By Matthew Nojiri
DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP, PA.
Barry Black remembers the pure awe of seeing the night sky from Pine Forge Academy for the first time. Five decades later, that feeling endures. “Coming out of the inner city of Baltimore, this was Shangri-La,” he said. “The rural beauty of this place, the mountains, the river Manatawny, the stars in the rural sky with no streetlights, it was like watching fireworks. “This was a refuge.”
Black and 16 other members of the Pine Forge Academy class of 1966 returned Saturday to the Seventh-day Adventist school in Douglass Township for their 50th anniversary. They participated in graduation ceremonies, attended a luncheon and celebrated their accomplishments.
Most of all, they came to catch up.
“There are certain anniversaries that are special,” said Bryan Akil Marshall, class president now living in Cleveland. “Your first, your fifth, 10th anniversaries are special. But 50? This is everything. Fifty is the bomb.”
As children of the civil rights movement, the class of 1966 lived through the darkness of the Jim Crow era, while celebrating the possibilities of political action and change that followed. The class went on to write books, earn doctorates, serve as presidential appointees and aides to congressional representatives.
They said 1966 was an important time in history and a great time to come through the academy.
“Things were really opening up,” said Rockefeller Twyman of Rockville, Md. “We benefited from the programs of President (Lyndon) Johnson’s Great Society. We had all these anti-poverty programs, scholarships, jobs.”
Dr. Wendell Cheatham agreed, saying the class of 1966 saw the world change. “We came along during the transition from Jim Crow laws,” said Cheatham of Howard County, Md. “I remember traveling with my dad. We had to plan days in advance where we would plan to stay the night because of the inability to stay in open housing. If you tell that to the children today, they don’t believe you or believe you’re telling lies.”
Edna Thomas of Tampa, Fla., was the coordinator for the reunion. She said Pine Forge Academy remains an important place for the next generation of students. “It shows the magnificence of the school,” said Thomas, who served as a congressional aide for 19 years. “To me this place is life. This is a ball. It doesn’t feel like 50 years, and we don’t look like it’s been 50, either.”
Rodney and Elizabeth Thomas were high school sweethearts back in 1966. The couple parted ways during college, but reconnected during an alumni event a few years ago. In December they wed and are in the process of moving in together in Atlanta. “I can’t believe we’re here,” Rodney Thomas said. “What a beautiful blessing.”
Since 2003, Black has served as the chaplain for the U.S. Senate, convening every session with an invocation. He said he’s kept up with his classmates, reading about their accomplishments as they made marks on the world.
“Pine Forge laid the foundation for whatever success I had, and I owe a great deal of gratitude,” he said.
Fifty years later, the school is still preparing young people for life.
“You get that same feeling of exhilaration every time you come back,” he said.
Contact Matthew Nojiri: 610-371-5062 or firstname.lastname@example.org.