Booker T. Washington STEM Academy to Name School Library After Dorothy Vickers-Shelley

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 7:56pm

A dedication ceremony will be held on August 7 at 4 p.m. to name the school library at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy after Ms. Dorothy Vickers-Shelley, a long-time educator and advocate. The public is welcome to attend the ceremony at the school's library.

Family, friends and Unit 4 officials will honor her memory as they name the library after the woman who found her calling as a teacher and librarian in the mid-1970s and continued to inspire, challenge, delight and empower children to think, learn and dream for 33 years until her retirement from Yankee Ridge Elementary School in Urbana in 2003.

The ceremony will include remarks from Ryan Cowell, Principal, Seth Fein, former Yankee Ridge Student, Dr. Preston Williams, Retired Superintendent of Urbana School District 116, Imani Bazzell, Community Advocate from SisterNet and Dana Vickers-Shelley, daughter of Dorothy Vickers-Shelley.

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Ms. Vickers-Shelley earned honors in Elementary Education (undergraduate) and Library and Information Science (graduate) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Her pursuit of education was intertwined with social justice activism throughout her life. Ms. Vickers-Shelley was a leader and participant in numerous professional and community service endeavors including: Lifetime Member of the NAACP; Founding Member of the Champaign County Chapter National Council of Negro Women; member, Delta Sigma Theta public service sorority; National Education Association; Champaign Library Board; Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Fund; and Busey Bank’s Community Re-Investment Act Advisory Committee.

The most visible legacy of Ms. Vickers-Shelley is found in the hundreds of students she influenced over the years. When she began teaching, she was the first black professional many of the students met.  In 1976, Ms. Vickers-Shelley wrote a short phrase to teach students about discrimination, acceptance and understanding:  “Life if short; therefore, I shall be a crusader in the fight against ignorance and fear, beginning with myself.”  Every class of kindergarten through sixth grade learned and recited the quote at the beginning of class in the library at Yankee Ridge.

With the naming of the Booker T. Washington library in her honor, even after her death in 2009, Ms. Vickers-Shelley will continue to inspire students as her quote finds its rightful place on a plaque in the library that bears her name.

Ms. Vickers-Shelley challenged her students because she believed it would make them better people, neighbors and citizens. She read books to children as young as six and seven about the lives of actor/activist Paul Robeson, teenage diarist and Holocaust victim Anne Frank, slave liberator Harriet Tubman, and workers’ advocate Cesar Chavez, among others. By the 1990s, Ms. Vickers-Shelley was teaching her students to “recite” the “Life is short” phrase using American Sign Language.

Her former students include business executives, government officials, farmers, lawyers, activists, moms and dads, and teachers. While they represent varied ethnic, racial, faith and political perspectives, Ms. Vickers-Shelley’s former students share common values of acceptance and understanding.

Her legacy will continue to inspire students and future leaders at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy in Champaign.