By Dr. Mildred Dalton Henry
Last week, while attending a Careers Day at Dr. Mildred Dalton Henry Elementary School in San Bernardino, I was asked by a young female probation officer, ”How did you get a school named after you?” I replied, ”Good question because I, too, have wondered.”
Many individuals think I am too fervent about Black History, however, I firmly believe that it was Black History that placed me in San Bernardino impacting hundreds of thousands of lives along my journey. Perhaps it is because those teachers in all-Black Merrill High School, Pine Bluff, Arkansas told me to learn the contents of ragged, used books brought to our school from across town and one day I would rise above the inequities and insults we had to endure in that segregated society. Henry Elementary School in San Bernardino has stacks of new books for the youthful scholars. They use brand new books to live up to their slogan, ”I am smart, I am intelligent, I am full of greatness.”
Perhaps it is because schools were closed for Black children four months of the school year in the rural areas, forcing parents to send their children to live ”in town” to get a nine months education. Great sacrifices had to be made and we learned how to survive.
Perhaps it is the work ethic ingrained in us as we toiled in the cotton fields realizing that one must work for everything one gets. Nothing was free. Perhaps it is the realization that no man is an island, and we were taught to be our brother’s keeper. Perhaps it is because Booker T. Washington said “Put down your bucket where you are”, that I founded the PAL Center in San Bernardino to provide education and vocational training in the communities where the people reside. The PAL Center has operated continuously since 1985.
Perhaps it is because our predecessors toiled from sunup to sundown, and beyond, that Lawrence Hampton, Tammy Amis, and I worked numerous nights to rush a proposal to the dock of the post office to be postmarked just before the midnight deadline. Because of these efforts to obtain grants, thousands of individuals have benefited.
Perhaps it is because Sojourner Truth said, ”Ain’t I a woman?”, and demanded respect, that I was taught to sing James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift every voice and sing… Let us march on ‘til victory is won”. We marched in Fontana when the Ku Klux Klan said we could not march and honor Dr. Martin Luther King.
Perhaps it is because we were taught to roll up our sleeves, get busy, and fulfill a need that exists. Hence, the PAL Center has not only provided high school diploma, GED, and English as a second language certificates, but also programs for youth training and employment, adult employment preparation, welfare reform training, homeless youth shelters, gang and drug intervention and prevention, childcare, college preparation programs, and numerous other community-based services. Roses to Alonzo Thompson, and numerous others who pioneered these community-based efforts.
As we celebrate women’s contributions to history, I salute Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and other women who paved the way for me to contribute to history in San Bernardino.
As the first African-American to be Tenured, Full Professor, and Professor Emeritus in the College of Education, California State University San Bernardino, I stand on the shoulders of Dr. W.E. B. Du Bois, Dr. Mary MacLeod Bethune, my mother, Mrs. Alma Dalton Gates, numerous other educators, and empowered individuals in various other fields of endeavor.
Roses to the Precinct Reporter, Black Voice, Westside Story, San Bernardino American News, San Bernardino SUN, and other newspapers and columnists who supported our efforts to harvest the Arkansas values from the California soil.
Why does a school carry my name? I continue to ponder the blessing , and I am most grateful to those who had any part of giving me roses while I can smell them.