In the spirit of her grandmother’s unwavering dedication to the education of all young people, Dr. Evelyn Bethune was the guest of honor yesterday at the dedication of the new Mary McLeod Bethune Transitional Center for Homeless Students.
The event celebrated the Long Beach Unified School District’s newest building that supports McLeod Bethune’s advocacy of excellent education for all students, especially those who have the least.
"You’ve come together and done something quite magnificent," said Evelyn Bethune, CEO of the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation in Washington, D.C. "This is a project that will help heal a lot of what’s wrong in this country. It will bring a lot of communities together. This is how to do it.
"Thank you for helping to continue the legacy of my grandmother."
The ceremony showcased the new west Long Beach facilities that replace two old bungalows that formerly housed the homeless center. Two years ago, L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, an advocate of education for the homeless, committed a million-dollar grant to construct the new building, which will serve more than 300 students each year.
The new facilities include two classrooms, nurse’s, counselor’s and administrative offices, a parent center, kitchen and restrooms.
The center is located at the Villages of Cabrillo, which provide temporary housing to families while they get back on their feet and find housing in the community.
McLeod Bethune founded the National Council for Negro Women, helped to found the United Nations, and was an adviser to four U.S. presidents. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as Director for African American Affairs. She dedicated her life to bridging communication and understanding gaps among races. Her lifelong mission—decades after the Civil War but long before the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s—was the education of America’s children, poor or wealthy.
Born in 1875 to former slaves, McLeod Bethune was the 15th of 17 children. As a young girl, unable to get an education, she committed herself to becoming well educated and making sure that other children in her situation could get an education, too.
In 1904, McLeod Bethune opened Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls. In 1931, the school became Bethune-Cookman College.
"I remember her telling of standing in front of the (Ku Klux) Klan in 1952 when they wanted to burn down Bethune-Cookman College," Dr. Bethune said. "The students stood in the door of her home and sang. The Klan came with their torches, but they didn’t burn a single building. They didn’t come back."
The new Bethune center in Long Beach allows children to attend classes without any stigma or embarrassment. It minimizes the loss of education from homelessness, and helps students catch up with missed schoolwork. After a few weeks at the transitional center, most of the children enroll in classes at a regular school in the district.
LBUSD has served more than 5,000 homeless children since 1991. In 2002, the Transitional Center, a satellite of Elizabeth Hudson School, was named with Hudson as a California Distinguished School, the first in west Long Beach. Hudson is competing for the top statewide designation again this year.
"What we’ve known in the Long Beach Unified School District for a long time is that all children can achieve at high levels when given the right support, no matter how much the odds are stacked against them," said Chris Steinhauser, superintendent of schools. "One of the most important things we do is to give our homeless children a chance to make something better of their lives. The key to their brighter future—as Mary McLeod Bethune knew so well—is a good education."