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Opportunity

The Gift of Education

 
 

Growing up in 1950s segregated Austin, William Charles Akins couldn’t swim at Barton Springs or attend shows at the Paramount Theatre. But rooted in church and family in East Austin’s African American community, Akins pursued one of the few professional career paths available to him: education. Dr. Akins’ 44-year career as an educator took him from history teacher at the original Anderson High School in East Austin to assistant superintendent of the Austin Independent School District.

Akins died at the age of 85 earlier this year, but his proud legacy lives on in the W. Charles Akins Scholarship Fund. Created by friends on the occasion of his retirement in 2001, the fund has awarded $15,000 in scholarships to date to college-bound students graduating from Akins High School in South Austin, which was named for the educator. The Akins Scholarship is just one of hundreds of scholarships the Foundation administers in partnership with donors and local high school counselors.

In 1973, Akins was appointed the first principal of the new integrated Anderson High School in West Austin during federally mandated school busing. Dressed in his trademark jacket and tiea careful clothing style he inherited from his father, a custodian who also ran a shoeshine stand on the Drag and hosted a gospel radio showAkins met the school buses each morning.

He diffused almost daily fights that broke out among students. He felt a personal responsibility to make school integration a success. “I remember thinking: I want to respect the honorable life of Martin Luther King,” he told the Austin American-Statesman. “If I’m going to be a part of integration, I want to be a model African-American…citizen, administrator, teacher…”

Akins’ legacy is evidenced in the gift of education the scholarship provides. Each year about $1,000 for college tuition goes to an Akins High School student who has a record of leadership and community involvement. “When a student receives this kind of recognition, it validates that they have the ability to persist,” says Sarah Simmons, Akins High School college and career transitions advisor. "We serve many students who are the first in their families to go to college. For them, it can mean the difference between thinking they can do it and deciding, ‘Well, I guess I wasn't meant to go.’ ”

Elaine Robbins

Photo credit: Austin American Statesman