CAMP HUMPHREYS, Republic of Korea (Feb. 18, 2022) – Each February, the U.S. Army joins the nation to celebrate Black history. Dr. Helen Bailey, the Pacific West District Community Superintendent for the Department of Defense Education Activity, says celebrating Black history is important to building context between the past and present. Often, we have only heard of the struggles and turmoil of African Americans, but our history is much richer than the racism and turmoil, she asserts.
“We, as a people, have made significant contributions to the world, not just the United States, through arts, through science, through politics, and through leadership. I think it is important for not only adults, who didn’t get that history growing up, but also our children to understand the diversity of our people as African Americans,” stated Bailey.
A Dunn, North Carolina, native and daughter of a veteran, Bailey has spent thirty-one years in education and twenty-three years in the DoDEA school system, spreading her love of life-long learning with young minds.
Growing up, Bailey could not see her future going further than the local grocery store, but some affirming words from a mentor enabled her to look beyond her circumstances.
“I wanted to be a bagger at Piggly Wiggly when I was growing up – because that was all I saw in my small neighborhood. I did not have a whole lot of role models to look at from my neighborhood, but I did have teachers from my neighborhood that saw something in me even when I didn’t see it,” reflected Bailey.
Bailey said she found out these educators, who had themselves together, were willing to champion for her. Motivated to make a better life for herself, Bailey worked hard academically.
“I was motivated, and the only way for me to get out of the situation I was in was do well in school, so I did well in school,” declared Bailey.
In addition to her academics, she worked to help financially at home.
“My mother was a single parent for a very long time who worked the third shift. My brother, sisters and I had to work, so that is what I did. I worked at Wendy’s, Western Sizzlin’ and I drove a bus. I made money. That was how I purchased my class ring. That’s how I purchased my prom dress,” remembered Bailey.
Even with working three jobs, Bailey said, she still managed to graduate in the top 10% of her class from Triton High School.
All of Bailey’s hard work paid off. Upon graduating high school, she was accepted to Fayetteville State, a historically black university. There she was finally able to do the things she was too busy for in high school. She tried out for and made the school’s cheerleading squad and rushed Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Thirty-one years later, a Fayetteville State alumna, smiling and grateful, Bailey sat in her office and reflected on the events of her past and expressed pride in her present success.
“When I was younger, I had no idea that I would be able to see the things or do the things I have done or have my children grow up overseas – and graduate from DoDEA schools,” mused Bailey.
She talked about how working for the DoDEA school system is a full circle for her, since her children were part of the school system, and she saw how it affected them.
“My son Patrick graduated from Guam High School. My daughter Britney is in a dual degree program. She finished with her mathematics in pre-engineering at Anderson, and now she is going to Clemson. She is playing basketball on a full scholarship,” Bailey shared cheerfully.
Now, she takes the opportunity to inspire someone else’s child. Bailey said she leads by her motto – “education is key.”
“We, as a people, have to understand that college isn’t for everyone. A two-year college may work fine for you or a certificate program where you are learning a trade. That may be fine for you, but knowledge is power and education is the key,” stated Bailey.
Her past has created a strong bridge to her present. It’s far different than what she might have expected, but she knows to be successful you must dig deep and believe changes can happen, Bailey added.
“We live in a diverse society. Every single person, no matter your creed, your color, your national origin, or your gender, everyone has something to offer to our society and to our world. You have to look deep within yourself to determine what your offering to society is going to be,” stated Bailey.
It’s important to understand people are different, she said. Knowing that fact, she hopes we get to a point where we are all working together and not against each other. There is enough out there for everyone, Bailey explained.
“No one would ever think a black female from Dunn, North Carolina, would be here, but I have worked hard to do it, and I did have to work harder than the next person,” Bailey said.
As an educator and leader, Bailey continues to demonstrate to the next generation the power of hard work, perseverance and belief in self. She also inspires others to embrace her motto. Education is key.