Dorothy O. Jackson told students at Arlington Christian Academy on Friday that they should aspire to go further than she did with only a high school education.
''High school education is not enough,'' said Jackson, the first African-American woman to be appointed a deputy mayor of Akron. ''The things that I have done I probably could not do today because the competition is much stronger.''
She encouraged them to stay in school, read, join organizations such as the Girl Scouts and dream big.
''You are not going to be like me. You are going to be better than me because you're going to have a good education,'' Jackson said.
Jackson and Fannie Brown, the new principal of Lighthouse Academy in West Akron, were among more than 500 prominent African-Americans who spoke to schoolchildren around the country on Friday.
The second annual back-to-school event is sponsored by HistoryMakers, which describes itself as the nation's largest African-American oral history archive.
Jackson grew up poor in East Akron on Ardella Avenue, just a few blocks from Arlington Christian Academy.
She graduated from East High School in 1951. Until her mother became ill, Jackson had been working at a grocery store during the day and attending Actual Business College at night. She quit her job and school to care for her mother, who died of cancer four days before Christmas 1952.
After the death of her father in 1957, Jackson worked as a secretary for Goodwill Industries, where she learned sign language and helped workers with disabilities.
''Many of you know that I speak and teach sign language,'' she said. ''I'm the first black interpreter for the deaf in the United States that is known about. I taught the first beginning sign language class at Akron U. I encouraged them to have it. I cannot do that now because I don't have a degree and the law says that you have to have a degree to do it.''
But having only a high school education didn't prevent Jackson from making history when she was appointed deputy mayor by Mayor Tom Sawyer in 1984.
She retired 19 › years later.
''Who would have ever thought that the little girl who grew up on Ardella would become the first black woman as the deputy mayor in the city of Akron, longest-serving in the history of Akron, high school education, didn't belong to the Democrat Party, didn't even vote for the mayor? Seventy-five people applied; only one without a college degree, only one who got the job.''
Brown was born in rural Georgia and her family migrated to Akron in 1968.
She graduated from Central-Hower High School and received her bachelor's degree at Malone College and her master's and doctorate from the University of Akron.
''I wasn't sure that I was going to college, so I was told to take some kind of technical trade and I took drafting, which is drawing,'' Brown said. ''Not many women were in that field at the time, but I had a position and was able to work for Babcock & Wilcox for 20 years.''
In 1997, she was appointed to lead Coming Together, a nonprofit organization that grew out of the Akron Beacon Journal's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1993 series on race relations.
She stepped down almost 10 years later and the Akron chapter of the organization dissolved about a year later.
She had been teaching a course on racial diversity at the University of Akron until Thursday, when she took over as principal of Lighthouse Academy.
The state has ordered that Lighthouse, one of Akron's oldest charter schools, must close at the end of the school year for academic poor performance.
Brown served on the board of directors, which appointed her principal.
''We are going to try to do everything we can to keep our school open,'' Brown said. ''There are some options available and we've looked at about four of them. So the board thought it may be good for me to be here to assess the situation and then to develop and implement those options.''
She declined to comment specifically about the options.
John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.