Herbert Daughtry Jr. has 200 pupils at his school, Ronald Edmonds Learning Center II; his sister, the Rev. Dawnique Daughtry-Pemberton, has four times that, a fact she ribs him about a little.
He is six years in at his school and has also worked at his sister’s school-they were there together at one point. “It was great,” she assured. “We have a similar work ethic and philosophy around educating children. He was at Ronald Edmonds first as a social studies teacher when I taught somewhere else. But when we worked together, we did so quite beautifully. We have similar styles and we balance out each other’s personalities.”
Their father, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, said it was important to mention that whenever he was involved on the front line of a struggle-from getting justice for Randy Evans, who was killed by a cop at Christmas in 1977, to fighting to end apartheid in South Africa-“You can be assured that my wife and my children were there.”
“That made us the kind of leaders that we are,” said Daughtry-Pemberton, “being committed to the community-with the people, for the people. We are based in struggle-service to others, love of family, knowing you have to give back. I think all of that provides a foundation so that you can be others-centered-it’s the absence of that kind of foundation I think that makes you self-centered.”
Daughtry-Pemberton divulged that their foundation includes “the various mentors-and family first; the first teachers are your parents, and we had great parents.” The siblings nod in agreement. “Then, for us, having that extended family, which has been our church. We’ve always prayed together. We only had one TV, so we had to learn how to negotiate with each other and get along as siblings, so that leads you to find a strong sense of self.”
Whether it be “the Masjid, the church or the boys’ club that is the extended family, that can give you a strong sense of ‘I can do anything,’” she continued.
“You are focused on the educational needs of the students, but if you’re really about the child, there are so many other needs-social needs and emotional needs-and you have to take into account the other factors in a child’s environment,” said Daughtry Jr. “All of those things come together and they impact how they live, how they work. How do they get home? Who’s at home when they get there? Did they eat? All of those things definitely have an impact on the child.”
Both Daughtrys cite as a determining personal and professional influence the strong educational and sociopolitical history of Brooklyn’s District 13.
“We were both trained under great educational leaders: Dr. Katherine Corbett, Dr. Lester Young and Dr. Khalek Kirkland. So we come from a strong foundation in terms of what education means to children of African ancestry. That’s our educational backdrop, then you put that with Reverend Daughtry being our father, and how we grew up-and our philosophy of service to others-this is just what we do.
“Dr. Young founded the Dr. Adelaide Sanford Institute, this is part of his legacy. Dr. Sanford trained Dr. Young and she was his mentor.”
Reflecting on his former profession, Daughtry Jr. said, “I practiced law, but I got fed up with the criminal justice system in New York.” He added that for African-American and Latino defendants, the system is “stacked against them. It is too strongly geared toward plea bargains and putting people under the supervision of probation and parole. Once they get them in the system, it is very difficult for them to come out on top. It didn’t feel right, and I wasn’t getting what I wanted done.”
When asked if he missed all the lawyering, he replied with an emphatic “No!” However, he noted, “I do miss the trial work, but I discovered I loved middle school.”
“Middle school is a special time in children’s lives. They are growing in every which way,” observed Daughtry-Pemberton. “They are learning about themselves. When children get to middle school, parents feel as if they can let go a little. The children have to negotiate parents versus peer pressure, and they have all kinds of hormones going on. It’s not everyone who can handle the challenge that middle school presents, but I will retire from middle school.”
The two schools are committed to taking their students to tour a host of historically Black colleges and universities along the East Coast. Usually, Ronald Edmond teachers-including the principals-ante up most of the funds to sponsor a child’s trip.
Both siblings have initiatives to encourage greater educational achievement.
“We do various campaigns we call ‘Celebrate Success,’” Daughtry-Pemberton said. One such campaign this past holiday season ensured that “every child has at least one gift, but they [had] to earn it,” she said.
The students earned points for class and homework, attendance, wearing their uniform and community service. They could cash in their points on the appointed day and buy gifts from MP3 players to alarm clocks and MetroCard holders. It was both fun and productive. “The children want to do well so they can have as many points as they can get.”
“I want my students to be good people and be a part of the community,” said Daughtry Jr. “I want them to be successful academically so they may be able to compete at the highest level with all kinds of people.”