By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
My plan this week was to write an objective news story about the celebration over the weekend of the life and storied career of Dr. Anne O. Emery, the venerated Baltimore educator. A native of Thomasville, Ala., Dr. Emery moved to Baltimore with Vallen L. Emery Sr., her beloved late husband and their three sons, after a successful teaching career in Louisiana. The deep South’s loss was Baltimore’s great gain.
She attended what was then Morgan State College where she earned a master’s degree in education and she attended Temple University in Philadelphia and was awarded a doctorate degree in education. Her list of accomplishments and contributions to the Greater Baltimore community is too long to list here; that is why a veritable who’s who (including Mayor Pugh, Rev. Dr. A.C.D. Vaughn and AFRO Publisher Emeritus Jake Oliver, among many others) of our city stopped by the Forum to give bouquets of flowers to Dr. Emery while she can smell them. These are the objective facts.
However, my objectivity ends as far as Dr. Emery is concerned when it comes to her work as principal of Walbrook High School in West Baltimore.
Dr. Emery was a vice-principal of Lemmel Junior High just up the street from where I was raised. But, Walbrook was the house that Dr. Emery built and that school changed my life. I entered Walbrook in the 10th grade in 1980. For the record, Dr. Emery had officially left the school as principal the previous year, but clearly she had laid an incredible foundation prior to her exit and she left an outstanding high school in her wake.
My sister and I had moved back into the city from Baltimore County with our father, the summer before my sophomore year; I had struggled some academically in the ninth grade; it was a tumultuous time for me. My dad actually gave me the option of attending prestigious Cardinal Gibbons High School or Walbrook and I chose Walbrook. It was probably the most astute choice I’ve ever made. At Walbrook, I was a member of the first Advanced Placement English class in the history of Baltimore City Public Schools. I discovered Langston Hughes, Oscar Wilde and learned critical thinking skills. I was a journalism major and the assistant editor of my school newspaper, the Communicator. At age 15, I wrote my first commentary, my observations on the presidency of Ronald Wilson Reagan. I was part of a group of interns from Walbrook at the now defunct News American, the first high school students to serve as interns at the newspaper. In three years I only missed one day of high school (I actually cut school that day to be with a very pretty girl named Shelby). I went to school every day not just because it was expected of me, but because I loved going to school; I loved going to Walbrook. I was so well prepared when I graduated on that glorious Spring day in 1983, I truly believe I could have made the leap from high school to writing for the AFRO.
Walbrook was the house that Dr. Emery built and I am one of her fortunate “children.”
As my Grandmother would say, there were a lot of “big shots” in the room at the Forum over the weekend all presenting flowers to Dr. Emery, who is of course a very “big shot” in her own right in the minds of many. But, that’s not who Dr. Emery is. The word I heard used over and over and over again at the Forum to describe this gentile Southern woman with an indomitable spirit was “servant.”
At the end of the day after all the accolades and laurels laid at her feet, all the honors and titles and accomplishments she has garnered, they all fall short of that one simple word in describing this great woman; servant.
Since 1989 (just six years after I graduated from Walbrook), the year I became a professional journalist, at 23, as an education reporter for the AFRO, I’ve had innumerable conversations with Dr. Emery over the years. It is not hyperbole when I say every story she has ever told me was about what she was going to do for somebody else. Just think about that; every conversation was about how she was going to be of service to others. Every great leader has been a great servant, Dr. Emery is the embodiment of both.
I am a Walbrook Warrior and I will proclaim it with pride for the rest of my days because of the unsurpassed work, infused with love of Dr. Anne O. Emery. I am just one of thousands of men and women, all her children who owe her an enormous debt of gratitude.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.