In the spirit of celebrating our 20th anniversary all year, we're resurrecting an old series, Day in Little Rock, where various central Arkansans reflect on their memories, pastimes and adventures in the capital city. Up this month is Raymond Long. Take it away, Raymond.
Every month, I spend a little time reflecting on where I came from and the experiences that have made me the socially conscious leader I am today. That reflection time usually takes me on a drive to southwest Little Rock to Geyer Springs Road and the former John L. McClellan High School.
It's the building where I fostered my love for technology, developed my foundational business acumen, learned how to interact with people from all social classes and where I took a journalism course where I experienced writing articles like this one. The building where I made these memories is no longer upright, but my feelings of joy, pride and accomplishment when I drive down the street where it once stood are stronger than ever.
My reflection time has evolved over the years because of an executive coach I worked with who suggested I reflect more on my new adult identity as a mover and shaker rather than the identity I adopted as a child being labeled an underserved, economically disadvantaged or at-risk young person.
On this day, I was meeting with some of the new Little Rock Southwest High School’s administration and faculty to discuss student engagement opportunities with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, for which I serve as CEO. This was the first time I’d visited the school during regular hours of operation, so as I approached the three-story, 400,000-square-foot building, it became very hard not to go against my executive coach’s advice and reflect on my high school years.
As I approached the front doors, some of the former McClellan High staff remembered me and welcomed me with open arms. My 30-minute meeting turned into a two-hour tour of everything this beautifully designed school had to offer.
We walked through a two-story cafeteria where students could select from a variety of nutritious options. Next, we walked through a robotics course where students were solving a real-world manufacturing problem and a mobile application development course where students were actively writing code for an app they were developing.
During the tour, I encountered more familiar faces, including an old classmate the school hired as a dance coach. She gave me a tour of the studios where students were choreographing a routine for the school’s dance team. I had the privilege of getting a sneak preview of the performance as a mix of Usher Raymond’s music played through the studio speakers.
The last stop on my surprise tour was the two-story media center used for filming, recording and broadcasting. The room was full of the latest TV and film equipment to empower students with experience and skills that can be applied in the current world of TV and film. This was a great end to the tour because the purpose of my visit was to ask a group of students to serve as the official media and video production team for The Big Luncheon, one of our organization's largest events.
At the beginning of this tour, I wondered how much of the potential from my McClellan High School class went untapped because we didn't have the opportunities this new school affords its current students. But by the end of the tour, my thoughts shifted to the bright futures of the students I was fortunate to meet.
I'm grateful for the opportunity LRSD has given the students of southwest Little Rock. This day in Little Rock left me feeling proud that a school in my old neighborhood is now the flagship school for our state’s capital city.
Here's to equity in education throughout the Little Rock School District. The new Little Rock Southwest High School is certainly a great start. I look forward to doing my part to help these students continue to overcome odds, defy stereotypes and exceed expectations. Physical space matters in education, and the Gryphons are set up to thrive.