They danced. They swooned. They cheered intensely as soldiers and former Olympians told their stories. Last week at Fairhope Intermediate School’s Black History program every student was urged and …
They danced. They swooned. They cheered intensely as soldiers and former Olympians told their stories. Last week at Fairhope Intermediate School’s Black History program every student was urged and inspired to follow their dreams.
The event kicked off with the retelling of the formation of the 92nd Infantry Division, nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers, a segregated unit in the U.S. Army that served in both World War I and II.
Eddie Irby Jr. told the students about the men’s desire to serve.
“Their guns wouldn’t shoot. Their clothes didn’t fit. Their boots were too tight. They were never given the newest or best equipment but they fought hard,” Irby said.
His own uncle was a member of the unit and was one of six men to return alive from a roster of 300. Before he passed away, he asked Irby to carry on their legacy. Now Irby works to retell their history to community and school groups.
“My uncle told me, if I don’t carry on his legacy it will go with him to the grave. The next people who are going to carry this legacy on is you guys,” he said to the crowd of students. “You guys are the future.”
Before the program began, Irby said, “History is history. If you don’t guard your history or know where you came from, how do you know where you’re going? Whether it’s bad, good or ugly have to know to make your future better.”
The students also heard from Darrick Heath a member of the 1996 Olympics U.S. handball team. He told the students that chasing dreams also meant being flexible.
After playing football and basketball in school, as well swimming, Heath didn’t make the NBA draft as he hoped. But another coach did come calling, for a game he’d never heard of, handball.
He took a chance and ended up at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs. There he prepped for two Olympics, played in one and soon became a professional handball player in Europe, winning several titles at the Pan Am and World Games.
“Life is about having dreams but it’s also about having options and being flexible,” he told the students. “If you focus on just one thing, everything else will pass you by.”
He said his moment in the Olympics was only possible because of his positive, flexible outlook.
“I would not have been able to go in that stadium and represent my country had I not been flexible,” he said.
Heath told the students there were three keys to being successful that they could start now: be coachable, be positive and be the best at whatever you choose to do.
Brandi Madison, owner of Eastern Shore World Dance, also told the students how sticking to her love of music helped propel her through difficult times. Her dream to dance helped her leave a job she liked, but didn’t love.
“Now, I have purpose,” she said.
Madison’s speech turned into a dance party as she turned up the music and invited students to join her on the floor and celebrate the cultural diversity that everyone shares through music.
The bleachers rumbled and students hit the gym floor, giggling and dancing to familiar and unusual beats. The Fairhope Intermediate School band followed with a rendition of an African American spiritual “Kumbaya” and a Mardi Gras favorite, “Second Line.”