A crowd of about 50 people attended a cheerful ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning for the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School Jordan Science Center, named in honor of the civil rights movement leader, Washington lawyer, and frequent presidential advisor Vernon Jordan.
Mr. Jordan, a longtime seasonal Island visitor, was present for the ceremonies, as was the man who made it possible, philanthropist and Edgartown summer resident Robert Day, chief executive officer of the W.M. Keck Foundation, which donated $400,000 for the construction of the science lab. The foundation is named for William Myron Keck, founder of Superior Oil Co. and the grandfather of Mr. Day.
Paul Karasik, Charter School development director, welcomed the guests with the declaration that the five-year project was finally complete and the science lab was “good to go” for the start of school on Tuesday.
School director Bob Moore said that the charter school community was both “proud and humbled” by the generosity of Mr. Day. Referring to Mr. Jordan, Mr. Moore said, “We want our students to know your story.”
Charlotte Costa, president of Options in Education, a nonprofit that raises funds for charter schools and provides Island students with alternative forms of education, told the audience that the lab is “dedicated to science and to a man who has done so much for our country.”
Isabella Quinones-Morais, a Charter School senior, represented her fellow students. She commended the Charter School for its scientific innovation, and said that the school has instilled in her a passion for science. Ms. Quinones-Morais said that she has learned “to push the limits of science” to the best of her ability.
Steve Ewing, poet laureate of Edgartown, read a poem dedicated to Mr. Jordan titled, “Make It Plain,” named after a book Mr. Jordan wrote about the African American struggle for social justice, “Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out.” Mr. Ewing spoke about the Island’s struggles, and said that progress was on the horizon.
“There are people that help with these issues. Robert Day is one that is here. Today he highlights Vernon Jordan, a remarkable man he holds dear,” Mr. Ewing said.
Mr. Day spoke about his special friendship with Mr. Jordan, and said he was a “happy camper” that the Jordan Science Center was up and running.
Last to speak was the guest of honor, Mr. Jordan. He began by saying that the event was a “long, long way” from the first African American public housing project, where he grew up, and from the segregated David Tobias Howard High School in Atlanta, Ga., that he graduated from in 1953.
“Our chemistry lab, we had one Bunsen burner,” Mr. Jordan said. “The per-pupil expenditure for black students was $1 per student. For white students, it was $4. We did not have an assembly at my high school until I was in 11th grade. In fact, Atlanta did not have a high school for black people until 1926.”
Mr. Jordan said that the David T. Howard High School was the second high school for African American students in Atlanta. Mr. Jordan told the audience that he and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended the same junior high school.
Mr. Jordan described what it was like at his segregated high school. The superintendent of Atlanta’s public schools called Mr. Jordan’s principal and said she wanted the high school’s band to play for Richard Russell, a politician and senator from Georgia who led opposition to the civil rights movement in the South for decades.
“Hell no, we won’t go!” Mr. Jordan said. A big debate ensued, but Mr. Jordan told the Islanders that at the end of the debate, although band members had raised the issue, it was clear that if the band didn’t play, that the principal and the band master would lose their jobs. “So on that October morning, we played for Richard Russell,” Mr. Jordan said. “Twenty-one years later, Maynard Jackson was elected the mayor of the city of Atlanta.” Maynard Jackson became the first African American mayor of Atlanta in 1973.
Mr. Jordan said that story highlighted the meaning of progress and advocacy. He said it reflected the importance of “sticking to the issues” and “believing in democracy.”
“I’m 81 years old, and I have 80 honorary degrees from some of the best schools in the country,” Mr. Jordan said. “But this Charter School lab named for me, thanks to my friend Robert Day, means as much to me as any one of those honorary degrees, or all of them combined.”