Brenda Gilbert and Dr. Frances Harris form a two-person planning committee for the reunion of the Horace Mann Transitional Class of 1972 Solid Gold Class.
Their committee is not the only committee working to make the event happen. But they have perhaps the most difficult task… planning what will not only be a historic meeting, but the first major face-to-face event since the covid-19 pandemic wiped out the two main annual fundraisers organized by the philanthropic class: Passion for Fashion, a spring fashion show; and Cooking for College, during which various chefs serve food samples.
The Horace Mann Transition Class of 1972 is so named because its members were denied the opportunity to graduate as a class. At the end of their freshman year at what was Horace Mann High School, the Little Rock School District closed Mann as a high school as part of its racial desegregation plans. Harris, Gilbert and their classmates were sent – despite their protests – to other district schools for their senior year 1971-72. (Gilbert later graduated from Parkview; Harris from Hall.) Their former high school is now Horace Mann Arts & Science Magnet Middle School.
Luckily, the class that should have been the Horace Mann High School Class of 1972 stayed in touch. Gilbert remembers their first attempt at a reunion.
“We didn’t think we could do a reunion because we didn’t graduate together,” she says. So in 1981, the members attended the 10-year reunion of the Horace Mann Class of 1971. But the following year, they held their own reunion.
“It was a shock. … We did really well,” Gilbert said. “Probably as good as any of those [other] schools have done in their reunion efforts.
Since the 1982 meeting, the transition class meets every five years. Gilbert remained involved in the class all this time.
“I found it quite amazing because we started to think we couldn’t do it, [and got] to the point that we made it [regularly],” She adds.
And, since 2002, the class has awarded some $50,000 in Edwin L. Hawkins “I Challenge You” scholarships to high school seniors. The scholarships are named after the man who was principal of Horace Mann High when they were there.
This year, they want to think big. “Our goal was to raise $50,000 in 50th anniversary scholarships,” Gilbert says.
Plans for this meeting have been underway for over a year. Due to the pandemic interrupting class face-to-face meetings, fundraising efforts began in March 2021 with a mass letter-writing campaign. Says Harris, “We thought that was the way to go because that’s all we could do. We usually do fundraising events and of course we couldn’t do people’s events. to anyone. So it was a challenge to develop something that could bring us [revenue].”
But, Gilbert points out, it all worked out for the benefit of the class. “We had never done a letter-writing campaign. And people responded to that – great.”
The class had two fish fries in person, adds Gilbert. “It was something new that we came up with so we could see faces and help people connect what we were doing on a personal level.” They also held a few virtual fundraising events. “We exceeded what we thought we were going to do.”
“And that made us more inventive and adventurous,” Harris interjects.
It was a pleasant surprise, Harris notes, that people responded to their direct solicitations. “Classmates that we don’t usually see in a reunion… donated to the scholarship [fund].”
MORE THAN 200 FORTS
The class lost 80 of its members, but just over 200 are still alive, Gilbert said.
“We include everyone who has gone to Horace Mann since 1970,” which was when the main class members were in second grade, she continues. “Some people went to see Horace Mann in 1970, then, because they knew we were getting [broken] raised, they could have gone to the school to which they were going to be assigned in the 11th grade. But we count everyone.
“We also have people [who are] part of our meeting that never went to see Horace Mann; they went to one of the other schools. … We may have gone to college with them, but they felt comfortable coming to join us for our meetings. We have a few like that.”
The meeting will be a three-day event, July 15-17. Friday night is Reconnection Night. The members-only opening will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Little Rock. Activities will include music and dancing — “if you can,” Harris jokes — as well as games, challenges and more.
The Saturday evening banquet, which will be open to the public, will be held at The Venue at Westwind in North Little Rock. A VIP reception at 6 p.m. will be followed by the main event, which begins at 7 p.m. Special guests scheduled to attend include Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones. Daniel Black, a professor and author at Clark University in Atlanta, originally from Blackwell, Conway County, will be the keynote speaker.
“The style of the banquet is kind of to give a little insight into the fundraisers that we’ve had over time to raise money for scholarships,” says Harris, explaining that the meal will reflect the long-running Cooking for College class fundraiser, usually held in June. There will also be a “small extract” from a fashion show, a nod to Passion for Fashion. A silent auction will also be presented; once again there will be dancing.
But the highlight of the evening will be the awarding of scholarships. They receive an average of three to four recipients a year, but this year’s recipients are expected to be more than 10, Harris says. “We are very proud of it.”
THE POWER OF ’72
Gilbert cites the meeting’s theme: “The Power of the Class of 1972 Celebrates the Edwin L. Hawkins Fellowship.”
“We want to believe that the power to be able to give these scholarships meant that we had to exercise power. This terminology, this statement…comes from the Bible” — Luke 10:1, which recounts that Jesus sent 72 new disciples .
“Their job was to go and do miracles, to change people’s lives. We thought that really resonated with what we were trying to do. That’s why we use this theme, ‘The Power of ’72.’ … We were there to make a change, we wanted to give back.
“Basically, … our vision was to give credit to God for lifting us out of a little misfit [band] classmates and going through a meeting, figuring out how to give back to the community. It took 50 years, but here we try to support many more students than we could in 20 years. We say ‘Thank you, my God, for what you have done for us.’ … I mean, we were little kids of 18 and we gave ourselves a mission and we didn’t know we were going to … do powerful things.
That Sunday, the class will have its first church service led by the Horace Mann Transitional Class of 1972, with the minister, deacons, choir and others leading the service for all class members. The service will include a tree planting in honor of deceased classmates. Next, a jazz brunch at Mann Magnet will be hosted by a jazz trio from one of the local schools.
POSITIVE FEEDBACK, SUPPORT
This class garnered lots of positive feedback and support and reached out to involve others in their celebration. Gilbert notes that the 1972 classes at other Little Rock high schools — “Central, Parkview, Hall, and Metropolitan” — will be celebrating 50 years of reunion. “We have invited them to bring some of their representatives to our meeting and we will try to do the same with theirs.” They also invited all the other Horace Mann classes to reserve tables for the Saturday banquet.
And Mann Magnet has “been extremely supportive,” Gilbert says. Staff members made financial and other donations. They will recognize Dr. Marcus Johnson, the principal, for providing space for fundraisers and class reunions. “They’ve been wonderful to us. Just wonderful.”
Volunteering is nothing new for these two women. Harris, MD, has also volunteered at a health fair and served on some boards and the Philander Smith College Alumni Association, Future Builders, Links, the Tidwell Project. “I believe I’ve been given a lot, so I’m bound to give a lot,” Harris says.
Gilbert, retired vice-president and general manager, is a volunteer member of the board of directors of the association of the owners of her district. She also volunteers with the Dunbar Horace Mann National Alumni Association; teaches classes and volunteers as a host at St. Mark’s Baptist Church.
“My gift is of the activist kind,” says Gilbert. “I grew up in a family where we gave back… It becomes second nature and you do.”
Especially when it comes to the transitional class and its good works.
“We tried to be an example of what you can do when you think you can’t do anything,” Gilbert says, “an example for people our age; an example for old students, for younger …students, for And no matter what a person’s color or heritage… You really can achieve anything if you’re willing to work for it and trust the right source.
“Just because you start off a little unstable doesn’t mean you’re not going to reach the promised land.”
The Horace Mann Transitional Class of 1972 Solid Gold Class Reunion Banquet, 7 p.m. July 16, The Venue at Westwind, 7318 Windsong Drive, North Little Rock. Tickets are $50. Send checks to: HMTC ’72 Reunion, PO Box 165898, Little Rock, AR 72216, or buy at the door.