People gathered together last week to celebrate Thanksgiving with food, family, and friends.
Despite their various ideas/ thoughts/beliefs, new COVID concerns about a newer variant, and a nation still pro- or anti-vaccine, folks met up to enjoy a day of festivity; with a shared goal of stuffing their faces with stuffing and more, with differing ideologies being set aside for tastier side dishes. As such, common bonding took place.
Throughout history, this has been the case more than we care to realize, and in South Dade during the late 1960’s, racial strife was the recipe on two high school menus.
South Dade High School was attended by mostly white students, while Mays Senior High School was an all-black high school.
As desegregation of schools went into effect nationwide, students from these two high schools would join together in hopes of making a more harmonious banquet of learning.
But you can’t have growing, without growing pains.
I recently had the opportunity to speak virtually with a few of the students from both high schools, as they have been reconnecting over the past couple of months to remember those years together.
They talked about the tension during that period, what they learned, and how their history can instruct/improve our current times -- and possibly our future.
Back on that first day in the fall of 1969, as the black students from Mays Senior High School arrived at their new campus at South Dade High School, Lorenzo “Lo” Williams of Miami recalled what awaited him and his fellow Mays classmates.
“We couldn’t even get off the bus,” said Williams.
After finally making his way past protesters and police, another Mays student and football player like Williams -- Gilbert Bowles -- noted how somber the occasion was for a different reason.
“I was kind of sad,” Bowles said. “We thought we had a pretty good team, and then all of the sudden we were told the school was being phased out.”
The Redland resident also remembered how South Dade’s mascot and flag at the time added to the staggering event.
“When we first came there and saw the Rebel and the Confederate flags," said Bowles, “that also brought bitterness, and we lost all our energy.”
For South Dade student and footballer Dave Dymond, as bleak as it was, there weren't any other options but to push past the problems and work together as a new football team.
“We didn’t have any choice at all, but we all lived through it,” Dymond said.
Dymond, a Homestead native now residing in Orlando, also said there were lots of agitators however that didn’t make it easy.
“It’s almost like somebody else was poking at both sides,” said Dymond, “something was urging this thing to go faster, better, or whatever; it was tough.”
But for every one person stirring the pot or fanning the flames below it, there will always be a true chef -- or coach in this instance -- that gets the ingredients mixed inside it just right.
And South Dade Football Coach Don Drinkhahn was just the person for the job.
With the task of taking two high school football groups under his wing, and working to make them soar as one new unit, Drinkhahn explained what he told his players upon their first practice.
“Look, we’re not going to have a problem with black and white and racial things here,” Drinkhahn said. “That’s not going to be what we want, that’s not the way it should be, and you guys need to be the example to put this thing together.”
Stressing the importance of the objective before them, Drinkhahn informed them of their pivotal part in history.
“This is going to be a football team, and you have a tremendous opportunity to make a tremendous difference,” said Drinkhahn, “We’re not going to have prejudice in this program.”
The rest, as they say, was history.
At a time when two polar opposites could have fought against the process and each other, they instead meshed into a team that, to this day, Drinkhahn is supremely proud of.
“What a transformation took place there,” Drinkhahn said. “The kid’s did a great job, it could have been a very touchy situation.”
As the two football squads gelled together, Rhonda Hardin of Homestead talked about how her South Dade bandmates were figuring out how to literally make beautiful music with the Mays High Band as well.
“Mays High had a tremendous band, and South Dade High School thought they had a great band,” Hardin said, “but they were not the kind of band that Mays was, and they got the Mays High band players.”
The secret sauce that got them all singing the same note?
They wanted to make a better band for everyone!
“We had one common goal: we wanted to be together and create a good band program,” said Hardin.
For Dymond this was also what helped his teammates finally become a true team.
“In football, in practice, I got a chance to talk one-on-one with my cohorts in the group about everything, not just how to play,” Dymond said. “I knew their names, and I wouldn’t have known their names if they were off by themselves, and I was over by my group...it forced us to talk to people...to learn about people...that made a difference back then.”
Another one of the South Dade High football members, Jim “JJ” Accursio, also stated how this willingness to be inclusive rather than divisive leads to truly higher learning.
“Some people are objective enough and open-minded enough to see what’s out there,” Accursio said, “And other people want to stay close to the vest unfortunately, and they don’t grow intellectually.”
This tunnel vision impairs all of us on a far bigger scale, Accursio added.
“As a result of that, we have issues nationwide -- worldwide actually,” said Accursio.
At a pivotal time when these students were learning about the world and themselves, they learned to come together to make something better and brighter, when those around them strove to do so otherwise.
Their shared common goal of playing together, whether on the gridiron, or on the sidelines in harmony allowed them to set aside their differences for a better result.
Although they didn’t win any trophies or awards that year, they gained life-long friends and life lessons; in addition to the admiration of their retired football coach.
Now for all of us, what will help us get along tomorrow, is getting together today, to make an even better tomorrow.
We will get over our obstacles by joining to discuss them, but we have to come together first to get over them.
And while we get together, let’s recognize that we have more in common than we do differently.
In doing so, we’ll have even more to be thankful for, on more than just Thanksgiving Day.