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The Kirby File: Student body president says E.E. Smith legacy will follow school no matter where

'“We love the past,' says Kenneth Williams, a fifth-generation student at the Cumberland County school under consideration for a new home outside the gates of Fort Liberty. 'But we think about how far we can go. No matter where we go, there will never be a place like 1800 Seabrook Road.'


They’re Golden Bulls and proud to be a part of generations of teenagers who came before them.

“You can make an argument this school isn’t the worst,” Kenneth Williams, 17, says about the school, circa 1954, that school system administrators will tell you has run its course here along Seabrook Road and the need for a state-of-the-art E.E. Smith High is only right for Golden Bulls of tomorrow to come.

Classrooms are tight for the 1,006 students, they’ll tell you; there are safety code issues, and staying in sync with STEM teaching of science, mathematics, engineering, art and technology is paramount for the 21st century of education that every student deserves.

Time for a new school and a new location, and just outside the gates of Fort Liberty is the place, the Cumberland County Board of Education says, but there are E.E. Smith High School alumni who will passionately beg to differ.

“I understand both sides well,” says Williams, a senior and E.E. Smith’s student body president. “I can genuinely understand where both sides are coming from. From what I’ve heard, the main reason they want the school here is tradition and legacy. You can see them feeling the legacy is being tarnished by moving. For a long time, I agreed with that.”

But, he says, not anymore.

Williams took his change of heart on Feb. 13 to the school board on behalf of more than 100 fellow students in support of the board’s January recommendation of the military base property for construction of a new E.E. Smith High School.

“I was very nervous,” he says. “I was tasked to speak for over a thousand students and hundreds of faculty about what is best for us. And I had to do that before some of the most important people in the county.”

No one, Williams says, prompted him to speak at the public forum. He believes that as student body president, it was his responsibility.

“My simple task was to be the voice of the students,” Williams says. “I understand how influential my role is in this school, and I don’t take that lightly.”

Williams says that before addressing the school board, he’d spent weeks talking with students about their feelings of a new site for the school.

“The route I wanted to take was I wanted to speak to the students of E.E. Smith,” he says. “I went around asking simple questions. Would you want a new school? What benefits would you expect from this new school? I didn’t want to put pressure on them, like an interview. I just wanted a general conversation.

“All 150 were in favor.

“It was overwhelming,” Williams says. “They wanted a new school. The main reason why they said we need a new school was the space of this school doesn’t accommodate us well. The classes aren’t big enough, the hallways.”

Williams says he had support at the public forum from Principal Larry Parker Jr.; Heydi Colon, the student body vice president; from Shannon Manley, the student government advisor; from Jessica Black, an assistant principal; and from Patti Strahan, director of the school’s Fire & Public Safety Academy.

“We are very proud of him,” Black says.

‘It can’t be forgotten’

The mere thought of E.E. Smith High School no longer at 1800 Seabrook Road has polarized the school community, particularly those who cannot imagine the current location abandoned or not in proximity of the Seabrook, Broadell, Eccles Park and Evans Hill neighborhoods.

Their sentiments are not lost on Williams, who says he is a fifth-generation student at the school, dating back to his great-great grandparents.

“My mother graduated in 1997,” he says. “My grandparents came here. My great-grandparents.”

And, yes, he gives thought to five generations, “my great-great grandparents.”

Still, Williams will tell you, the school along 1800 Seabrook Road has seen the best of its days and tomorrow for Golden Bulls to come is calling.

“We’re landlocked,” he says. “We have a lot of opportunity for our students to graduate from here and go into the workforce making $50,000 a year. We can have a state-of-the-art program so students can succeed. It all comes down to the space.”

And there’s just no room, the school system says, for the school to grow. Not here, the school system says. Not along Seabrook Road.

“You look at this school, and it’s almost 71 years old,” Williams says. “There so much here. It can’t be forgotten. But no matter where we go, the legacy and the tradition will follow. I see the argument that everything is happening at this place, but my argument to that is that everything that was accomplished here, it will not be forgotten. It will be taken with us wherever we go.”

‘What is best for students’

You might think there would be something of a pall in this old school, where the bell may one day never ring again. There’s not a pall. From the principal’s office to the front office, most all here will tell you a new school will be better for all.

So will Kenneth Williams, this bright-minded senior and student body president that Principal Larry Parker Jr. will tell you is “a model student” who holds the respect of students and faculty with his simple presence and congenial way.

Spend time with Williams, and you will say so, too. 

His father is principal at Douglas Byrd High School. His mother works for the school system as supervisor for Career and Technical Education. And his older brother is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Business Marketing.

“We don’t want this place to be forgotten,” says Williams, who plans in the fall to study kinesiology and physical therapy at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “The environment and the culture we created here, we just cannot get up, leave and forget about it. This is still the longest home of E.E. Smith. This is still the place. Is there a possibility we can make this place some kind of historical landmark?”

The Cumberland Board of County Commissioners hold the decision of Stryker Golf Course outside the gates of Fort Liberty in its hands.

“I want them to take into consideration what is best for the students of. E.E. Smith High School,” Williams says about commissioners Toni Stewart, Jeannette Council, Jimmy Keefe, Michael Boose, Marshall Faircloth, Veronica Jones and Glenn Adams, the commission chairman and 1977 E.E. Smith High School graduate. “What is the best for the students right now. At the end, what benefits them the best, because they are the ones that have to go to the school. I think they will vote for it.”


Kenneth Williams ponders the thought of this school that began in 1927. Of what could be. Of what might be. Of the emotions that are steeped in the hearts of Golden Bulls who hold the school along Seabrook Road with such respect and reverence. 

“We love the past,” Williams says. “But we think about how far we can go. No matter where we go, there will never be a place like 1800 Seabrook Road. But no matter where we go, the legacy and the tradition will follow.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

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