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Monday, April 28, 2008

The Ebony Club at D-B: First Meeting Towards a New Beginning!

Is the Ebony Club ready for a comeback at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport?

Almost 50 African-American D-B students who will be juniors and seniors next year, voiced their opinions at a recent meeting held at the school.

Their answer is a resounding YES!


"As soon as we told them the Ebony Club was starting back up, there was a loud gasp, then they were clapping their hands and cheering wildly," says teacher Douglass Releford. "They were so excited, because they had been so let down when the club disbanded back in 2005. Most of them knew about the club before, because their older sisters and brothers and cousins had all been members, and this group had looked forward to joining, too, but then the club abruptly ended."

Releford, who also serves as the current president of the Douglass High School Alumni Association in Kingsport, and retired D-B teacher and former Ebony Club teacher sponsor Dawnella Ellis, invited prospective club members to the D-B cafeteria, and hosted the meeting on Wednesday, April 23rd. They were both very surprised at the turnout.

"The excitement level went through the roof," Ellis says. The single most important question the students had for Releford and Ellis was, "what took so long to bring the club back?"

No doubt on the minds of the students at the meeting, was 19-year-old Derick Appiah-Kesse of Kingsport, who tragically lost his life to murder last week. Police have just announced arrests in the death of Keese, himself an active member of the Ebony Club during his years at Dobyns-Bennett.

"The kids at the meeting were very mindful of that, and quickly got serious," says Ellis. "They were anxious to know what they needed to do to make the club successful."

"They also wanted to know what the club would be able to do for them," Releford says, "and what contributions and adjustments they need to make for it, because many of them have after-school jobs and athletic activities."

"The one thing they don't have and apparently so desperately want, is a school club of their own," he says. "D-B principal (Earl) Lovelace was very impressed by the students' anxiousness to bring the club back, and is happy that it is being re-established."

The new D-B Ebony Club will be hosted by and will operate as an organization of the Douglass Alumni Association.

"It reminds the kids of their heritage," says Releford, "and keeps them mindful of the proud legacy of Douglass High School in Kingsport, the school their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and other relatives attended."

"Some of them knew about Douglass, but most of them did not know a thing about the school," he says. "They had no idea about it, knew nothing about the legacy of Douglass. When Dawnella and I passed around some old Douglass annuals, most of the kids were just amazed and surprised about that old red building on Louis Street in Riverview they've been to or passed countless times, actually being Kingsport's all-black school 40, 50, 60 years ago. They only remembered it being the Headstart School they all attended when they were four and five years old, or the recreation building where they played pickup basketball."

"They had no idea that building was once one of the cornerstones of the Riverview Community."


"That news also excited them," says Releford. "All of a sudden, they realized that they had something to be proud of, something that represents a history most of them did not know existed."

"When the club gets rolling, we will be working with former Ebony Club members, who are now excellent role models both here at home and proud, productive members of their own communities elsewhere," says Releford. "The Ebony Club will once again, be a sanctuary for our young people, a world of positive influences with a Christian focus, that will hopefully give them something to lean on for support in a very difficult world."

Former Ebony Club member Johnnie Mae Swaggerty started early, reaching young people with a positive message. She hosts the New Vision Youth at Bethel A.M.E. Church, with an inspirational focus that stresses community involvement. Former club members Jocelyn Lyons and Eric Lyons are now in Kingsport's education staff, Jocelyn as principal of John Sevier Middle School, and Eric as an assistant principal at Dobyns-Bennett. Jeff Faulkerson is using his Ebony Club training as an aspiring author, and who is volunteering his time to help in the reorganization of the club.

"Right now, we're in the planning stages," says Ellis. "There will be lots of discussions and input on activities, events, hands-on community gatherings and sponsorships that produced role model adults once the kids matured."

"In the short term, we're looking at hopefully getting the Ebony Club up and running by the beginning of the next school year in August," says Ellis. "That way, D-B will have it registered as a bonifided school organization just like before. One long-term event will be an Ebony Club Reunion, to be held in conjunction with the Douglass School Reunion next year. We are in the very beginning stages of starting the club back up, so we're taking baby steps first."

Many questions will be answered at an organizational meeting of the new Ebony Club, to be held this coming Tuesday night, April 29th at the Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church on Maple Oak Lane in Kingsport. "A lot of the organization for the club will rest on the shoulders of the former club members, who will coordinate and help lead the students with their guidance and vision."

First and foremost, will be the required history lesson concerning the students' and theif families' ancestry. Both Releford and Ellis emphasized that the Sons and Daughters of Douglass website will be required reading by all club members.

"Through our website," Releford says, "the kids can experience many of the memories of their ancestors, long before the kids were born. They can see the pictures, read the testimonials and news articles, and see the memorabilia and memoirs we hold dear, that are now being passed down to them. We expect them to pick up the torch of Kingsport's African-American heritage, embrace it, and most importantly, learn from it."

"The kids made it clear to Doug and me, that by whatever means necessary, they want to start the club back up and now that they know the importance of the old Douglass High School, have the club operate as an arm of the Douglass Alumni Association," says Ellis.

"Hosting the new D-B Ebony Club will represent a new beginning for the Douglass Alumni Association," says Releford. "It is a turning point for the organization, and represents a two-way street. Our alumni are passing on a proud heritage and the knowledge of our Douglass history, knowing that it will be proudly carried on, long after we older ones are gone."