The present, past and future of the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy were celebrated during a special ceremony on Dec. 15 to commemorate the school’s 2017 National Blue Ribbon.
National Blue Ribbon winners are public and private schools that demonstrate overall academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps. In September, Obama MLA was announced as one of 342 Blue Ribbon schools this year.
Students led the beginning of the ceremony, which included a Lyceum Opening that reflects how Obama MLA students kick off each school day, talk about the occasion for the event and also the history of the campus. The school’s jazz band and Glee Club provided music.
The facility’s original namesake, Benjamin Franklin Darrell (1863-1919), was a teacher and principal at Colored School No. 1 in Dallas. He taught algebra, psychology, grammar and bookkeeping, while also directing the school’s choir. He also taught night school for African-American adults at the Colored High School.
After he died in March 1919, Colored School No. 2 was renamed in his honor. That school closed in 1969, but his name was used for a new school built in 1971 at 4730 Lancaster Road. Dallas ISD closed that school in 2009, but reopened the facility in 2011 as Obama MLA at B.F. Darrell, designed as an all-boys school.
Another key to the school’s past is Nakia Douglas, Obama MLA’s founding principal, who was guest speaker at the event. Douglas left campus to be an Executive Director in the district and now works at UNT Dallas.
Douglas evoked a few quotes from President Obama to illustrate the vision for the Dallas ISD school named after him. “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time,” Douglas recited. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting. We are the change we seek.”
When Douglas was at A. Maceo Smith High School, he said, he had no intention of looking for other work. But things changed when that campus became a magnet school and his job went away.
“When that was snatched away from me, I went into a deep, dark place,” he said. At the time, he was disillusioned with Dallas ISD and was looking for work out of state when then-executive director Shirley Ison-Newsome reached out to him. “I was actually on my way to Chicago when she called me.”
Initially, he was not open to staying. Before the call, he did something he hadn’t done in three months: he had prayed.
“She said there was a plan. I didn’t understand the plan,” Douglas said. “But Jeremiah 29:11 talks about God having a plan for everything that we experience. And it’s not meant to harm us or hurt us; it’s meant to give us a future.”
Through that understanding, Douglas said, he was humbled.
People from many different places converged at the school, from students from forgotten neighborhoods, to parents with a hope and prayer that their sons can be positive forces in the future, to community members who joined in the work.
The plan started by calling those groups together.
“Hear ye, hear ye! Come forth! We have something for a new tomorrow,” Douglas said. “We need you to believe, we need you to have faith that one day we will achieve and that our young men will succeed in extraordinary levels you can never imagine.”
As the school continues to make progress, Douglas urged students to not forget where they came from or where they are going.
“These young men are overcoming, superseding those expectations,” Douglas said. “That’s why we’re here celebrating the Blue Ribbon award.” He cited the school’s 100-percent graduation rate; three graduating classes – not even one at a full 100 students – earning more than $15 million in scholarships; National Merit Scholars; and students succeeding at colleges and universities across the country. STAAR scores also exceed expectations, he said, particularly for minority males in south Dallas.
“People wonder about excellence, people wonder about traditions, some people wonder what our future looks like. I point them here,” Douglas said. “Because at the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, there’s the expectation that you will do more, to get more and to be more than others.”
Michael Bland is the school’s current principal, which he called an honor and a privilege.
“The legacy was established here on this campus by founding members, starting back with Mr. Douglas, and all those that supported him and his vision,” Bland said. “Where we are today is a testament to that hard work and dedication, and commitment to mission.”
Bland said all the effort is for students. “Our young people, the people who are sitting out before us, are the ones we do this for,” he said. “We do it for your success, we do it for your futures. But ultimately we do it for our futures.”
He said it will be up to students in the future and their leadership if society will move forward. “But it’s you – that bright spot – that says the future is a brighter place, and that there’s more to come,” he said.
Obama MLA serves male students in grades 6-12. Applications to attend the school, along with other Dallas ISD magnet and specialty schools, are being accepted now through Jan. 31, 2018. Learn more here.