where we are, and somebody helped us," Nero said.


The Importance of Mentors


Nero said as he moved upward, he looked for mentors. He looked for people who were already in positions he aspired to hold.


"I looked for someone who was a president, or someone who had been a president. I was very fortunate to be m

entored by Dr. Ernest Holloway, who was president at Langston at the time. I asked Holloway to give me some pointers. We were under that same OSU board, so that was very helpful. Holloway provided a great deal of information and shared a lot of wisdom with me. I could have said well, that doesn't work, or you're too old, or that does not apply today, or I know more than you. However, I have always learned to accept all of the wisdom and the knowledge from those past generations, and from those who have been down the road ahead of me," Nero said.


Nero stressed that if people would focus on the lessons learned and apply those lessons, then an individual can achieve success.


"Move self out of the way, push self over to the side and look at the big picture of why I am here and how did I get here," Nero said.


As Connor's president, Nero managed to accomplish 3 of his top strategic objectives, which were to increase enrollment, to improve housing, and to enhance employee morale - all to recruit and retain students. He managed to achieve all three.


"Upon my arrival, the vice presidents and I took a tour of the campus, and I asked them if they would allow their children to live in the current housing facilities, and they replied no. I in turn replied to them, since that' the case, we do not want our students to live in them either. At that point, we launched the initiative to update Connor's housing, after listening to the wisdom of Holloway," Nero said.


Relationship Building


Finally, Nero conducted faculty and staff meetings separately, asking each group what they would like to see happen at the institution. What was good or what was bad about the institution. With the help of the HR department, they listened and had discussions with both the faculty and staff abo

ut how they could go about improving the school.


"I have always believed that our best recruiters are those people who work for the institutions. At all levels of my career, there were people I followed and observed to see how they handled people. If you go by the rules and regulations regardless of color, treating everyone the same, you don't have to worry," he said.


The single most unfortunate tragedy facing the underserved are missed and free opportunities, according to Nero.


"I preach to my relatives and those I come in contact with, asking if they have signed up for Oklahoma's Promise. Oklahoma's Promise is the best opportunity that our state offers for low income families. In higher education another change which has been good is an old school philosophy that I call - out with the old and in with the new," Nero said.


He said all presidents and vice presidents in higher education had a certain look - white men.


Now, Nero said the state is witnessing diversity.


More than Athletes and Entertainers


"We are now seeing women in higher education, more women presidents; however, there is a need for more young Black professionals in leadership positions. There are a number of Blacks with bright minds, who would benefit from the wisdom and the knowledge shared by seasoned profe

ssionals, be it Black or white. Black folks are than sports and entertainment," Nero said.


He told a story about his brother in law, Jack Striplin, an all state athlete in a number of sports, w

ho was recruited to play with the St. Louis Cardinals right out of high school. Striplin's career was cut short after he got injured, ending his opportunity to play sports - present one day and gone the next. Without an education, his choices were limited.


"Education is key to everything that happens in this world. The U.S. President and CEOs had a teacher that put their hands on their shoulders and said to them as they did to me, 'you can make a difference. You are somebody. You are important, so get after our lesson'," Nero said.


A Purposeful Life


To completely fulfill his purpose, Nero, the recipient of a string of commendations and who works on a list of boards, is the founder and president of the Oklahoma African American Educators Hall of Fame, a platform he established to pay homage to Black educators who have given so much.


Dr. Donnie Nero is that educator.      






Dr. Dorscine Spigner-Littles, Professor Emeritus and Associate Chair of Human Relations, Oklahoma University (OU)



Dr. Dorscine Spigner-Littles is well traveled. She has had the privilege to crisscross the earth and stand on specific

Associate Professor Emeritus and Associate Chair of Human Relations
Oklahoma University
Dr. Dorscine Spigner-Littles, Professor Emeritus and Associate Chair of Human Relations, Oklahoma University

geographical locations and view

the world's abundance of cultures up close and personal through her own lenses.


OU's Emeritus Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Human Relations served as the Assistant Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences from 1989-1993. During which time, she facilitated the minority graduate student recruitment program, which created many initiatives to recruit and retain students of color. 


Littles has authored and co-authored several text books and journal articles, as well as conducted research that sharply examined the intricate cultural details and practices of a multitude of international cultures that most will never be able to encounter.


Dr. Littles is a master professor of human relations - the study of

relations with or between people, particularly the treatment of people in a professional context.


"Educators need to understand the cultures of the students they are interacting with. One of the problems that we have is often times particularly with the intercity schools, the most inexperienced, newest trained teachers are sent to those locations. The least prepared teachers go to the schools that need the most help. That's a mismatch," Littles said.  


Littles stated research findings show Black boys have a lot of connectic energy, and they like to move around a lot. She said some studies have shown that children who start out in kindergarten generally keep up with their classmates until third grade, primarily because there are a lot of hands on activities, movement, and stimulation.


"However, during third grade, learning becomes more structured and is no longer fun for some students. That is where the drop off occurs and is noticed, particularly among African American boys. The classroom becomes more structured, and it maintains that type of order for most of the day," Littles said.


At the point of drop off, Littles stated the use of different IQs of students would help improve learning, specifically among the underserved.  


"Teachers need to tap into all of the different intelligence levels in order to close the achievement gap. I have always believed that students can achieve more when they can connect to the information. When I was a student, we had great teachers but poor facilities for many of the minority schools. But within those walls, we had passionate teachers, who believed every student could learn. Instructing several grade levels in one classroom, teachers taught the basics, the A, B, Cs, and believed education was the key to the future. Teachers believed in their students and encouraged us. Teachers taught students skills in living and how to survive in a hostile environment. Education taught the whole student at that time, which is the one thing that has changed in the education process today," she said.


The richness of Oklahoma history


Littles said in her graduate level courses, she always began with a history lesson no matter what she was teaching, because unfortunately, her students were ill informed about their rich history.


"Students need to know what each culture has contributed to the building of America and to the world in general. I teach my students about M.L. King or Booker T. Washington. Oklahoma history is one the most fascinating histories of any state because of the mingling of 3 cultures at the beginning of the formation of statehood. It was the Native Americans, the African slaves newly released from the south, the white, ex-patriots from the south, and other European people coming for free land," Littles said.


Respecting and valuing cultures


"I think history should be taught before every lesson whether it is science math, English, or geography, underpinning the contributions of every culture," she said.  



Teacher Education


Dr. Carole Hall-Hardeman,

Associate Graduate Dean/Professor of Education

Langston University


Her father was orphaned by age 14, but he never allowed his circumstances to dictate his destiny, nor did his daughter, Dr. Carole Hall-Hardeman.


Former Associate Graduate Dean and Professor of Education
Langston University
Dr. Carole Hall-Hardeman, Associate Graduate Dean/Professor of Teacher Education, Langston University

Hardeman says it was her strong family values and the belief that anyone can achieve excellence, a legacy that was passed down to all six Hall children, all of whom have earned post-secondary degrees.


To pursue a bachelor's degree was a natural educational progression for Carole Hall-Hardeman, the daughter of former Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Regent, Rubye Hall and father, Ira Hall, the former Assistant Director of Secondary Education for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.


Hardeman earned her undergraduate degree from Fisk University, and she earned both her Master's and terminal degrees from the University of Oklahoma. She also attended Harvard University.


She has served as an award winning music teacher at Northeast High School with Oklahoma City Public schools. In higher education, she has held administrative leadership posts and faculty positions at LeMoyne-Owens College in Memphis, Tennessee, the University of Oklahoma, and closing out her career at Langston University as the assistant graduate dean and associate professor, whose focus was urban education.


Her accomplishments, awards, and honors, speak to her commitment to quality education in common education, as well as in higher education.


Retirement has reared up her engines. Hardeman, a member of Links Incorporated, a service organization, along with a number of Oklahoma City educators and interested constituents have partnered to address the educational community concerns, under the umbrella entitled, Closing the Achievement Gap (CTAG). The group has targeted the underserved population within the metroplex area.


CTAG is igniting a city-wide push to get more community leaders, politicians, parents, clergy, and educators involved in or in the decision making process of common education by attending education meetings, speaking out f, and working hand in hand with all parties to help improve Oklahoma City schools.


During a forum, the Links invited Kim Casey a consultant from the Kettering Foundation, known worldwide for its extensive research and use of national issues. She shared a snapshot preview of what is taking place on topic across country.


Parent Involvement


Hardeman stated one of challenges current educators are facing is parental involvement.


"If you schedule a parent/student conference at 3 p., in the afternoon, parents will not be able to show up, because they are working, particularly from lower income areas. They cannot come because they are paid by the hour. They cannot afford to get off work and come in the middle of the day to attend a meeting," Hardeman said.


Hardeman stated there should be two-way communication between the parent and the school, setting a time that is convenient for the parents.


"The teacher has to make the sacrifice in order to meet the needs of the parents. There are so many things that the school and the home can do together, and I am not sure if this is stressed by the school administrative leadership within the schools," Hardeman said.


In an effort to increase teacher recruitment and retention, as well as reducing the rates of student remediation while elevating achievement, all parties must be driven to find  solutions. Hardeman said there are some unknowns or maybe there are several areas of concern, which have not been explored, involving higher education and common education. Both are accountable to each other, according to Hardeman.


"There needs to be more cooperation between higher education institutions and common education administrators. For example while in Memphis, serving as the Vice President of Academic Affairs, the Ford foundation awarded LeMoyne-Owens College and Memphis State University a grant," Hardeman said.


The grant facilitated collaborations between common education principals and higher education faculty.


"The higher education faculty asked what some of their strengths were? What were some of the weaknesses in their program? What is it that you like about our programs? What are some of the things we do not doing? Finally, what would you like to see us do within our program?" she added.


As a result of the exchange, school administrators worked as guest lecturers, and the two groups maintained in-depth discussions about to how teach math concepts, as well as other disciplines, extending bonuses beneficial to their students, higher education faculty, K-12 teachers and administrators.


According to Hardeman, "Good teaching constitutes that all students should learn something new at the end of each school day. Teachers should greet students at the door before each class period. Teachers should communicate happiness that their students came to school. Finally, students do not need to know you love them until after the second week of school, as well as letting them know you are the teacher in charge. When I practiced those guidelines, I never had much trouble out of my students," she said.


Hardeman said the greatest highlight of her career was when she trained 20 little girls from a nearby housing project to answer her phones after school.


"I had the students read and recite a phone speech I had prepared. Before too long, other faculty members learned about the children and were willing to help support the kids by facilitating classes to teach them writing, math, science, and Spanish," she said.


The LU professor said, "I continued to work with the girls, organizing them into a choir and later I secured funding from the Memphis Arts Council, Black Social Workers and Healthcare professionals. With their support, the girls were able to take field trips. I purchased performance attire, and we performed at various prestigious arts events across the state."


When Hardeman held a meeting for the parents of the children, only one parent showed up. She was the mother of two girls in the program.


"Those two girls went onto college and became teachers," Hardeman said.





Dr. Henry Kirkland, Professor Emeritus of Biology Concepts and Zoology

Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU)


He said if he were to write a book, he would title it - $18.50.


Dr. Henry Kirkland, SWOSU professor emeritus of biology concepts and zoology, grew up in extreme poverty.


Looking back over his life, Kirkland said he would go through it all over again, because he knew God had a plan for his life.


Dr. Henry, Kirkland, Professor Emeritus of Biology Concepts and Zoology, SWOSU
Dr. Henry Kirkland, Professor Emeritus of Biology Concepts and Zoology, Southwestern Oklahoma State University

In the 40's, employment was

difficult to find in those days; therefore, Kirkland's stepfather and mother made the decision to take a position in the city of Langston, but instead of joining his parents in their new location, Kirkland had a different idea. He asked his parents if he could remain behind to complete his diploma at Dunbar, the all Black high school in Atoka, Oklahoma.


"My stepfather agreed, stating 'if you keep your nose clean, you can do anything," Kirkland said.


At age 13, Kirkland was left to live alone but found work to support himself through the help of his close friend, Ralph Masters. Masters was graduating from high school, leaving his position at the Carney Drugstore and asked Kirkland if he would be interested in his position.


Developing relationships


"Ralph introduced me to the store owner, F.K. "Skeet" Carney. Carney asked me a couple of questions, and then he offered me the position, paying $18.50 per week. I said fine. I accept. From then on, Skeet Carney took me on and was my mentor. He guided me through high school socially, spiritually, educationally, and answered any questions that I had. He was the one I leaned on. We became friends," Kirkland said.


Kirkland described how he lived in an old shack. When it rained or snowed, he would move his make shift mattress to the opposite sides of the room to try  to escape the elements of the weather, because the shack's roof consisted of just a few dilapidated, leaky boards.


On a typical school day, he would wake up every morning at 4 a.m., without an alarm clock, and put on his shoes held together with baling wire, run his paper route, then jog 4 miles to his second job at Carney's drugstore before heading to school. After class, he practiced sports and then returned home.


His daily breakfast was a Baby Ruth candy bar, a 20-cent hot school lunch, and dinner was bowls of chili and a bottle of pop from Johnnie's Café.


During Kirkland's junior year, he asked Carney to borrow $5 from his weekly $18.50 pay, and the white drugstore owner asked why. Kirkland explained it would serve as a down payment for his class ring. Carney then asked the price of the ring. Kirkland replied $36.80.


"Right then and there, Carney went behind his counter and wrote out a check for $36.80 to cover the entire cost of the ring. He attended my basketball games. He was the only white man in the stands cheering me on. I cannot tell you what that did for me on the inside," Kirkland said.


"For 12 years, I never missed a day out of school, and I was the valedictorian of my class." Jokingly, Kirkland said, "Before you pat me on the back, there were only 2 folks in my class, but really there were 9 of us," he smiled.


After graduation, Carney told Kirkland that he needed go to college.


"Carney said to me that I have done everything that I can do in Atoka. 'You are the valedictorian of your class, and you need to go college.' I told Carney I had not given very much thought to going to college, but Carney encouraged me to go, and I did. He told me, if I ever needed financial help or help of any kind to just give him a call at the drugstore," Kirkland said.


Kirkland entered Langston University on a scholarship; however, by second semester, he needed help. He said he called the drugstore and a young lady behind the counter answered the phone, and he asked to speak to Mr. Carney. Carney picked up the phone.


Paid in full


"Carney asked one question - how much, Henry? He did not ask how I was doing, nothing like that, just how much? He said Henry if you cannot wait for the money, go ahead and write it on my bank. Two weeks later, Carney mailed a check, paying for his second semester of school, and he continued to pay his tuition until Kirkland had been awarded a bachelor's degree in biology from Langston University," Kirkland said.


After completing his undergraduate, Carney told Kirkland that he did not have enough education. Kirkland moved forward to continue his education, seeking a Master's degree that was paid by the drugstore owner.


When Kirkland completed his Master's degree from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and sent the drugstore owner a copy of his thesis, Carney told Kirkland, 'you will not be able to take care of a family with just a Master's degree. You need your doctorate.'


Kirkland proceeded and earned his terminal degree from Oklahoma State University. After being awarded his doctorate degree, Kirkland paid Carney a visit. His intention was to make arrangements to pay back the money he owed the drugstore owner for financing his entire educational career.


A few months after Kirkland had finished his doctorate degree, they met at Jerry's café in Weatherford, Oklahoma. They embraced, sat down, and began to talk.


"I thanked Carney for everything he had done for me and my family, and I told him I wanted to pay him back. I was making money now, and I wanted to pay him what I owed him. As I began to explain my payment plan, Carney interrupted me and said I have 3 questions to ask you, 'Henry. First, Henry, do you go to church?' I replied, yes, I do. Second, he asked, 'Henry, do you save money?' I said I try. Third, 'do you have insurance on your family?' I said, yes, I have insurance," Kirkland said.


After Carney asked Kirkland his final question, Kirkland said Skeet Carney who hired in him in 1949 said, "You do not owe me anything. The slate is clean."


Success comes through helping others  


Dr. Henry Kirkland spent his entire educational career practicing the same kindness, encouragement, and generosity to his SWOSU students that the drugstore owner, F.K. "Skeet" Carney, had extended to him. Kirkland, a humble man, said the greatest rewards in his career have been witnessing the successes his former students have achieved. Many of them are teachers, doctors, chemists, nurses, and others work in various STEM professions.  


Kirkland's former students, Wade McCoy, MD and Patrick Chalfant wrote the book A Rainbow in the Dark, a true story based on Kirkland's life, a Next Generation Indie Book Award winning novel.


"F.K. "Skeet" Carney's investment of $18.50 per week has gone a long way, and I would do all over again. I would like to tell young people don't ever give up," Kirkland said with a smile.   





Dr. Ricco Wright, Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Langston University (LU) 


Some would say he has already arrived professionally. However, according to him, this up and coming millennial generation educator who is confident and super intelligent says he is currently planning and working to land his ultimate, desired position.


By 2035, Dr. Ricco Wright aspires to be the President of Langston University, following the pattern of his mentor the late Dr. Ernest L. Holloway.

Dr. Ricco Wright, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Langston University


Wright says there are two levels he attributes to his success - his mother, the late Maythruple Renee Pittman and Langston University.


"My mother instilled in all three of her boys the value of education. I think this was actually a direct result of her not continuing her education, and realizing that because she did not have a career, it limited her life choices." Wright said.


 He said he attributed his success to his mother's moral support and guidance. Wright's second achievement contributor is Langston University.


"Langston University gave me so many opportunities to just explore, not only things but also myself. Langston has this ability to nurture people in such a way that if you make a mistake, your mentors, faculty members, and administrators will show you tough love, but will give you a second chance. I think that's unique to Langston and maybe other HBCUs, but I am not sure, because I did not attend any, so I do not know. But I do know I attended a predominately white institution, and that is vastly different," he said.


The Bill and Melinda Gates scholar said he knew he could achieve anything he wanted, because the resources were available at LU, especially to those ambitious students who showed some initiative.


"It made all the difference. It made me feel that I could achieve everything, so I just said okay. It is not only the sky is the limit. There is no limit. There really doesn't seem to be a limit at all," Wright said.


Having grown up on the north side of  Tulsa, Wright came to LU as a freshman and was voted the Pre-Alumni Council President, and it was there that he met Holloway, stating he was a personal president.


"You would not think of a president of a university as personable and approachable, but he was both. He saw something in me, and he would say this is one our rising stars. I felt good that some successful Black man was saying this to me, because I did not grow up in a community where we had successful Black men in that context," he said.


Successful Black men


Wright explained in the neighborhood where he grew up, there was a different definition of a successful Black man.


"Where I grew up, you were considered or viewed as a successful Black man if a man had his own place, and if you were some kind of entrepreneur, or in other words, 'a drug dealer', and you had money. That was successful to us back then. But here was this man, who was called doctor, but was not a medical doctor. That was a puzzling thing to me. And so, I became interested, trying to find out who he was and how did this person become who he was. Holloway was interested in bringing up the youth to become greater than they were. He saw the greatness in us," Wright said. 


Wright was on his way to greatness, traveling the fast track, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics from LU in 2004, shifting gears and obtaining a Master in  Arts in 2007 and a Master of Science in 2009 both in mathematics education at Teachers College , Columbia University. He accelerated earning power with a Doctorate of Education in Mathematics education that he earned from the Teachers College, Columbia University in May 2014.


Overcoming the Odds


Wright said his mother told him, "You are the curse breaker of the family. I did not always understand to the extent in which she meant that. As I get older, I understand better what she was saying. I feel good knowing I am contributing positively to someone's life. I think apart from that, I like to consider myself a catalyst for social change, a catalyst for achievement, and a catalyst for overcoming the odds," Wright said.  




Dr. LaMona Evans-Groce,

Professor Emeritus of English, University of Central Oklahoma (UCO)  


She was a gift. 


The Honorable Chief U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, Vicki Miles-LaGrange described, the late

Dr. LaMona Evans-Groce, Professor Emerius of English, University of Central Oklahoma

Dr. LaMona Evans-Groce as - Superlative!



Dr. LaMona Evans-Groce, a professor of English, was a perfect and passionate gift to all who knew her, and her work was always wrapped in clear, concise, and grammatically correct language.    


"She was so thoughtful in her treatment of her work. Her work was a masterpiece," LaGrange said.


The two women were good friends, and all three, Groce, LaGrange, and their mutual friend the late Kim Jones-Shelton grew even closer as the years progressed. They were members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, a women's service organization, where they worked together during their regularly scheduled monthly meetings.


There were many times when LaGrange would ask Groce if she would use her gift to assist her by looking over a non-work related document.



"I always wanted someone with the best eyes and writing background that I knew personally to check over my work, with a critical eye and make corrections. It would be nothing for me to call her and ask, 'LaMona do you have a little time this weekend to look over something for me.' And when she did edit my work, she would return my documents with all these red marks. I would ask, do my manuscripts really have to have all those red marks," LaGrange joked.




The Honorable Chief U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma,

Vicki Miles-LaGrange

LaGrange said Groce was excellent at everything she did.


Evans attended and graduated from Oklahoma City Public Schools and would later return to the district in 1971 - 1974 to teach. She graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1971 from Bishop College, attaining a B.S. in Secondary Education in English and French. In 1975, she earned a Master of Arts in English at the University of Oklahoma. The scholar was awarded the Doctorate of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration/English at the University of Oklahoma in 1987.


The Dr. LaMona Evans-Groce undergraduate endowed scholarship was established by the chapter at the University Foundation in 2010 and is presented by the OU Black Alumni Association annually.  


She taught for the Department of Defense Oversees Schools in Ramstein Germany. While an  OU student, she was awarded the Oklahoma Board of Regents Minority Doctoral Study Grant, and worked as a graduate assistantship, teaching "African American Literature" and "The Black Novel." She concluded her tenure at the University of Central Oklahoma, retiring in 2007 as Professor Emeritus of English.


"LaMona was one in million, and she was so plain spoken. I can hear her telling other educator s in underserved schools 'okay give it your best self.' Plain spoken is the image I am trying to convey. That's what she gave. She gave her best self to her family, friends, students, and her husband, Lonnie every day," LaGrange said.


Groce died on March 29, 2010. In her self-written obituary, the last line in her home-going celebration program read, 'I leave this quote to all young people that the most disturbing occurrence is a mind gone to waste,' the late Dr. LaMona Evans-Groce wrote.




It is not free - The definition of hard work equating to success comes at a price


Common Education/Administration 


Joyce Henderson, Administrator, Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS)


She was one of the original Katz drugstore sit-in protestors, an experience she says prepared her for life.



Having marched alongside the late civil rights leader, her teacher, the late Clara Luper, Joyce Henderson spent her 

Former Executive Director of the Office of School and Community Services, OKCPS
Joyce Henderson, Oklahoma City Public Schools Administrator

37 education career building bridges to overcome the struggles of Oklahoma City Public Schools 'constituents, facilitating a solution based methodology.



Henderson stated she believes she was an effective administrator, because she exhibited a caring attitude.


"I have a philosophy. I didn't coin this but when I heard it, I thought this describes me. People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care. You can have all of the knowledge, but if you cannot connect with people you are reaching, especially students, if they don't connect with you, then you are just in a position," Henderson said.


Henderson said it is not until the people you are attempting to connect with, can discern that you care about them as an individual, children and adults, it makes it easier for the administrator to go about the business, whatever the business is.


The 1964 Dunjee graduate was known as an OKCPS administrator who would enter a challenging school and leave out the same school, having set the institution on a clear and productive path.


For 20 years, Henderson served as principal at five different area high schools, finalizing her time as an instructional leader at Classen School of Advanced Studies, which was listed as one of the nation's top schools.


Labels don't always apply


As an administrator for Guthrie Job Corps center for two years, Henderson stated an article was published about the students who attended the center, identifying them as at risk and low income.




"When I was approached by a student, voicing his concerns about how the news report labeled the Guthrie Job Corp students as 'at risk', it angered him. They were really offended with that description. From that day on, I became very sensitive to others calling another group of people poverty stricken, or at risk. Many students do not consider themselves as being in a low socioeconomic status," Henderson said.



Sensitivity Awareness


It was that type of relational sensitivity that moved Henderson to the position of Executive Director of the Office of School and Community Services.


Over the next 10 years, Henderson said her time was spent coordinating the nuts and bolts of community, business, and school projects, and as her career was drawing to close, she received a myriad of awards and honors, recognizing her talents.


"Known as the district's seasoned administrator and because I knew the community so well, I could connect people with resources like childcare. Later I became the voice and the face for the district, marketing the positive initiatives, while short fusing the negative. My presence set the tone of any issue, claiming the positivity every time," Henderson said.



She retired once, but came out of retirement to oversee her last, temporary assignment with Douglass High School in 2012. Within 3 months, Henderson had made her exit after assisting the new administration to bring order and trust back to the school.


She may be retired, but her connectivity is full swing, bringing people, causes, and resources together to create positive change - a mission she was prepared for over 50 years ago.



Shirley Nero, Former History Teacher Leader

Sapulpa and Porum Public Schools 


History is what history does which is the chronicling of the chain of events people make happen to move life forward.


That definition describes history

Shirley Nero, Teacher Leader, Sapulpa and Porum Public Schools

teacher, Shirley Ann Ballard Nero.


For over 28 years, Nero wrote a historical volume of her teaching career, which shared her skills, passion, and talent to the shareholders of rural Oklahoma before retiring in 2004.


When she began her educational career, both she and her husband, Dr. Donnie Nero, were classroom teachers. As time moved forward, so did their desire to seek and obtain advanced degrees.


"It was tough. It was a struggle. It took the both of us, juggling children, managing the money, while both of us earned advanced degrees; all the while we encouraged each other to move ahead. We made it, "she said.


She earned an undergraduate degree from Northeastern State University in Home Economics with a minor in Sociology and Psychology. Additionally, she holds a standard certification in Social Studies, as well as 8 other certifications. To complete her educational pursuits, Nero completed a Master  of Arts degree from Oklahoma State University.


Nero made headway in the classroom. She was awarded the Sapulpa School District Teacher of the Year, as well as many other accolades for her teaching excellence. The master teacher also worked in higher education, serving a s an adjunct professor at Tulsa Community College.


Nero said she always taught in rural public schools, claiming assimilation was not always easy; however, the price she paid to develop relationships with community at large, parents and her students was well worth the effort.


"I had extremely difficult time adjusting, because if a person was not from their community, then it took an enormous amount of time for the community to accept an outsider," Nero said.


Nero said she integrated Porum. She was the only African American in the town.


"It took me two years before the people of Porum to warm up to me. I believe they were just not accustomed to newcomers. My friends were the students I taught," she said.


Over the two year stretch, other teachers began to warm up and communicate with Nero. She began hosting annual Black History programs, educating her students, parents, colleagues, and the community about the contributions made by African American people to Oklahoma and abroad.


"One year, I invited Clara Luper to speak at our Black history program, and the kids, faculty, and staff loved her. We continued to host Black history programs until my departure," Nero said.


Nero placed a jar on her desk and when her class found loose change or when donations were made, the monies were placed in that jar to cover the cost for such things as clothing, field trips, lunch money, and class parties.


Invest in lives


"One young lady had an interview for a job. I instructed her friends to take the money from the jar and go and purchase her a dress for the interview. They did, and she was hired. That small act of kindness of dressing up for the interview heightened her self-esteem. By the time I retired, the entire Porum community embraced me as their teacher and their friend. I, in turn, cared deeply for the entire Porum community," Nero said.


Shirley Nero changed the history of the town of Porum, transforming a community of learners.

Founders of the Oklahoma African American Educators Hall of Fame
Dr. Donnie and Shirley Nero, Founders of the Oklahoma African American Educators Hall of Fame located in Clearview, Oklahoma.


Nero, an Oklahoma Historical Society Board of Directors board member, has not retired. Instead, she has relocated her classroom to her hometown of Clearview, Oklahoma, one of Oklahoma's 11 all Black towns. 


Choose to pay it forward - Invest in lives!  

The Oklahoma Teacher Connection TeachLINK


The Oklahoma Teacher Connection, a division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, will electronically publish the TeachLINK E-newsletter three times a year.


The purpose of the E-Newsletter is to promote, market, and showcase news stories, creative features, curricular highlights, research data, and technological updates, which impact Oklahoma's Colleges of Teacher Education, common education, higher education faculty, students, and communities.


We welcome all comments, opinions, and/or concerns. Please forward your remarks to Deena Thomas at dthomas@osrhe.edu.

In This Issue
A Message From the OTC Director
Direct from the Editor's Desk
Celebrating Black History Month