By Jodi Marze, Lifestyles Editor
The Picayune Item
Hollis Fortenberry, Jr., is a 1968 graduate of George Washington Carver High School.
His experience there, and research into the namesake of the school, inspired him to become a teacher.
Fortenberry says it’s all about remembering the past and allowing it to shape the future. This is what he did when he researched Carver.
Even as a high school football player, Fortenberry knew that going pro was not where he was headed, he was going to teach children.
“Dr. Carver was a botany and agriculture teacher to children of former slaves. He had a passion to inspire and knew from personal experience with poverty that he wanted to improve the fate of ‘the man farthest down,’ the poor, one-horse farmer at the mercy of the market and chained to land exhausted by cotton.”
In his opinion, George Washington Carver was the most prolific of those to overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers that stood in his path— a way or means of denial.
Fortenberry Jr. says, “His discoveries included the peanut. He extracted meal, invented instant and dry coffee, bleach, wood filler, metal polish, paper, ink, shaving cream, rubbing oil, linoleum, synthetic rubber and plastic while on the campus of Tuskegee Institute.
Like Carver, Fortenberry became a teacher and had a 25-year-career with the Atlanta Public School system, as a history and social studies teacher, before returning to Picayune as a physical education teacher for Roseland Park. Even after his retirement in 2010, he rarely misses a day as a substitute teacher.
“I became a teacher to teach children that they can be a success if they put in effort. When you are dealing with children you must inspire them to have goals and a direction. Even if a goal isn’t met, they are better off for trying,” he says.
Fortenberry equates success with never giving up.
“If you are being an asset to society and not a liability, you still have something to offer. That is a success in my book.”
Fortenberry cautions students against limiting themselves to one path. He refers to Carver as one who successfully covered a wide variety of areas and made a huge impact for the good of human kind.
“I will tell my students from the very beginning there are three things they must remember to achieve anything. The first is they must always be respectful — there will always be someone in authority and they must recognize and honor that. The second is to cooperate with people— their parents, their teachers, their teammates must have cooperation. That is very important in the job world. The third is to not waste their time— it is valuable and time waits for no one.
“I tell them that in spite of all of the trials, tribulations, hurdles and attitudes of despair toward them, African Americans like Carver still managed to overcome all of the adversity and become a highly regarded asset to society with inventions and discoveries. They can do this too.”