Former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders was keynote speaker for the 2014 George Washington Carver High School Alumni Association Banquet, held Friday, Feb. 21, in the Gina Cox Center cafeteria at Lonoke High School. Theme of the banquet was “Civil Rights in America” and Black History Month.
According to information from the National Institutes of Health, Elders is the first person in Arkansas to be board certified in pediatric endocrinology. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her the 16th Surgeon General of the United States; she is the first African-American and the second woman to lead the U.S. Public Health Service.
Elders was introduced by Virgil Turner, who spoke of growing up in the same area as Elders; Elders later spoke of graduating with Turner. But their town of Schaal, “Is no more. They moved it off,” he said. But Schaal was just a railhead, Turner said. “It had a post office and a store.”
But Elders’ humble beginnings did not stop her from becoming, “the top surgeon of the United States. We are awfully proud of her,” Turner said.
Elders praised the work of the Carver Alumni Association on keeping alive the heritage of Carver High School and the work to bring education to the African-American community. Though that work began as early as 1878, the high school did not come into being until 1945, Elders said.
Carver High School was disbanded in 1972 when segregation ended and all students were combined in one school system.
“Education is the road to success. That was drum-beaten into our heads,” Elders said of her childhood. “My mom always told us, the way to get out of the cotton patch is to get something in your head.”
Along with that truth, is that, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” Elders remarked.
While being able to see, or imagine something differently is important to following a chosen life path, it is equally important to remember what came before. That is what makes observing Black History Month so important, Elders said.
“That is what we are supposed to do; go back and remember, and tell the stories. Our children need to know the stories,” Elders said. “We don’t want to remember some of it, but we need to.”
“Remember the past, where we came from, and the sacrifices many have made. Remember the shoulders we all have to stand on,” Elders said.
“We want to hear the stories, but we don’t want to repeat them.
“But if we don’t keep repeating, we’ll forget them.
“If we forget them, then we might get to relive them,” Elders said.
“We have come too far, we aren’t going to turn back,” she remarked.
Elders praised the Carver Alumni Association for “planting trees.”
“A society grows great, when old men and old women plant trees, under whose shade they know they never will sit,” she recited.
“I want thank the Carver Alumni Association for continuing to plant trees for the bright people of the future,” Elders said.