Gibbs High School Class of 1971 celebrated their 45th class reunion Aug. 5-7
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The Gibbs High School Class of 1971 celebrated their 45th class reunion with three days of good food, reminiscing about the good ol’ days, music, dancing and praise and worship. Saturday morning’s program, held at the Orange Blossom Café, honored the educators that helped mold generations of successful Gladiators.
By the time these Gladiators graduated in 1971, Pinellas County Schools had been integrated. Many of their elementary and junior high classmates were bussed to schools around the county and were not able to graduate from Gibbs; therefore, members of Lakewood, Boca Ciega, St. Pete, Northeast and Dixie Hollins High Schools were all invited to celebrate together.
“I gotta be honest with you,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, “I always wanted to be a Gladiator. I was jealous of Gladiators. But you have something special and being gathered this morning I’m just honored to be here.”
Rouson, who graduated from Bishop Barry in 1973, threw in a shot and said it was nice to be amongst his elders.
He reminded the classmates of the power both socially and politically that Gibbs High School had on the city for so long, citing Gibbs graduates that have buildings named after them, such as Judge James Sanderlin (family center), Cecil Keene (St. Pete College building) Doug Jamerson (elementary school and St. Pete College building) and Morris Milton (post office on 16th Street South.
Rouson said he is working to get the first black person to sit on city council, C. Bette Davis Wimbush, name on building.
She was denied admittance into Stetson College, but went on to become the first black female lawyer in Pinellas County and third in the state. She ran for the school board and received 10,000 votes with only 3,800 blacks who voted.
“She was proud of her education at Gibbs High Schools,” he said.
Rouson introduced the man of the hour, keynote speaker Rev. Wayne G. Thompson, senior pastor of First Baptist Institutional. The first thing out his mouth was a dig at Rouson.
“The reason he couldn’t be a Gladiator because he didn’t growed [sic] up on the right side of town,” Rev. Thompson said to a room full of laughter.
He remarked what a great blessing it was to be able to look back at all the great educators “that poured into our lives that we could become what we have become.”
During segregation, teachers taught under substandard conditions, but were able to give a first rate education to their students.
“They had to use books that were discarded from the white children across town, but yet made some of the brightest students to ever come through the Pinellas County system,” he said.
He encouraged gatherings such as class reunions to continue telling the story of Gibbs High School.
“If we don’t talk about what was it will never be repeated…if we fail to tell those remaining what Gibbs High School really means, it will really fade away,” said Thompson, who graduated from Gibbs in 1967.
Named for Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs II, who became Florida’s first African-American secretary of state and later superintendent of public instruction during Reconstruction, Gibbs distinguished itself by becoming the first black school to be accepted into the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. That honor confirmed that Gibbs, the only African-American high school in St. Pete during Jim Crow, offered a quality education.
Rev. Thompson said it upsets him to hear about predominately black failing schools in St. Pete.
“It makes me mad because our children are not dumb children. They [educators] are failing to see the jewels before them,” he said.
He challenged everyone to become more “talkative” so that they can hear “our voice collectively saying that we require of them to bring people before our children whose hearts are on children regardless of color,” he averred.
Giving an example of the inequities in the school system, Rev. Thompson said he has a friend whose grandchild is far down on the waiting list to get into Perkins Elementary School, one of the highest-ranking schools in south St. Pete.
“How in the world is a black boy in the hood number 300 at a school three blocks from his doggone house? Something is wrong with that system,” he stated.
What can be done, he asked?
First, Rev. Thompson called on retirees to volunteer in the schools.
“We need to rethink our endeavors. We’re not just to be busy, but we are to be busy with focus and with meaning,” he said, asking those with a wealth of experience to share it with those in need.
“Every one of us ought to be involved somewhere outside our home making a difference in the community where we live,” he demanded.
He asked those in the audience to wrap their minds, hands and hearts around the issues that serve our community “because if you don’t we will wake up in a few more years and the community that we’ve known will no longer be there.”
Secondly, he demanded that they refocus their energy. He’s calling for the competition in the black community to stop. There is a common enemy, he said, and it is Satan, not each other.
“We have to realize that it takes all of us…big churches, little churches, if they’re open in Jesus’ name I don’t care. Let’s collaborate and come together” he said.
There are enough of us here to collaborate through the conflict, he said, because they are expecting us to disintegrate in the mist of it.
“But it’s in our DNA that where there is an oppressor, where there is conflict, we come together,” Rev. Thompson preached.
Lastly, he asked for them not to forget. He asked them to remember the dream team of teachers that Principals John Hopkins (16st Street Junior High) and Emanuel Stewart (Gibbs High School) had assembled.
“They made us believe that we could do anything and be anything, and we all tried to do that,” he said.
Rev. Thompson said his teachers understood he had a purpose, and it is now “our job to help these young people know that they have purpose…Children, like we use to be, just wants to know that somebody cares.”
Each former Gibbs High School teacher present was called up to get a certificate of appreciation, some looking younger than their former students.