By AFRO Staff

In 1888, the Rev. James Solomon Russell, a Black priest and educator, founded the St. Paul Normal and Industrial School in Lawrenceville, Va. (Brunswick County). The mission of the historically Black institution, which would come to be known as St. Paul’s College, was to educate talented Black students who might one day become educators themselves. It is perhaps, then, no wonder that a high school in the same town and named after Russell graduated a class that so fully understood the weight of its legacy that it recently established a fund to support the education of others.

The James Solomon Russell High School Class of 1967 honored three scholars and brought them to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to receive their awards in August. (Courtesy Photo)

In 2017, a few members of the James Solomon Russell High School Class of 1967 (JSRHS ’67) convened to talk about their own legacy. “We’ve remained close as a group through all these years, and we’ve taken advantage of several opportunities to do good in the community,” said JSRHS ’67 alumna Evelyn Woodley Hill. “Still, we wanted to do more.” Celebrating our 50th High School Reunion the James Solomon Russell High School Class of ’67 scholarship was birthed and implemented by classmate, Joyce Lewis Ward.  By the summer of 2018, they were already in a position to award thousands in scholarships at their alma mater. A year later, the alumni group had expanded their efforts and award categories, and they have taken the awards ceremony itself to a new level. 

The organizers presented this year’s awards in honor of their classmate, the late Isaac Armstead Coleman. The scholarship program’s motto- “Appreciating our blessings. Continuing to pay it forward,” – suggests that giving to those who come after is a way of showing gratitude for the gifts given by those who came before. “My journey from a small town in southern Virginia more than 50 years ago to college and to a career and to an extremely fulfilling life was made possible by the guidance of the finest high school teachers anywhere in this country and by the love and support of many others,” said Ward. “Making sure that today’s students are afforded the same is our duty, and we perform it gladly.” 

In August, members of JSRHS ’67 scholarship committee arranged for the three winners, Starr, Kayla and Olivia of their annual scholarship to attend the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), in Washington, D.C. to receive their awards. The power of the moment – African Americans who had graduated from a segregated high school just one year before the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. awarding college scholarships to students their grandchildren’s age on the National Mall – was not lost on the recipients either. Starr, Kayla, and Olivia spoke movingly about the importance of the moment, their plans for college, their career aspirations and their commitment to “paying it forward.”