When Jordan High School social studies teacher Brian McDonald was a student at Elon University (then Elon College), he attended stimulating speaking engagements that brought famous people such as former presidents and queens, social activists and others to the small campus located about 40 miles west of Durham.
For McDonald, the interaction proved to be an invaluable part of his education.
He hopes to give the students at Jordan similar experiences through the new JHS Distinguished Speaker Series that he and the school’s Social Studies Department will launch Feb. 16.
“All of these folks came to campus and it was enlightening,” said McDonald, a 2001 graduate of Elon. “It was a sense of enrichment that I truly valued and I thought, there is no reason this can’t happen on the high school level.”
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The first speaker will be a former Jordan student, George Masao Yamazawa, a world-renowned spoken word artist, who goes by the stage name “G.”
Yamazawa’s story is well-known in Jordan circles, having been documented in a book by Jordan’s creative writing teacher, Stuart Albright, titled “A World Beyond Home: the Education of a Poet, an Athlete, and a New Generation of Student.”
“He was dealing drugs, he was kicked out (of school) and he came back and got his life together and he’s turned into just an amazing internationally recognized spoken-word artist,” McDonald said.
Yamazawa will be followed by Charmaine McKissick, an associate professor and Interim Chairwoman of the Department of Mass Communication at N.C. Central University on Feb. 28.
Emmett Till author
And in March, two locals who have made national headlines in recent weeks, author and historian Tim Tyson (March 15) and Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project, (March 28), are the scheduled speakers.
Tyson’s most recent book, “The Blood of Emmett Till” has garnered lots attention after it revealed that the account of the events that led to Till’s 1955 lynching death were fabricated by Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, who accused Till of flirting with her and grabbing her hand.
Lau was in the news last month after the childhood home of Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist and first African-American female Episcopal priest, was named a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Pauli Murray house is located at 906 Carroll St., in Durham’s West End community.
The speaker series at Jordan will wrap up on April 20 with U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., who represents the state’s Fourth District that includes parts of Durham, Alamance, Orange, Wake, Harnett, Chatham and Cumberland counties.
“We’re bringing some dynamic folks here who are getting some significant publicity and I couldn’t be more thrilled,” McDonald said.
The speaker series has been made possible with a significant donation from a Jordan parent who McDonald said wants to remain anonymous.
He said the parent had a great appreciation for the work of the school’s Social Studies Department because his child took several classes in the department.
“The father said he would like to make an anonymous donation but didn’t know what to spend it on,” McDonald said. “So, we thought, here’s an excuse to throw this option [the speaker series] out there. We threw several options out there, and the parent like the speaker series best.”
Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L’Homme called the inaugural class in the JHS speaker series “spectacular.”
“Mr. (Brian) McDonald has put together a stellar group of diverse speakers that will excite and engage our students, families and community,” L’Homme said. “Having just one of these speakers would be noteworthy. Having all five is spectacular.”
All five speaking engagements are scheduled to begin on the Jordan High campus at 7 p.m. They are free and open to the school community of students, families, faculty and alumni.
For more information, go to the Jordan High website or email McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.