They stood in front of two senior classes at East Boston High School (EBHA) last Wednesday to have a town hall-style discussion about Martin Luther King Jr. in honor of the famed civil rights leader’s birthday. One is Governor of the Commonwealth, the other a successful educator and headmaster of the school. Both are heroes, mentors, and judging from the comments Wednesday afternoon, the type of people that many students at EBHS aspire to be.
Governor Deval Patrick was invited by Principal Michael Rubin as this year’s speaker at the high school to commemorate Martin Luther King Day. What was to be a short speaking program followed by a question and answer session quickly turned into an in depth conversation about politics, race, King’s legacy and setting goals for the future. It was easy to see Patrick was pleased by the stimulating conversation and the level of thought and intellect that went into many of the student’s questions and comments on the varying subjects. So much so, in fact, that the Governor stayed for a whole extra hour past the scheduled program to continue to talk to the students.
The conversation began with both Patrick and Rubin talking about their experiences as young black men growing up during segregation and the Civil Rights movement.
Patrick, a native of the notoriously violent South Side of Chicago, explained that men like him and Rubin were, despite their surroundings, able to succeed because they envisioned a life past their environment, set goals, and were ultimately able to achieve success in life. The message to the students was that he and Rubin were no different than any other student at East Boston High, only that they were students that had a drive to succeed—a drive any student can possess if they work hard.
This was the message the two men, whose lives crossed paths with King’s, took away from King’s speeches, the civil rights movement and era.
“I grew up in a very segregated neighborhood,” said Patrick. “I lived in a two bedroom apartment and when I went to school the gangs were starting to come up and police had to patrol the school everyday. When I was young I was taken to see Dr. King speak in Chicago and while I don’t remember his words I remember how it felt. He made us feel that although there was limited means there was limitless hope for us as a people and a nation.”
Rubin, who was 12-years-old when Dr. King was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis — a hotel owned by one of Rubin’s family members, grew up surrounded by deep poverty in Memphis.
“I grew up at the hotel and swam there everyday when I was a kid so his life and subsequent assassination hits home for me,” said Rubin. “We are hear to remind the students that they have limitless opportunity compared to when Governor Patrick and I were younger. I grew up in Memphis where we had black only movie theaters, black only restaurants, black only schools … when you rode on the bus you went to the back, that’s just the way it was.”
Tragically, Rubin’s parents died when he was a young boy, leaving him an orphan at the age of 11. He was sent to a boarding school in Connecticut, where he was one of only 10 African American children in a school of 500. But despite the cards being stacked against him and like Patrick he was able to overcome overwhelming odds. He went on to Tufts University and graduated with a degree in Education.
Rubin since received a master’s degree in Educational Administration from UMASS Boston. He currently sits on the Principal’s Center Advisory Board at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the College Committee for the Bedford METCO program and is chairman of the foundation for Excellent Schools Mentoring program.
He was twice named the Boston Globe “Coach of the Year,” in 1985 and 1992, and received the Mayor Thomas Menino African American Achievement Award in 1999.
It was the resumes of Patrick and Rubin that prompted one of the best comments of the day by Senior Michael Lockley – a comment that touched Patrick. Lockley, a black student at the high school that has excelled in academics and sports, said if more students could look past their current circumstances, black or white, and see there’s a better door to be opened in the future then perhaps they’d begin to work towards that goal.
“I come to school everyday and see a black principal that is a successful man and it makes me want to be a successful man in life,” said Lockley. “And now I see a black man as governor of the state and that gives me hope for the future. While we might come from a place of despair the despair should not define us and we should all have hope that we can be successful.”