Former NFL players attend McRae-Gaines Learning Center’s 40th anniversary

Published 10:25 pm Thursday, May 10, 2018

The McRae-Gaines Learning Center celebrated its 40th anniversary Thursday evening at the Pride of Alabama Elks Lodge, and they had two former NFL football players join them as special guests.

Earnest “Smokey” Hodge and Reginald Gipson were guests of Judge Collins Pettaway, who came to show their support for the learning center.

Hodge played linebacker for Auburn University and the Seattle Seahawks, and Gipson was a running back at Alabama A&M University before he was drafted by the Seahawks in 1983.

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“I thought it was really important to come to Selma and support MGLC,” Gipson said. “The NFLPA Birmingham chapter does a lot of stuff in Birmingham, but Selma needs us more than Birmingham needs us.”

The former football players, dressed in their NFLPA attire, felt it was important to show up and be visible in their support of MGLC.

“I used to coach down here at Selma High, and I always wanted to know about MGLC when I was teaching down here,” Hodge said. “It means a lot for me. I came out of the projects, and to be able to give back to some kids that want to learn, and want to know the avenues to take to get to the levels we were on, it’s an honor for me to be a part of it.”

The celebration began with the McRae Gaines Learning Center African Dancers performing for the guests in attendance. They recited the poems “My People” and “Hold Fast to Your Dreams” by Langston Hughes. Then, the three dancers led by their teacher Abayomi Goodall, performed the KuKu, a West African dance originating from Guinea.

Pettway then shared the story of the beginnings of MGLC, which began back in 1976.

Faye Toure noticed that children as young as two-years old were reading the newspaper under the care of Mable McRae. She thought the young children were playing, until her questions to the children revealed that they could comprehend what they read.

Two years later, the McRae-Gaines Learning Center was officially founded in 1978 by the Black Belt Arts and Cultural Center.

Over the past 40 years, MGLC has educated thousands of children in Selma. Former students and educators were in attendance for the school’s anniversary celebration.

“The McRae-Gaines Learning Center has had a storied history of preparing young children for successful lives,” John Deamer, director of development, said. “In today’s economic environment, we want to ensure that the next two, three generations and beyond can receive that same education.”

Senator Hank Sanders, who was also in attendance, provided more details to the inception of MGLC.

“Faye wanted other children to have that same experience,” Hank said. “Mrs. McRae taught those initial teachers, and that was a powerful lesson.”

Toure and Sanders were major contributors to the beginnings of MGLC. They bought the building where MGLC first started and even helped pick-up children.

Toure’s mother, Oralee Gaines, was also with the school from the start and stepped up when the first director left after a year.

“Mrs. Gaines took the school and carried it to great heights,” Sanders said. “One of her approaches was that if a child doesn’t learn, it’s not the child’s fault. If the child doesn’t learn, it’s the teacher’s fault.”

That mentality is maintained to this day at MGLC. Where some institutions serve only as day cares, MGLC makes each day a learning opportunity for its students. The curriculum at MGLC includes reading, writing, math and science before the kids are old enough to start kindergarten. The school provides a Summer Enrichment program to keep kids engaged and learning in between school years.

“In 40 years, we have done an excellent job, and we pray that we’ll be able to do this and more in the next 40 years,” MGLC director Sadie Moss said. “I can see the results of the 40 years that have gone by, and I’m hoping to be able to continue this.”

The school aims to continue educating children for many years to come

The evening of celebration was concluded with the raffle drawings for several prizes. Prize winners walked away with a football signed by Gipson and Hodges, signed copies of Sanders’ book “Death of a Fat Man” and a soccer ball signed by two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion Mia Hamm.