The Fort Gay WV High School Alumni Association has selected a former reporter with the Berea Citizen as the recipient of its 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award. Jane Matney Powell, a Berea College alum, will be honored for her dedication to teaching and community service at her high school’s annual alumni banquet on August 31, 2018.
Powell graduated from Fort Gay HS in 1961. Being raised in a learning environment with a passion for reading, Powell resolved to pursue a career in journalism. She volunteered as a stringer for the former Huntington (WV) Herald Advertiser, and at Berea College, she worked as a reporter for the local town newspaper, The Berea Citizen (KY).
Powell graduated from Berea College in January 1965 with a BA in English. In March, she joined other Berea alumni, students and faculty in response to a call from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, AL. Despite safety concerns, she marched with thousands of Americans in protest of restrictions imposed upon black voters. National coverage of the events in Selma-Montgomery was instrumental in the passage of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark federal achievement during the Civil Rights Movement.
Powell moved in 1965 to Washington, DC, to live with her sisters and find work while she pursued postgraduate studies. She accepted a teaching job and internship through the Cardozo Project in Urban Teaching, a precursor to the National Teacher Corps, a federal program designed to improve elementary and secondary teaching in predominantly low-income areas. As an intern, Powell received training to more effectively teach students in inner-city schools. She was placed in the community where she taught and, when not teaching, she engaged in community service to enrich the lives of her students and build up her community. She often met with families in their homes after school hours, working with them as needed to address situations or problems that might adversely impact her students.
After completing the training, Powell accepted a teaching position in an inner-city DC school where she worked until 1969. She has said that her resolve to teach underprivileged youth was shaped by her DC experience. She would teach English and Spanish for 35 years, mostly in inner-city schools in Toledo and Dayton, Ohio. Powell retired from Dayton Public Schools in 2005.
Outside the regular classroom, Powell’s devotion to her profession included teaching adult and continuing education at nights. Through Upward Bound, she also helped high schoolers from low-income families develop the skills they needed to get into college. She has also worked as a GED test proctor.
“Jane has credited her growing up in Appalachia and her years spent in Berea, Ky, as instrumental in her personal development. Her lifelong devotion to scholarship and her activism for civil rights are a reflection of strong character and warrant our special recognition. She is a deserving recipient of this year’s distinguished alumni award”, said Gary Huff, President of the Fort Gay alumni group.
Widowed since 2017, she writes, works on her family genealogy, crochets, and enjoys time spent with her five children and two grandchildren.