By MIKE SANDROLINI
MAYWOOD | February, of course, is Black History Month, which commemorates the
achievements of African-American men and women throughout this nation’s history.
A group of third-grade students who attend Irving Elementary School in Maywood
gathered last week at Neighborhood United Methodist Church, 19th Avenue and
Washington Blvd., to culminate what has been a month-long study of noted African-
Americans as part of Celebrate Black History.
For the past 10 years, the church has been conducting a tutoring program—started by
Neighborhood UME pastor, Rev. Jacques Conway—for at-risk students which meets
Wednesdays and Thursdays after school from around 3-5:30 p.m. Church members
and staff help these students in, for example, the areas of reading and math (such as
multiplication tables and fractions).
“We’re trying to provide them with extra services and support so that we make sure their
reading scores are increasing, their math scores are increasing and they’re ready to go
to the fourth grade,” explained program chairman and Bellwood resident Debra
The church’s Celebrate Black History program has been part of the tutoring program for
five years. Throughout February, the third-graders from Irving were assigned books to
read on noted heroes such as Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott
King, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Frederick Douglass and
These students then did reports on the specific books they’ve read, and parents were
invited to stop by the church and listen to their reports. “The parents said they are very
well pleased that they can see their (children’s) progress since they’ve been attending
the tutoring program based on their report card and the good reports that they’re getting
from the school,” added Patterson.
The students are quick studies. Jaiana, 8, from Maywood said she read about Coretta
Scott King, the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. King himself, Mandela and also about
Wilma Rudolph. Rudolph, who tied the world record in the women’s 100-meter dash
and won three gold medals at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, was stricken with
polio as a child and had to wear a brace on her left leg, which left her disabled for most
of her childhood. “It was sad because people were making fun of her and called her
names,” Jaiana said.
Nine-year-old Jaden also liked the book on Rudolph, which he said was his favorite.
“She was an overcomer,” he said. But he also said he learned about Thurgood
Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, and Frederick Douglass,
who escaped slavery and became a leader in the abolitionist movement during the mid-
to-late 1800s. “I learned that he (Douglass) was a freedom fighter,” Jaden said.
“We’re teaching the children about their pride and dignity, to respect all cultures; their
own as well as others,” said Anne Betts of Berkeley, a retired English, reading and
math teacher who helps tutor the children at Neighborhood UME. “We learn about
things African American and what they contributed to our history.
“What I like most (about the tutoring program) is for these kids to come here to a safe
haven,” Betts noted. “Here, we can pray. We teach the kids good conduct, good
mannerisms, good etiquette—things that maybe teachers can’t get around to every day,
especially with the large classroom sizes.”
The children, however, aren’t the only ones who have African-American heroes. Betts,
who taught at Emerson Elementary School for 34 years, spoke highly of her
grandmother, Katherine Sprvill. “She never got an opportunity to vote,” Betts said, “but
she made it possible for me to go to schools so I could come here and teach and
Patterson said she looked up to Harriet Tubman who, like Douglass, escaped slavery.
Tubman went on to help free hundreds of slaves through a network of safe houses and
secret routes known as the Underground Railroad.
“When I was growing up I always wanted to be Harriet Tubman to free my people,”
Patterson said. “I was very interested in that and helping other young people to learn
how to read and make themselves better in life.”
Celebrate Black History a big part
of church’s tutoring program
From left to right: Anne Betts, Gerald O. Hayes, Margaret Jones,
Virdya Mabry, Debra Patterson and Willie Frazier are helping
tutor third-graders at Irving Elementary School two days per
week. Patterson is the chairman of Celebrate Black History's
tutorial program and Betts serves as the program director.
Jones and Mabry have been with the tutoring program since it
first started 10 years ago.