North High celebrates new beginning on Inauguration Day

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Students from North High School and Dunwoody Academy spent inauguration day celebrating a new partnership. This “community-building” day included a special panel of speakers, student presentations, and strategy sessions to prepare students for the new academic partnership between the two schools, which will formally be initiated in the 2009-2010 school year.

Minneapolis Superintendent Bill Green admitted that North High School had been ignored. “This is a great school in a great neighborhood, but it has been ignored. Today, we are making a commitment to creating partnerships. We are in the business of creating more content for you,” he reassured the students.

In December, North High School was recognized as the first small specialty high school in Minneapolis under the district’s High School Transformation initiative. The school will strengthen its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) focus under the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program, affording students the opportunity to receive special IB career certification. The new specialty school status will also include Dunwoody Academy Charter School, which will share North High’s campus. Dunwoody’s STEM-focused curriculum includes training in automotive, construction, health care and manufacturing technologies, and will complement the academic goals set forth by North High School.

The celebration had the feel of a pep rally before a sporting event as Walter “Q-Bear” Banks, a North High alum and broadcast personality from KMOJ radio, got students excited about the significance of the day.

“Once you’ve got it inside, they can’t take it from you,” he told students accompanied by his signature laugh. Other invited guests in leadership positions spoke to students addressing themes such as responsibility, respect, and results. Their comments were fitting for both the new partnership and inauguration day.

“Barack Obama wasn’t elected because he’s a Black man,” Green told an auditorium full of high school students. “But because he had ideas that were good enough and strong enough…and with those, you’ll go far.”

Dr. Ben Wright, President of Dunwoody College of Technology, told the students that Dunwoody was founded on the principle of desegregation, as he reflected on one of his own experiences. “The day Martin Luther King was shot, I was a young student and I lost a lot of hope that day. It’s a privilege to be with you on the day that hope will be restored,” he said.

Minneapolis 5th Ward Councilmember Don Samuels also contributed words of inspiration drawn from personal experience. He reflected on Archbishop Tutu’s recent visit to North High School. “[Tutu] described looking at African Americans in the Ebony magazine while in Soweto, South Africa. He said he began to see the possibility. Well, African Americans have been inspiring people for a long time,” said Samuels. He also reflected on his own childhood experiences. “I remember as a child in Jamaica seeing Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, and Mohammed Ali and it was like the voice of God as generations of post slaves remained subordinate to their white counterparts. This is the day that children of former slaves and colonized peoples provide leadership for the world,” he added.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein talked about the role of legacy. He told students, “Never take counsel in your own fears, because you can do it.”

Pastor Efrem Smith of Sanctuary Covenant Church, another North High alum, told students that it was at North where many of his dreams began. “When the Reverend Jesse Jackson came to North High in the 80s, something changed for me. There was a deep, spiritual and academic impact on my life. Today, there’s an opportunity for you…a chance to do something significant,” he said.

All the encouragement and empowerment from the speakers and student performances led to the highlight of the event: the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Lauretta Dawolo Towns is a freelancer for several local community and ethnic news outlets. She is also a mentor in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program and a consultant with the Girls in Action program at Patrick Henry High School. Towns is a resident of the McKinley neighborhood in North Minneapolis where she lives with her husband and newborn son.

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