KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — All month long, we're honoring Black History Month by recognizing several special people in East Tennessee.
In the early 1950s, Dr. Lula Powell set out to prove a simple belief: that anyone can learn. At the time, some people believed black kids couldn't learn or excel because they were black.
Powell knew that wasn't true. She believed in children, as her parents believed in her.
“My mom and dad didn't have money to send me to college," Powell said. "But she encouraged us."
She was born in Alcoa in 1931, the oldest of five siblings. Powell’s parents didn't have much to give, but they gave her a promise, ‘If you go on and go to school, you can do better and have more.’
“They preached that,” said Powell. “So, I worked hard."
Powell wanted to be somebody, and getting an education was key to making that dream a reality.
Now apart from other racial barriers she faced as a black woman in the segregated south, Lula ran into a problem that many can relate to. How would she pay for college?
Unlike students today, there were no scholarships she could apply for at the time. No grants either. Soon this future educator would learn an important lesson of her own: When you work hard and do well, people notice.
“When I graduated from high school, the PTA gave me $150. That money went to the valedictorian,” said Powell. “Now can you imagine $150 back then? That $150 got me to Knoxville College.”
That was a first in the Powell family. In 1952, She graduated from Knoxville College and became a teacher. She was determined to invest, encourage and motivate any child she met. And she did.
During her 40-year-long career, she used "out of the box" ideas and methods to motivate students, increase parent involvement and make teachers feel empowered.
Dr. Lula Powell helped prove those doubters wrong. She gave this community so much hope, city leaders marked her legacy in 2015 by naming an East Knoxville street after her. Lula Powell Drive sits right in front of Green Magnet Academy, where she spent the last 27 years of career as a principal.
Over the years, Powell kept in touch with many of her elementary school students and gave them scholarship money for college, with the help of her teaching staff.
Arguably one of her biggest accomplishments was transitioning Green Elementary into Green Magnet Academy in 1994. That move gave her students more access to math, science and technology lessons.
Even at age 89, Dr. Lula Powell is still a strong believer in education and a role model.
For believing that every child can learn—
For breaking down barriers for thousands of kids to succeed—
Dr. Lula Powell, thank you.