School Board Vice President First Taught Students to Think Big
Dr. Leonard Wheeler encouraged students to believe they could do anything.
Originally published Feb. 26, 2011:
Vice-President of the Harford County Board of Education Dr. Leonard Wheeler was appointed to the board in 2008 by Gov. Martin O'Malley. The 72-year-old has made his mark on the Baltimore and Harford County areas through service as a teacher from the elementary through college levels.
“I love teaching,” said Wheeler, and he has mentors from his high school days to thank for that.
“My high school teacher and counselor said ‘You’re going to be a teacher,’” Wheeler said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be; I said ‘No, I’m not,’ and they said ‘Yes, you are.’”
Wheeler decided to follow their advice down a collegial path that led him from Coppin State University to Morgan State University. Eventually he earned a doctorate in urban education from Temple University.
In his early days, Wheeler taught mostly African-American students and fought the battle of educational justice on the most important front of all—the mind.
“The most important thing was teaching them that they could accomplish anything,” said Wheeler. “They were brainwashed into believing they were not intelligent.”
Wheeler gave his students constant encouragement, showing the young scholars that he believed in their ability to succeed. Wheeler, who occasionally meets former students, said he recently ran into one woman who now owns a business with her husband.
Born in Washington D.C. in 1938, during the Great Depression, Wheeler spent the first eight years of his life in the nation’s capital. The nation’s economy made a turn for the better with the start of World War II. However, this wasn’t the end of economic struggles for everyone, Wheeler said.
“During the war years difficult times arose for many African-Americans,” Wheeler said.
Circumstances for his family were no exception.
“My mother was born in South Carolina," Wheeler said. "We went to spend time with her parents.”
After a year in South Carolina, the family moved to Baltimore, where Wheeler’s father resumed his business as a shoemaker. Wheeler received the majority of his education in Baltimore City and would later help many other students receive an education as well.
Wheeler said the Harford County Board of Education is currently focusing on redistricting in an attempt to combat overcrowding in schools and thereby provide a better quality of education for all.
“Students are struggling,” Wheeler said. “And some of those students happen to be African-American.”
But the educational problems cross the color barrier like all societal ills, Wheeler said. He currently wants to focus on providing the best schools for every student of every ethnicity.
Besides serving on the board, Wheeler is also a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and has served as a trustee for the Harford County Partnership for Families. Wheeler said the perseverance of his parents, Leonard Sr. and Clara Wheeler, helped him build his future as the advocate for educational justice in the classroom he became.
“The most important accomplishment I have is personal—thinking outside myself," Wheeler said. "Knowing that my gifts are meant to serve others.”
(Editor's Note: Thank You for celebrating Black History Month with Aberdeen Patch by reading our series on African American history makers in Aberdeen and throughout Harford County.)