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Bedford−Stuyvesant will never be the same. Nor will Boys & Girls High School.
Longtime educator, coach, assistant superintendent and principal Frank Mickens died of natural causes in the wee hours last Thursday morning, July 9, in his Brooklyn home, leaving behind a memorable legacy, at the age of 63.
He coached the boys’ basketball team at Boys & Girls for 10 years, leading the program to its last city championship in 1979, but it was his work as an administrator, teacher and dean at the once−troubled school that made him a neighborhood icon.
He turned the school around by installing a dress code and attendance rules, enforcing a strict code of conduct and keeping teenagers he labeled troublemakers out. He often walked the halls with a walkie−talkie, punishing truants. By the time he retired in September of 2004, Boys & Girls reportedly had an 85 percent graduation rate. He made The High a popular destination, boys’ basketball coach and physical education teacher Ruth Lovelace said.
“He left a legacy here,” Lovelace said. “One that could never be matched.”
Said school administrator and assistant boys’ basketball coach Elmer Anderson: “You think people love Michael Jackson? New York City loved Frank Mickens. There’s not a church big enough.”
There would be lines around the corner on registration day, parents desperately wanting their kids to attend the prominent school. Lovelace said her phone didn’t stop ringing since the news broke, people sharing fond stories of everything Mickens did.
He holds a special place in her heart, most notably for hiring her as the boys’ coach in 1994, a controversial move at the time.
“I owe everything to him,” Lovelace said. “He had a vision I couldn’t see myself.”
Lovelace remembered Mickens as a disciplinarian who would enforce his rules with an iron fist, but also offer a helping hand the next moment.
He was the author of, “It Doesn’t have To Be This Way,” a handbook on urban education. He was also featured on several occasions in the New York Times and appeared on CNN, the Today Show, The McCreary Report, and the MacNeil−Lehrer News Hour for his renowned initiatives.
Born and bred in Bedford−Stuyvesant, he graduated from Erasmus Hall HS, earned a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Potsdam, his master’s from New York University, completed post−graduate studies at Columbia University, and attended the Principal’s Center at the Harvard School of Education. He has also been awarded an Honorary Degree of Letters by Medgar Evers College.
Mickens remained around the school and the basketball program, yet out of the spotlight, after his retirement. He was close with several of the younger Kangaroos, particularly star guard Mike Taylor. Taylor said the two would routinely talk about life, schoolwork and basketball – in that order.
“He wanted us to have something to fall back on,” Taylor said. “He always wanted to help people. Anything you need, he would help.”
Added Taylor: “Everybody is real hurt. But he’s in a better place right now.”
Funeral arrangements had yet to be announced as of press time.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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