Celebrating Black History Month: Group proposes transformation for Roosevelt High School

Imagines museum and community center at old school
Posted at 9:19 AM, Feb 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-24 20:18:31-05

For one West Palm Beach group celebrating Black History goes beyond one month. The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center of Palm Beach County is gaining momentum for plans to turn the old Roosevelt High School into a permanent museum and community center.

The goal is to exhibit artifacts from the county’s African-American pioneers while providing the community with other enriching opportunities.

S. Bruce McDonald thumbs through pictures from a 50-year-old yearbook.

“When I saw them, I saw me,” he said referring to his students.

The 88-year-old started his teaching career at Roosevelt High School, an all-black school at the corner of Tamarind and 15th Street in West Palm Beach.

While in the Army, McDonald said he first noticed the difference in the level of education between caucasians and African-Americans. That helped motivate him to return to the classroom in the city where he spent most of his childhood.

“Making money was easy,” he said. “But I didn’t see that as the liberator for what we were talking about, so I gravitated toward education.”

He eventually became one of the district’s first African-American principals. His task was to build and guide Boca Raton Middle School through integration.

“I knew you could rub these little rough diamonds hard enough and they would shine,” he said with a smile.

The school where McDonald got his start could launch a brand new beginning in its West Palm Beach neighborhood.

“There’s something like a deep, deep abiding love for this school and our teachers,” explained Debbye Robinson-Raing. She graduated from Roosevelt in 1966 and remembers attending McDonald’s classes in civics, and social sciences.

Now she’s part of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center (AARLCC). The organization’s proposed housing Ineria Hudnell’s collection of newspaper clippings, pictures, and artifacts that document African-American neighborhoods and traditions from Palm Beach County at the old Roosevelt High School, which is currently closed.

The group also envisions providing programs to the community at the school. They’d include a library, computer classes, a staff development center for district teachers and a leadership academy for young teenagers. 

“I think it will just really change the whole nature of the feeling of the parents, of the students, of everyone who is involved in that community,” added Annie Ruth Wilburn-Nelson; a 1960 graduate and member of AARLCC.

The Palm Beach County School District plans to set aside $10 million from money raised in the voter-approved penny sales tax for Roosevelt High School. A spokesperson said the district is considering opening the site to the AARLCC.

“There just is not a today without a yesterday. And there will not be a tomorrow without a today,” said McDonald, who predicts this project will make tomorrow better than today.

AARLCC will host a Black History Month celebration Saturday, February 25 at the Riviera Beach Preparatory and Achievement Academy.

The doors open at noon. Part of Hudnell’s collection will be on display. At 2:30, the United States Post Office will unveil a stamp featuring civil rights leader Dorothy Height. There will also be instruction on how to improve your child’s academic performance.

The academy is located at 7071 Garden Road in West Palm Beach.