FHS students inspired by alumnus of month

Published 12:03 pm Saturday, February 7, 2015

Franklin High School teacher and Coach Mona Sumblin, left, looks on as Retired Brig. Gen. Sheila Baxter answers questions that Sumblin asked for her freshman class. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Franklin High School teacher and Coach Mona Sumblin, left, looks on as Retired Brig. Gen. Sheila Baxter answers questions that Sumblin asked for her freshman class. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Ever since Craishon Olds-Teachey was little, he’s wanted to be involved in music. Accordingly, the 14-year-old Franklin High School freshman joined the band to play trombone, and he was already involved in his church’s different choir teams.

On Friday, Craishon said his spirit was rejuvenated, as Franklin High School alumna Sheila Baxter returned to the campus for a Black History Month program put on by Mona Sumblin for her class and several other freshmen groups. Baxter recently made some history in Richmond when she was honored as one of Virginia’s Strong Men and Women.

On Friday, the retired U.S. Army Brigadier General — the first black female to obtain that honor — wanted to let the small-town students know that they too can do exactly what she did: Make history.

“It was very motivational,” Craishon said. “Her faith and belief in herself and God is inspiring. If you can look yourself in the mirror, and set goals, then you can achieve them.”

Baxter told the story of growing up in Franklin. She said she wasn’t the smartest student in high school. She made mostly Bs and Cs, and once even a D.

“My parents didn’t like that,” she said. “You will make mistakes. But I always say that it’s like a basketball bouncing — it goes down, but it comes right back up. When you make mistakes, you can bounce back.”

Before she got there, her only goal was to play for Peggy Wilkins on the championship-winning girls basketball team. To do that, she had to make good grades.

Once she got to high school, however, she decided to set a bigger goal: Graduate from high school and go to college. While in college, she decided she wanted to take up the family business — join the military. And so she started to set smaller goals to help her get there, such as joining Virginia State University’s ROTC program.

Once into the U.S. Army, a mentor helped her really learn to focus her ambitions: write it down. She was to write out her 20-year plan in five-year increments, and then stay focused on them.

“You know how when you want to buy a car, let’s say a Ford, that when you are out on the road, there are plenty other cars that are passing, but you are going to notice every Ford,” she said. “That’s how it works if you focus on your goals — you see it a lot clearer.”

While in high school, there’s things a student can do. One is to develop a mentor, and parents are a good choice to fill that role.

“Listen to your parents,” Baxter said. “I know they can get on your nerves, and I’m going to be real, my parents got on my last nerve sometimes. But, it’s about respect. They’ve been there right where you are, and they know what you are going through because they’ve done it.”

If you respect your parents, Baxter said, it is all the easier to respect your teachers and the police. Another thing is to take advantage of every opportunity you get because you never know what exciting thing it might lead to.

“I had a boss who wanted me to be part of the National Board of Occupational Therapy,” she said. “I didn’t know one thing about it, but he recommended me. I get to travel, and they pay for my flight and a hotel, and I get to sit on the board that licenses occupational therapists in this country.”

Finishing high school is key, and going to college is becoming more and more important. Volunteering is a good thing toward whatever you want to do. For instance, if you want to be a nurse, volunteer at a local nursing home. If you want to be in the military, Franklin has an ROTC program.

“Don’t waste your time,” Baxter said. “Take advantage while you are here in high school because what it is doing is preparing you for your life 40 years later.

“Here’s the thing, you don’t want to just read history, you want to make history,” she continued. “We can make history here in Franklin.”

Madison Hunnings, 14, said she planned to volunteer, and that her goal was to go to a good college to become a therapist or psychologist’s aide.

“I think that she had a good message for us, and it really came from the heart,” she said. “When she was talking about her background, and how she got there, that was really personal for her, but I think it makes it more inspiring for us.”

At the end of the day, Craishon said he had some goals for himself. When he graduates high school, he wants to do so with an advanced diploma as an honor’s graduate, with a full-ride scholarship. Of course, he realizes that he’s got some work ahead of him with AP classes and continued volunteerism at the school, the community and his church, Agape Worship Center.

“I believe that if I put my mind to it, my faith into it, and not think about the negativity, but go into it with faith in God and myself, that I can achieve.”