Teachers – StoryCorps

Remembering The Mother of the Disability Rights Movement

Judy Heumann was known as the “Mother of the Disability Rights Movement.” Over the course of decades, she worked to have the government recognize the rights of disabled people— first as a protestor, and later as part of the Clinton and Obama administrations.

In 1970, the New York City Board of Education denied her a teaching license because of her quadriplegia— claiming her wheelchair made her a fire hazard. Her subsequent lawsuit was the first ever disability civil rights case brought to federal court, and the springboard to her activism.

Another pivotal moment in her career came in 1977, during the 504 Sit-ins. People with disabilities and their allies occupied federal buildings across the United States to push for a long-delayed anti-discrimination policy. Judy organized the San Francisco contingent, which lasted 25 days, becoming the longest sit-in protest at a federal building in history. 

Legislation and programs she helped craft later in her career expanded accessibility to millions of people in the US.

Judy passed away at age 75 on March 4, 2023. To mark her passing, StoryCorps is releasing a conversation she recorded with her friend April Coughlin, about the landmark legal case that would define her career.

 

 

Top Photo: April Coughlin and Judy Huemann, in 2018. Courtesy of April Coughlin.

 

With your support, StoryCorps is able to record more stories that help lift up underrepresented voices, bridge political and social divides, and preserve personal histories for the future.

Donate

 

She Was One of the First Black Teachers at Her School, but, “There’s no color when you’re learning to read.”

Eunice Wiley was brought on as one of the first Black teachers at a predominantly white Florida elementary school in 1970. From the start, it was clear her job would be an uphill battle.

Her room had no supplies. The principal didn’t want her to be there. And her class of 20 white first graders had spent little time around Black people.

But she persevered, starting a career in education that lasted until she retired as a principal in 2005.

Wiley came to StoryCorps in 2017 with her friend and fellow teacher, Martha Bireda, to remember how these experiences came to define her as a teacher.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired February 24, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo: Eunice Wiley and Martha Bireda at their StoryCorps interview in Punta Gorda, Florida on January 23, 2017.  By Vero Ordaz for StoryCorps.

 

After Four Decades In The Classroom, A Texas Teacher Is Keeping History Alive

Nelva Williamson grew up in a small town near Cape Cod, MA. Her mother was a teacher for 52 years and her father was a career military man.

Nelva Williamson (center) poses with her mother, Vird Ella Williams (left), and her father, Harold Williams (right), at Nelva’s college graduation. 

Nelva grew up with a love and respect for learning that she carried with her throughout her life. As a young woman she found herself drawn to the classroom, and 42 years later that’s still where you will find her. When faced with the option of retiring, Nelva instead decided to help found a public high school in Houston, Texas. The school is an all-girls institution serving predominantly Black and Hispanic students.

Nelva came to StoryCorps with her son Timothy J. Harris to reflect on her 42-year career and the importance of teaching ‘the whole history.’

Top Photo: Nelva Williamson and Timothy J. Harris at their StoryCorps interview in Houston, Texas on May 26, 2022. By Jey Born for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired August 26, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“He Took Me Under His Wing”: The Father Figure Who Mentored Aspiring Black Surgeons

As a kid, Vivien Thomas had dreams of being a doctor. He enrolled in college at Tennessee A&I State College, but in 1929, the stock market crashed, and he couldn’t afford to continue. But Thomas was determined to make his dreams a reality, and he got a job working under prominent surgeon, Alfred Blalock. Eventually, Thomas became the Director of Surgical Research Laboratories at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Thomas was at the forefront of medical breakthroughs. He invented several surgical tools and methods, many of which are still used today. He is most notably credited with identifying a solution for a deadly condition known as “Blue Baby Syndrome” — a congenital heart affliction in babies.

During his over four-decade career at Hopkins, Dr. Thomas passed down the knowledge by training dozens of other aspiring surgeons, particularly Black men, like Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris. 

Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris at their StoryCorps interview in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Alletta Cooper for StoryCorps.

Many of the men who Dr. Thomas trained had little-to-no formal medical training before they worked for him, including Fred and Jerry.

They came to StoryCorps to remember the time they spent learning and training under Dr. Thomas, and how his mentorship changed their lives.

Dr. Vivien Thomas in his lab. Public Domain. 

Dr. Vivien Thomas never received a formal medical degree, but In 1976, he received an honorary degree from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Thomas died in 1985.

Fred Gilliam started his work with Dr. Thomas shortly after finishing high school. Dr. Thomas encouraged and enabled Fred to continue his higher education. Fred received his Associates degree in Emergency Medical Technology, and he went on to work at the American Red Cross.

Jerry Harris had previously been in nursing school before his time with Dr. Thomas. He honed his skills in pediatric surgery during his time with Dr. Thomas, and later stayed at Johns Hopkins as a coordinator in the School of Medicine. Harris died in 2019.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired July 1st, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Columbine Survivor On Going Home To Teach

Warning: the audio version of this story contains strong language.

Mandy Cooke was a sophomore at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999, when two students opened fire at the school, killing 13 people and themselves.

Mandy later became a teacher back at Columbine.

At StoryCorps in Denver, Mandy sat down with Paula Reed — her former teacher from Columbine — to talk about the two decades that followed, and the lasting impact of the shooting.

Originally broadcast May 27, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Paula Reed (L) and Mandy Cooke (R) at StoryCorps in Denver, CO. By Kevin Oliver for StoryCorps.

Breaking Baseball’s Color Barrier: How Jackie Robinson Inspired One Man “To Be Somebody”

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he took Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That day is a historic marker for racial progress, but his journey to becoming the first African American player in the majors began in Daytona Beach, Florida — a year earlier.

During the spring of 1946, Robinson was a member of the Montreal Royals, the minor league club for the Dodgers, and he was in Daytona Beach to train. In the segregated South, he couldn’t play on whites-only ballfields with the rest of his team, so he practiced at Kelly Field, a local playground in the Black section of town.

It was at Kelly Field where Harold Lucas, Jr. met Jackie Robinson.

Photo of 6-year-old Harold Lucas, Jr., from 1949. Courtesy of Harold Lucas, Jr.

The Royals were preparing to play a minor league game in Sanford, Florida, but segregation laws — and a mob of threatening townsfolk — prevented Robinson from taking the field. So Black leaders in Daytona Beach stepped in, and gave Robinson a place to play — and an opportunity for Black residents to cheer for him.

Harold Lucas attended Robinson’s first game, and remembered that day at StoryCorps.

Top Photo: D’Lorah Butts-Lucas, Harold Lucas, Jr. and Darryll Lucas after their StoryCorps interview in Daytona Beach, Florida on March 21, 2022.

Hear more about Jackie Robinson’s journey to the big leagues in Daytona Beach.

Originally aired April 15, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bringing Hope and a Love of Horses to L.A. Streets

Ghuan Featherstone grew up in South Central Los Angeles. He has one clear memory of riding a horse for the first time, in Griffith Park, when he was eight years old. It was a feeling that he never forgot, and a lifelong passion was born.

When Ghuan left the military and returned to L.A. years later, he began to immerse himself in the craft of riding and caring for horses. After a tragic fire destroyed his neighborhood stable, Ghuan saw a hole torn into his community. Instead of standing by, Ghuan decided to step forward to found a new stable: Urban Saddles.

Jordan Humphreys riding his horse Winter at the Urban Saddles Stables, in South Gate, California.

He came to StoryCorps with his mentee Jordan Humphreys. At just 13 years old Jordan has become a cornerstone of Urban Saddles.

Top photo: Ghuan Featherstone and Jordan Humphreys at their StoryCorps interview in Los Angeles, California on December 15th, 2021. By Maja Sazdic for StoryCorps.

Originally aired January 28th, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Pastor Who Was Once A Mischievous Child, Pays Tribute To “The People That Nurtured Me”

Growing up in the 1950s in Montgomery, AL., Rev. Farrell Duncombe or “Little Farrell,” as he was known by his family and friends, had a mischievous side. But he had many role models who kept him in line. One such person was his own father, Rev. Henry A. Duncombe Sr., who was the pastor of their church, St. Paul A.M.E. Church of Montgomery. 

It was at that church, where Farrell also drew inspiration from his Sunday school teacher, Miss Rosalie — eventually known to the rest of the world as Rosa Parks.

Later on, Farrell took all the lessons he’d learned growing up and went on to become a public school band teacher, and then a principal. He also stepped into his father’s shoes and became a pastor at his childhood church.

In 2010, Farrell came to StoryCorps with his friend and fraternity brother, Howard Robinson, to reflect on the people who nurtured him, and the humility he feels standing at his father’s pulpit. 

Rev Farrell Duncombe died on June 2, 2021 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Top Photo: Rev. Farrell Duncombe and Howard Robinson at their StoryCorps interview in Montgomery, AL on November 24, 2010. By Elizabeth Straight for StoryCorps.

Originally aired June 11, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Listen to Rev. Dumcombe’s story on the StoryCorps Podcast.

“You Didn’t Elevate Me, But You Helped Me Elevate Myself”: How A Dedicated Teacher Turned Into A Lifelong Friend

Raymond Blanks had very few Black teachers when he was growing up in Newark, NJ. But the ones he did have, made a big impact on how he saw himself and what he believed he could be. Raymond’s 7th grade math and science teacher, Sean Lloyd, was one of them. Mr. Lloyd challenged Raymond to strive for excellence, both in and out of the classroom, and now Raymond is paying it forward.

Raymond is now a sixth grade math teacher at a charter school in Newark, NJ. One of only two Black male teachers there. 

In 2020, Black men made up only 2% of teachers across the country. And in Newark, where around half of the students are Black, Black men make up only about 8% of the teachers. 

Photo: Sean Lloyd (left) and Raymond Blanks receiving their Masters degrees. Courtesy of Raymond Blanks.

Raymond stayed in touch with Sean through high school and college. When Raymond started teaching, he received his first job from Sean, at a school that Sean helped co-found. They eventually even received their Master’s degrees together. The two had a conversation using StoryCorps Connect, to talk about how Sean’s passion for his students shaped Raymond’s career path, and deepened their friendship.

Top Photo: Raymond Blanks and Sean Lloyd. Courtesy of Sean Lloyd and Raymond Blanks.

“Don’t Let Anybody Tell You That You Can’t:” GED Instructor Helps His Student Soar

Ngoc Nguyen was born in Saigon just a few years before the end of the Vietnam War. As a child, she had to work to support her family and ultimately dropped out of school. 

After immigrating to the U.S. in her early twenties, she continued working. It would be more than two decades before Nguyen would be able to continue her education.

At 45, she enrolled in a GED program at the Opportunities Industrialization Center in Oklahoma City. At StoryCorps, Nguyen sat down with her teacher, Christopher Myers, to thank him for the role he played in helping her earn her degree despite her obstacles.

Top Photo: Christopher Myers and Ngoc Nguyen at their StoryCorps interview in Oklahoma City on February 9, 2018. By Chelsea Aguilera for StoryCorps.

Originally aired Friday, January 22, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.