Lynn Beckwith Jr., E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Urban Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) in conjunction with St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS), said learning is a lifelong process.
Teaching is a lifelong process for Beckwith as well, with 2013 marking his 52nd year in education. On Friday, September 13, he will receive the St. Louis American Foundation’s 2013 Lifetime Achiever in Education award at the Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship and Awards Gala at the America’s Center Ballroom.
He served for 31 years in SLPS as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of federal programs and executive director of state and federal programs. He subsequently served for eight years as superintendent of schools in the School District of University City.
Beckwith has spent the last 13 years at UMSL, where he said he has made his biggest impact in the field by preparing tomorrow’s leaders in education who “will go on to impact others.”
His main responsibility at UMSL entails working with SLPS in the area of professional development, particularly with teachers who aspire to be principals.
“After working in the K-12 world for 39 years,” he said, “it’s just a pleasure to work with adults who are coming to the university because they want to learn.”
He also currently chairs the special administrative board that governs the Riverview Gardens School District. Although the district is one of two unaccredited school districts in St. Louis County (the other is Normandy), he maintains an optimistic outlook. There are plans in action to move the district toward full accreditation by implementing a new curriculum and learning strategies.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said. “It took SLPS five years and nine months to become provisionally accredited again.”
To gain (and maintain) full accreditation status, he said, will take a total community effort throughout the region to uplift urban education and close the academic achievement gap between black youth and their counterparts.
“All children can learn at higher levels if properly taught and if they work hard,” he said.
A strong proponent of diversity, he teaches that there’s only one race, the human race. “Race based upon skin color was created in the 15th century by Europeans who wanted to separate people based on skin color,” he said.
He reflects on the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. judging people on “the content of their character.” His mother, the late Myrtis Beckwith, passed this value on to him. His mother worked as the “cleaning woman” at the University City Library. Now, Beckwith serves as president of the St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees.
“Although she’s passed on to glory, I know she’s smiling down to know what I’ve been able to do because she and my father laid the foundation for it,” he said.
From his father, Lynn Beckwith Sr., he learned trustworthiness and responsibility. His father was a hard worker who maintained several jobs to ensure that his family had food on the table and a roof over their heads, he said.
Beckwith is a product of the SLPS district, graduating from Sumner High School in 1957. He aspired to go away to college, but couldn’t afford it and enrolled in the newly integrated Harris Teachers College.
“If you went to Harris Teachers,” Beckwith said, “you became a teacher. So, teaching chose me rather than me choosing teaching.”
He loved learning, going on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees from Saint Louis University, and discovered that he loved teaching. He has been doing it, in some form, ever since.
A broad smile spreads across his face when asked about his high school principal, George D. Brantley, someone who left a lasting impression on him.
“I always remember him in the auditorium sessions saying, ‘Young people, you can do anything you want to do, if you work hard and strive for excellence,’” he recalled. “And, he was right.”
Beckwith’s many other civic leadership roles, past and present, include serving as chair of the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation, an executive board member of the United Way of Metro St. Louis and president of the Harris-Stowe State University Alumni Association.
He is a life member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and a member of the West Side Missionary Baptist Church. He cherishes the memory of his wife, the late Patricia Beckwith.
The 2013 Salute to Excellence in Education will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, September 13 at the America’s Center Ballroom, following a reception at 6 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. Individual tickets are $85 each/$850 table, and VIP/Corporate tickets are $1500 table. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.stlamerican.com and click on Salute to Excellence, or call 314-533-8000.