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story.lead_photo.caption It has been a busy couple of years for Erma Peterson (left), planning committee chairman for the Dunbar-Horace Mann Alumni Association’s fifth biennial Reunion of the Classes. Helping her with the June 26-29 event, themed “Harambee! — Let’s Pull Together” and expected to draw 300 alumni — are national association president Faye Miller Lindsey Thomas and local association president Harold Gardner.

Faye Miller Lindsey Thomas, Harold F. Gardner and Erma Hill Peterson have had a busy last two years.

But their work is about to pay off in the form of an event that's not just about old schoolmates coming together and socializing. It's also about commemorating a time when black schoolchildren -- prohibited by law from studying alongside their white counterparts -- were part of a supportive community that pushed its young people to do, and be, their best.

Thomas is National Dunbar Horace Mann Alumni Association president and a member of the Horace Mann High School Class of 1961. Gardner, Thomas' classmate, is president of the Little Rock Chapter of the association. Peterson, a member of the Horace Mann Class of 1970, is chairman of the planning committee for what the three have been working to execute: The association's 5th biennial Reunion of the Classes. Themed "Harambee! -- Let's Pull Together," the event will take place June 26-29 and will also be an observance of the 90th anniversary of Dunbar High School/Dunbar Junior College. Registration for the reunion ended Saturday.

The Dunbar Horace Mann Alumni Association consists of graduates of Little Rock's two former, all-black high schools in the days before school desegregation: Dunbar Junior and Senior High School (which also operated for a time as Dunbar Junior College) and Horace Mann High. Both schools still exist, but as magnet middle schools. Dunbar and Horace Mann had separate alumni associations, but those merged in July 2009 due to an obvious reason -- "the decline in membership of the Dunbar alumni because of aging," Thomas says. "And some became unable to continue to come to meetings."

"Attrition was getting us," Gardner remarks. "Initially we had 12 chapters ... And we used to take the show on the road to each one of the chapters who volunteered to host." Those 12 chapters have dwindled to six.

Nonetheless, alumni members can still be found ... and not just in the United States. One of her classmates is traveling in from Dubai, Peterson says.

"We have one who lives in France" -- a sister of Little Rock Nine member Thelma Mothershed-Wair, Thomas says. And, the three add, an Alaska-dwelling association member attends every reunion.

About 300 attendees are expected at this meeting. "This is a big one, compared to the last three we've had" -- in Las Vegas, New Orleans and Dallas, Thomas says. "But this is home. So this is an opportunity for people to come home."

Some alumni will be bringing, or will be brought by, family members. Thomas has a friend coming in from California ... with 13 grandchildren.

"We have people who are coming who haven't ever been to a reunion before," Peterson says.

Dunbar alumna Erma Glasco Davis, 90, who now lives in Sandy Springs, Ga., is a 1945 graduate of Dunbar and a former national president of the Dunbar Alumni Association. She will be attending, accompanied by her daughter. "It will be good to see everyone," she says.

Davis praises the reunion planners "for their exceptional work in perpetuating Dunbar's history and legacy."

"Celebrating Dunbar's 90th anniversary during this reunion is timely, commendable and very much appreciated," she says in an email. "This gathering informs and underscores the vision of so many who served the institution and built its legacy: a commitment to excellence and a deeply held belief that education is the gateway to social justice and economic mobility."

Most reunion events are taking place at the Doubletree Hotel in Little Rock, but a number of activities will take place elsewhere. One of the things on tap is a city tour. "A lot of growth has occurred" in Little Rock since some of the alumni last set foot in it, Thomas says.

Reuniongoers also will take a Saturday tour of the L.C. and Daisy Bates Museum, which was the home of the civil-rights couple. A trip to the casino at Oaklawn in Hot Springs also is planned. In addition, "we've added some games ... a line-dancing class, a card tournament, golf," Peterson says.

"But the beginning is gonna be out of sight," Thomas says. She's referring to the June 26 Welcome Reception, based on the event theme -- "harambee" means "all pull together" in Swahili. Attendees are encouraged to wear African attire; African dancers and drummers will be featured. The reception will be put together by the Horace Mann Transitional Class of 1972, the class that would have graduated from Horace Mann that year had it not closed as a high school due to Little Rock School District desegregation efforts.

The reunion will conclude with a June 29 banquet and awards dinner and dance. A 90-year special recognition award will be presented to Dunbar Magnet, whose principal, Eunice Thrasher, will be on hand to accept.

A LEGACY OF EXCELLENCE

Not only does the event have a theme; the association bears one, also.

"Our permanent theme is 'Continuing Our Legacy of Excellence," Thomas says. In keeping with that theme, artifacts will be on display. And, in recognition of Dunbar's 90th, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center will set up the Dunbar Traveling Exhibit, which was donated by the national alumni association several years ago. Included in the exhibit are photos of Dunbar faculty, students and sports teams.

Most of the Dunbar memorabilia is housed at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as part of the National Dunbar Association Historical Collection. There's also memorabilia displayed at Dunbar. Even more Dunbar and Horace Mann memorabilia is being stored in an attic. "We have a committee that's formed and getting our nonprofit status ... to raise funds to get our own building" and house our own memorabilia for both schools, Thomas says. And, "there's a lot of Dunbar memorabilia still being donated."

There's a committee working on a DVD to recognize Dunbar's 90th, as well as create a keepsake booklet for the reunion. "We have information provided by a lot of the descendants that's in the book," Thomas says. "And we have the descendants' pictures. These are students who went to Dunbar and Horace Mann and they list all their family members who attended ... Gibbs when it was a high school [now Gibbs Magnet Elementary School] and then Dunbar and Horace Mann."

Trying to get younger people active with the association has been a challenge, the trio acknowledges. The association does operate a Dunbar mentoring program for the school's female students -- Women of Dunbar, that has gone on for the last 15 years. At one time there was also a Men of Dunbar group. "The older guys who were the mentors, they aged out," and attempts to replace them with younger mentors was unsuccessful, Thomas says.

But the group is discussing ways to keep the schools' memory alive. People like Davis, the Dunbar graduate, hope they succeed.

"Dunbar meant so much to its alumni and city/state and is still a focal point in the surrounding community," she says.

Membership in the Little Rock Chapter of the Dunbar Horace Mann Alumni Association is open to anyone; non-alumni are welcome as associate members. Chapter meetings take place at 3:30 p.m. every third Sunday, September through June, at the media center at Dunbar Magnet Middle School, 1100 Wright Ave. in Little Rock. For a list of officers and their contact information, visit ndhmaa.org.

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.
Harold Gardner, president of the Little Rock Chapter of the Dunbar-Horace Mann Alumni Association, has teamed up with the association’s national president, Faye Miller Lindsey Thomas, and planning committee chairman Erma Peterson to ensure the success of the association’s fifth biennial Reunion of the Classes. The event, also a 90th birthday celebration for what is now Dunbar Magnet Middle School, will draw graduates from Little Rock’s two former, all-black high schools who are dedicated to continuing the school’s “Legacy of Excellence.”

High Profile on 06/16/2019

Print Headline: Dunbar, Mann alumni set to get together June 26-29

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