The curriculum was expanded to offer students more coping tools. Even the football players now learn to sew and cook, and more practical subjects emerged, such as business education and computer technology. By 2010, the school graduated 82 percent of its students. And the school became a sanctuary where students left the worst parts of life at the front door.
"The students have needs, and if they aren't able to get them at home, with the family makeup that we provide here, we are willing to provide for the kids," said English teacher Tara Harris-Davis. "You cannot teach these kids unless you know where they're coming from. No one here is just a teacher."
The family atmosphere is apparent during graduation rehearsal. Acting more like a big sister than a taskmaster, Kiner tells jokes while instructing the seniors on when to sit and stand during graduation.
Without a class roster in her hand, she recited the names of seniors by memory and gave them fist bumps as they practiced coming up to the stage.
"I'm not going to be wearing makeup, because if I do cry ..." Kiner said before being interrupted by her laughing students.
Students and faculty share a strong grasp of the history behind the visit by the country's first black president to Memphis, where people still remember segregation and the agony they felt when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in their city in 1968.
"Dr. King came here for a reason and a purpose, and it's the same thing with President Obama," Harris-Davis said. "He's coming to inspire these kids, our kids."
When he arrives, streets and homes in several neighborhoods will still be flooded and residents will still have been unable to get to their homes because of the high water. Obama is expected to meet with Memphis-area families affected by the flooding
Booker T. Washington's students are proud, but they also understand what Obama's speech will mean to their elders.
"When my grandmother found out that Obama was president, she cried a little bit," said senior Dorcheryl Tate, 19. "She's real excited by this. She's going to see him. If I only had one ticket, she would go."
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