Two longtime education leaders who shepherded students and teachers through desegregation praised Pitt Community College for helping students fulfill their dreams through education.
About 125 people attended Thursday’s Sixth Annual Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute breakfast. The event is a fundraiser for the Multicultural Activities Committee Scholarship, which is awarded to students who have unique perspectives about the importance of multiculturalism and acceptance, said Jane Power, PCC marketing director.
Sandra Argomaniz-Reyes, a second-year student, received this year’s $500 scholarship. Argomaniz-Reyes plans to graduate with an associate of arts degree and then study communication at East Carolina University.
Argomaniz-Reyes’ parents immigrated from Mexico. She is the first person in her family to pursue a college degree in a effort to thank her parents for all they have given her.
Argomaniz-Reyes has been involved in multiple activities promoting multiculturalism and diversity. It’s helped expand her understanding of people.
The scholarship was presented in honor of Raymond Reddrick, who served 30 years on PCC’s Board of Trustees, 9½ of them as chairman.
Reddrick was presented the Dream Award, which recognizes the contributions of individuals who have made it possible for student “dreams” to come true.
Reddrick, a longtime principal, teacher and coach who guided students and faculty through the turbulent era of desegregation, spoke extensively about how his Christian faith — combined with a willingness to work hard — led him to his years of service.
Forty-three students were enrolled in his first class, Reddrick said, but it wasn’t unusual for only 10 or students to show up on a given day. The rest were working in the fields with their parents.
“My concern at the time, my mission was to get these students to see it didn’t have to be this way for the rest of their lives,” Reddrick said. “I knew education was a light and ignorance was the darkness. When you are educated you can see so many different things.”
Even today, Reddrick said he tells people that while the system provides opportunities, it is individuals’ responsibility to educate themselves.
During his career, Reddrick said he was invited to serve on many boards, but often as the only African-American.
“It was coming so fast I would ask, ‘Are you asking me to serve because I am a label or are you asking me to serve because I have the knowledge?’” Reddrick said. While he was assured it was because of his knowledge and experience, he did encounter people who dismissed his input.
Once, when he was asked to lead a mental health board meeting, two members talked to each other while he was discussing issues. Reddrick called out the psychologists, who stopped talking.
As he walked to his vehicle that night, the chairman of the board of county commissioners and the county manager were waiting at his car. Reddrick thought they were going to criticize him, instead they asked if he would serve as a PCC trustee.
Reddrick personifies the servant-leader, said Stephanie Rook, PCC dean of arts and sciences.
It’s been through his desire to serve the community that he took on a leadership role, she said.
“As dean, I stand here in his footsteps … because of the battles he fought,” Rook said.
The event’s keynote speaker, Ella Harris, was a longtime teacher and administrator with Greenville City Schools and later the merged Pitt County school system.
Harris was only a few days old when her parents adopted her in 1945. Her parents never hid her adoption and told her how her biological grandmother told them “I want you to educate this baby.”
Harris’s mother worked for several Greenville facilities and her father was a full-time employee at a local tobacco warehouse. Harris said people may have described them as poor but she never knew it.
“Life was safe and secured and I was loved and nurtured,” Harris said.
Harris said her community gave her many opportunities to grow. She was in a Brownie troop that visited Washington, D.C., in 1953. Teachers and school administrators kept a close eye on students ensuring they were on their best behavior.
As she neared graduation, she was encouraged to apply to colleges and for scholarships, Harris said.
She eventually was accepted to North Carolina Central (then college) and received several scholarships funded by local community groups.
“Even back in the day our community found scholarships to help send children to college,” she said. People saw education opening doors to their hopes and dreams.
During her career, Harris said, educational institutions began acknowledging the difficulties children living in poverty had in school. Unfortunately, children heard these discussions and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy because children started believing they couldn’t succeed.
“Here lies the challenge — we need to get back to basics,” Harris said. “We have to stimulate and engage our children with good academic programs. We have to say. ‘You can do it.’”
Contact Ginger Livingston at email@example.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.