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By NICOLE ZEMA
Alvin Hall had a choice.
Either internalize the negativity around him, or harness it to forge a path forward.
The internationally renowned financial educator and author was the first African American valedictorian to graduate from Wakulla High School. He is returning home to participate in Wakulla High School’s Black History Month activities. Hall is the keynote speaker at the WHS Black History program at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27 in the school auditorium. The public is encouraged to attend. A reception will follow.
Hall’s return visit to Wakulla has been acknowledged county wide. Last month, commissioners adopted a resolution naming Feb. 17 Alvin Hall Day in Wakulla County. On Feb. 26, Hall will facilitate sessions with students to discuss financial literacy, his life story, and the importance of education.
Known as an international “financial guru,” Hall has penned 22 books on the subject.
Hall was born and raised in the Shadeville community of Wakulla County.
“The house is still there,” Hall said. “My sisters and brothers, and my cousins all live in Wakulla.”
He was a student at Shadeville until Wakulla’s schools integrated. In 1969, Hall attended Wakulla High School, and graduated in 1970 as the first black valedictorian.
It was not easy for minority students as they transitioned into the newly integrated schools. But Hall chose to keep a broad perspective as he navigated the challenges.
“It was not pleasant when we integrated,” Hall said. “But I did not internalize much of those reactions. I learned to take a lot negative things, and realize they had nothing to do with me personally, but more as a generic object.”
That attitude determined his altitude, “Especially when I came to Wall Street in 1982,” Hall said. “I was among only a handful of black people, and a lot of the reactions I experienced when schools integrated were similar to what I experienced in Wall Street in 1982. It was a ‘good old boys club’ as it always had been – extraordinarily mean and dismissive. But I took none of it personally.”
Hall did not dwell on achieving the top academic rank at WHS. While its significance impacted the community, for Hall, the historic moment was simply one of many stepping stones to a bright future.
“When I became the first black valedictorian, I think it was much more important for the community (than for me),” Hall said. “My mom and grandmother were extraordinarily happy. I did not fully realize how competitive I was at that point in life. Many years later a friend said, ‘You were so ambitious and you had no idea.’ I was happy to win, but I didn’t see the full implication of it. That’s a characteristic of my personality. Once I accomplish something, I move on to the next thing. I don’t sit there and think about it.”
Hall’s family was low on the socioeconomic scale. He refers to it as a “genteel poverty.”
“We were really poor,” Hall said. “There were some Sundays we’d go fishing to catch mullet before we could eat. Our clothes were on lay-away because mom was a day maid. But it was a genteel poverty. No fights or arguments. We were clean, orderly and organized. We went to church. We didn’t live in a great house, but our parents were strict about rituals and manners.”
For everything the Hall family did not have, they were rich in dreams. He remembers climbing in the backyard tree where he invented stories about strolling Parisian boulevards and traveling the world.
“I was always reading and dreaming about far off places,” Hall said.
Now as a mentor in New York, Hall’s advice is to always dream.
He admits he was surprised to learn that an “Alvin Hall Day” was adopted in his home county.
“I never imagined that this would happen,” Hall said. “It is deeply meaningful to me.”
For someone who continues to achieve so much – book awards, international recognition, speaking engagements and media presentations, “I view this recognition as an important achievement,” Hall said.
He has not been home to Wakulla in 40 years. Hall plans to cruise the county to see his old stomping grounds.
“The thing that I carry in my head from Wakulla County are smells and foods of childhood – picking blackberries, going to Ms. Nellie’s…” Hall said. “It was formative for me. All these people who were kind to me, fed me, let me play in their yards – these were the people who let me dream.”
In addition to Alvin Hall, several other “firsts” will be recognized at Saturday’s event: The first class to integrate Wakulla High School in 1967 (class of 1968); Dr. Kimball Thomas, Wakulla County School’s first African American school level administrator; Dr. Annie Ruth Head Francis, Wakulla High School’s first African American guidance counselor; Mr. King Thomas, Wakulla High School’s first African American quarterback (under the War Eagles logo); Mr. Brett Thurmond, Ms. Roxanne Cowley, and Ms. Jenny Smith were the first white elementary children to integrate a formerly all-black elementary school in Wakulla County; Mr. Sam McGrew, the first African American from Wakulla County to play in the NFL; and one of the Golden Honorees, Mr. Simeon Nelson, the first African American principal with Wakulla County Schools.
“The committee selected a few ‘firsts’ to honor this year – post integration – but recognizes that there are many others who demonstrated leadership and perseverance during this pivotal time in America,” said WHS Principal Mike Barwick.
Other “firsts” listed include Ms. Dinah Acre Blue, Wakulla High School’s first African American cheerleader and homecoming queen; Mr. Wilbur Bradham, Wakulla High School’s first African American quarterback (under the Rebels logo); and Mr. Nigel Bradham, the first African American from Wakulla County to be drafted by the NFL.
Make plans to celebrate so many wonderful accomplishments on Saturday at 5 p.m. in the WHS Auditorium.