Alumni give back at NHS

Published 2:32 pm Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Natchez couple has pledged partnership with Natchez High School, with the promise of a long-range relationship to inspire students and provide them with material needs at the same time.

Natchez High School graduates Gerald Williams and his wife, Keyna Smoot Williams, live and work in Atlanta, but they have not forgotten their roots, Gerald Williams said.

“I was talking to a friend of mine,” Williams said by telephone from Atlanta. “He told me about some challenged kids at Natchez High School. Some of them weren’t able to buy the right uniforms.”

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Williams and his wife began to talk about how they might help. The talk moved to action, and they made the trip from Atlanta to Natchez to present about 16 students with uniforms, coats and sneakers.

“We went out and bought everything and came to the school and distributed it,” he said.

“The parents responded to us a few days later, telling us they never would have been able to afford to buy such expensive things for their children,” he said.

Williams said he and his wife remember how it is to come from a small town and try to make it in a big city. They have made it, he said. “And we wanted to show the kids that someone who came down these same halls can succeed.”

That first gift led to ideas for future involvement in the school. The couple signed up to be Partners in Education. They pledged to help students who needed laptop computers.

Instead of the one laptop school officials suggested, they decided to give one laptop for each grade, basing the gift on the students’ academic standards and other criteria.

NHS Principal James Loftin said teachers looked at grade-point averages and the students’ civic contributions and school behavior.

“The teachers made the selections,” he said.

Loftin said the importance of building relationships with former students is huge.

“It gives a sense of encouragement to the students if you put in their hearts and minds that there are no mountains you cannot cross, no goals you cannot achieve,” he said.

“It shows that our children develop a sense of pride in this school and want to come back and make an impact,” Loftin said.

Williams said he and his wife are dedicated to a future relationship with the school.

“Maybe we can come in and speak to the kids on a weekend and give them another breath of life,” he said. “We can bring other speakers from the city.”

His desire to be involved with students was natural, he said. “It was just on my heart to do something to give them a jump start.”