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Pete Seeger, in the early 2000s, still spreading the word.

When my daughter was in the eighth grade at Roxboro Middle School, about 18 years ago, she came home one day and said to me, “You have to come in and talk to my social studies class.”

I said, “Really? You want me to come and talk to your class?”

She said, “No. But Mr. Swaggard said we have to bring in a relic from the Sixties.”

I said, “Uh . . . Do you know what ‘relic’ means?”

She said, “Uh . . . yeah.”

I said, “[sigh] Okay. As long as you know . . .”

So I arranged with Mr. Swaggard to come in to talk about the ‘60s. I asked him what period my daughter’s class was. He told me it was first period. I thought: Good. I’ll get it done early and get out of there.

I went in on the appointed day, talked to my daughter’s first-period class, and started packing up my materials, semi-exhausted. Mr. Swaggard came up to me and said, “That went really well. Now we have second and third periods. Then fourth period we’ll have lunch, then there’s fifth and seventh periods.”

I said. “Wait. I have to do this five times? In one day?”

I did it four more times. Then I went home and immediately fell asleep.

It’s not as if I didn’t have respect for what teachers do before that day, but I really understood it after that.

A popular teacher, Robert Swaggard taught for many years at Roxboro and then at Heights High. And he has served as Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the CH-UH Board of Education since 2013. The Heights system has many such dedicated teachers and administrators.

Even when I hated school and skipped school and didn’t do much school work, I still had respect for (most of) my teachers. I didn’t blame them for my not wanting to be there. I just didn’t want to be there. And I really liked many of them and often engaged them in conversation, outside of class. And one teacher in particular, Clair McElfresh, my choir director at Heights High, inspired me to the point that I believe he actually saved my life. I told him that, too, about 10 years ago.

Here’s the thing: I went to hear Pete Seeger speak at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in the 1990s. Pete was a hero of mine (and millions of others), an outspoken and tireless activist for justice and equality for more than 70 years. After being interviewed for a while at the Rock Hall, he opened the session up to questions from the audience. A woman asked, “With so much going on in the world, where do we start? What can we do?”

Pete said, “You start right in your own community. And you do whatever you can do to help someone or some organization. And it will spread out from there.”

I took that to heart and started volunteering all over the place, including in the Heights schools, in a variety of ways—doing, as Pete said, what I could do.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, I thought that I was going to make a difference in the world as a musician, a singer-songwriter—become famous and disseminate ideas to the world that would help people, somehow. That didn’t happen, exactly.

My son, I think, has never tried or wanted to become world-famous, like I did. But I believe he’s the one in the family who is accomplishing what I set out to do—both he and his wife, my daughter-in-law. He’s the coach of the Heights High Swimming Team and she’s a teacher at Heights. They’re the ones who are guiding and inspiring kids—they along with their fellow teachers and coaches at Heights. And at every good school in the country. They are helping to plant the seeds for the future—doing what they can do, and letting it spread out from there.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:09 AM, 02.28.2020