Black History Month is nationally celebrated each February, and as it has recently concluded, many are reminded the many contributions that African Americans have made to both local and national history.
However, in acknowledging past history, it is imperative to recognize those who are currently making history, and life-long Trousdale County resident Demetrice Harper Badru is history in the making.
Although not the first African American principal at the elementary school, Badru is the first African American female to assume the role as principal of Trousdale County Elementary.
“Mr. Ron Moreland was the first African American principal here at the elementary school,” said Badru. “I am the first female African American principal.
“I have been in education since January 2000. I came back home to teach, in January 2006, at the high school where I taught English. In 2011, I went to the elementary school as an assistant principal. I took over as principal in 2015.”
As Badru has worked hard to throughout her life, she credits her parents and their struggles for making her what she is today.
“When I was growing up, my parents did not allow me to use anything as an excuse for not being a good human,” said Badru. “My parents raised my brother and I to put God first, and all else would fall into place. We were not allowed to use excuses for anything. We were expected to always work hard.
“My mom, Katie Harper, was in one of the early classes of integration. She was from Ward School, and that was a difficult time. She was integrated around fifth grade. She had a teacher named Mrs. Wiley who was an amazing fifth-grade teacher to a little black girl going through integration. Mrs. Wiley sheltered my mom from a lot of things, but she also learned a lot of things during that process. She had to deal with kiddos that wouldn’t drink out of the water fountain after she used it. She would share stories with me, not to make me bitter, but so I wouldn’t forget, so I understood that education was my ticket and my opportunity. She would say, ‘I want you to understand what I went through.’ ”
And while much has changed since her mother was in school, Badru acknowledges that, still, not everything is always perfect.
“I grew up in Trousdale County,” said Badru. “I graduated from high school in 1995. We all got along. Everybody was cordial. We ate at the same table. We studied together. We all got along, but that’s where it stopped. People loved to believe that everyone was always accepting, but that was something that we just didn’t talk about it.
“I can remember back in 1991, my brother was a football player, and they were playing against a rival county. The other county had made some dummy football players and did very inappropriate things to the dummies that were dressed as African Americans. We didn’t know what was going on, because we were shielded from that. But I remember that there was a very high police presence at that game.”
According to Badru, she and her husband have purposed to teach their own children the lessons that they have learned from their parents and teachers along the way, and also, as a principal, impart some of the same lessons to the children at her school.
“My mom had to forget a lot of things just in order to survive,” said Badru. “But she didn’t forget the opportunity that she was given, and she was not going to allow her children to not take advantage of their opportunity. So, any chance that arises, we have a conversation with our own children. We try to help them understand that they won’t always like what is going on, but if they don’t like it, then change it. They have the opportunity, and they have the tools.
“It was Mrs. Wiley’s presence in my mom’s life during such a controversial time, and the impact that she had on my mom, that sparked something in me. Although she wasn’t even my teacher, I wanted to be somebody’s Mrs. Wiley. But I guess that Mrs. Wiley really was my teacher, because she instilled in my mom some very important characteristics, and she gave me an example of what a good teacher does. We advocate for students.”
Expressing pride in Badru’s success, long-time Hartsville resident and childhood friend of Badru’s mother, Hattie Ann Dotson Hickey-Wright, attributed the experiences that she and Harper had as children who experienced desegregation, in part, to the success of later generations.
“When I came through desegregation, I was in the seventh grade,” the 69-year-old Hickey-Wright said. “There were no black teachers at the white school. In the beginning, I hated it, but each and every day got better. What I went through made me stay focused on education. When I look at it now, and I think about it, I wouldn’t take anything for that experience. As for having black teachers in the school system, I knew that would change. But now, just to see the return of a young black lady pursuing the position as principal of the elementary school in Trousdale County, it’s just wonderful. I never thought that I would live to see the day that a black lady would be a principal in the school system.
“Demetrice has to give some of the credit to her parents, because they are very outstanding people. But she really has done a marvelous job in the education system. She’s brought fresh ideas to the school. She has the mindset of, ‘This is what the school needs, and I can bring it.’ She has done a marvelous job, and you just can’t take that from her. She has handled things very well. Therefore, I am so proud of her.”
Badru acknowledges that because of the struggles of African Americans in her mother’s generation, it has allowed her to be an agent for change, an opportunity she otherwise may not have been given.
“I don’t always like how my mom had to grow up, so now I’m changing it,” said Badru. “But because every opportunity is a learning opportunity, I can be a positive change agent.
“I’ve been asked many times, ‘Why are you here?’ I know I don’t have to be here. I don’t have to do this, but I want to do it because I want every child to have the opportunity that they deserve. I now have the opportunity to advocate for all children. So now, here I am sitting in this chair as the principal of a school where my mom was not allowed to come, and look at who I’m advocating for ... all children.”
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