A Pratt woman has had experiences few can claim.
Shirle Ibeawuchi's grandfather was a slave. She began her education in a two-room school and later earned a doctor of philosophy degree. She believes she is the last person to be born in Saratoga, which even in 1932 was but a memory of a once-thriving town. The last of 10 children born to Zed Jr. and Effie Bright, she was born at home.
At the age of nine, she began dreaming of seeing Africa, after reading books by Osa and Martin Johnson. She has seen the continent, lived there for 10 years and has a continued interest there.
Ibeawuchi shared her experiences in "The Dream," written with Dr. Phillip Finley, a Pratt native of a generation later who also wrote "Growing Up Pratt."
The book is available at Amazon.com, and all proceeds will be given to Brighton Hall Academy in Owerri, Nigeria, which is part of the dream, realized in part, but still a work in progress.
Prattans may know that Ibeawuchi was married to an African, taught at Southwest Elementary School for 10 years and was principal at Sacred Heart School. In the book, she takes readers back to a four-room house on a 10-acre farm that was home to the large Bright family, and talks about lessons learned.
Don't sass your dad.
There is strength in unity.
You are only poor if you choose to be — that's a quote from Dolly Parton — but it applies to her childhood, and the Bright family didn't consider itself to be poor.
Stereotypes are often wrong, a fact she learned first-hand in a segregated society and as she traveled far beyond Pratt.
When Ibeawuchi was a child and young woman, black people could not eat in certain restaurants in Pratt and if they attended a movie at the Barron, were required to sit in one section of the balcony. Ironically, the Kansan, across the street and owned by the same person, was not segregated. Schools were not segregated, but a student who later became her brother-in-law could not wear a Pratt High basketball uniform, although he was a good player.
In Africa, she came into close contact with people whose beliefs she had been taught were pagan or heathen, yet they shared as much love, hope and charity as any Christian she has known.
Ibeawuchi graduated from Pratt High School and Pratt Junior College, and while a student at the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University) she met Asuzu Edward Ibeawuchi. After their marriage, they attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He got a teaching job at Morris College in South Carolina, where she earned a degree in elementary education.
The next stop was his home country of Nigeria, where she lived for 10 years. Another lesson learned: be careful what you pray for. Ibeawuchi prayed to go home, and in 1967, pregnant and with four children, she fled a civil war and returned to Pratt. For three years, she had only sporadic contact with her husband, before he was able to join her.
Ibeawuchi doesn't talk about the war that is said to have killed as many as three million people, most from hunger and disease. Unless a person has experienced the horrors of war, they can't understand it, she said.
For 18 years, she never returned to Africa, although her husband went for visits several times. After several brief visits, she went to Nigeria in 2007 and stayed six months, to establish an elementary school for her daughter Adamma. She hired people to get a building ready, hired staff, and started school with three students on the first day. By the end of the term, the school had grown to 12, and it continued to grow. With 175 students last term, the school has outgrown its quarters.
They have purchased land and hope to have buildings up before the next terms ends, allowing them to double enrollment. USD 382 has donated unused desks, blackboards, pencil sharpeners and other necessities of an elementary school. Others in Pratt have donated books and supplies, both for the school and for the T.U. Ibeawuchi Memorial Library, named in honor of her father-in-law.
In "The Dream," Ibeawuchi credits access to good libraries for much of her learning, and Adamma, who was 13 when the family left Africa, remembers very good libraries, which, for the most part, have not been replaced in 46 years.
Ibeawuchi's dream of seeing Africa has been realized; a dream of making a difference to its people is on-going.