By Noelle Weekes
Mr. Douglas Terry was a young man in the 1960’s when the Black community was in the midst of a struggle for civil rights, believed empowerment and equality were the keys to justice. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, he graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School and was awarded a track and field scholarship to Texas Southern University, experiencing firsthand the negative effects of segregation in Houston, Texas, decided to transfer after his first year. He returned to Brooklyn and resumed his studies at St. John’s University where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Education with a concentration in Social Studies. Determined to further explore his passion for social studies and deepen his understanding of education, Mr. Terry pursued and obtained a Master of Arts Degree in Education from New York University. He continued his educational endeavors by entering a Doctoral program. However, the birth of his daughter interrupted his studies and precipitated a shift in focus from education to the development of his career.
In 1964, Mr. Terry began teaching Social Studies at Boys High School where he introduced and implemented a Black History syllabus. His life experiences and passion for education and social studies helped him teach students the values of equality and civic collaboration. Mr. Terry was also the head coach of track and field. “From 1965 to 1974, he led Boys High School (known by friends and rivals as “The High”) to numerous New York City and Eastern State titles as well as championship victories at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia. Throughout his tenure at “The High”, Mr. Terry baffled rival coaches with his ability to transform great sprinters into great distance runners and have “dedicated” sprinters competitively to compete at distances up to three miles.
In 1966, he started the Kangaroo Track Club. This alumni club, which uniquely combined his dedication for academics and track and field, brought past track runners back to the school to motivate current athletes to continue their education. He is very proud of the fact that ninety percent of his athletes went on to higher education with seventy percent graduating with a degree. “If he said you could do something, then you could do it,” said James Jackson, his first champion distance runner who would go on to coach the Boys High team after graduating from Purdue University. “You could not be on the team unless you were doing well in class, Jackson said. He was the total coach.” In 1969, when the civil rights struggle raised tensions in the Black community to an all-time high, Mr. Terry, along with the Kangaroo Track Club, started hosting Olympic development track meets. These meets established an opportunity for children aged six to eighteen to improve their track and field skills while simultaneously proving a safe and welcoming outlet outside of the tenuous social situation that enveloped the Black community.
In 1974, he was appointed the head coach of track and field at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the first Black head coach and as such he wanted to encourage more participation in track and field on the part of the Black community. Mr. Terry realized that African-Americans were underrepresented in positions of sports judges and officials. He sought to improve this lack of representation by encouraging qualified African-Americans to pursue such positions and by suggesting their appointment to his superiors. His advocacy for the Black community directly led to increased diversity in sports officials and set an important precedent for the future of track and field. He then established the Olympic development track meets at Brown University, and in 1977 the meets became national. This offered opportunities for inner-city children across the country to come to Brown for a track meet weekend where they were exposed to an Ivy League institution. This experience exposed these children to the possibility of attaining a higher education which they may not have considered.
In 1980, Mr. Terry was awarded the Jefferson Award for his work with the community.
In 1979, Mr. Terry was appointed by the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church to be the editor of the Ebenezer Grapevine, Rhode Island’s only Black newspaper. This publication focused on the Black community locally, nationally and internationally. Then in 1984, he was given permission to establish the Ocean State Grapevine, which he distributed in Providence, parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Mr. Terry was awarded the NAACP Community Service Award in 1987 for his commitment and achievements with the Black print media for his work with this newspaper.
In 1989, Mr. Terry’s career came full circle when he returned to – what is now – Boys and Girls High School to teach Social Studies. Upon discovering that his African-American History syllabus had been set aside in his absence, he reintroduced his old curriculum and promoted contemporary students’ exposure to themes of equality and civic engagement.
In 2001, he joined the ranks of the F.O.I. (Fruit of Islam), the military arm of the Nation of Islam. He was given the role of business manager of Muhammad Mosque No. #7 gift shop and after 4 years in that position he was appointed secretary treasurer of Muhammad Mosque No. #7, which he held for 6 years.
Presently, he is a distributor for the N.O.I.’s Historical Research Department. Instilling social change within his daughters, they continue his tradition of helping the community in their own ways. One daughter teaches law at Howard University, and the other is a social worker at Columbia High School in Maryland. At seventy-nine years old, despite his many illnesses, he still contributes to his community by writing and distributing Our Time Press as well as staying involved in the events around the city. Activities include events such as the International African Arts Festival, Harlem Book Fair, Harlem Week Festival and the West Indian Carnival.
Mr. Coach Terry hopes to reestablish the Kangaroo Track Club in order to revive Black Family Day, which did take place forty years ago at Randall’s Island on Memorial Day in 1974.
In keeping with the Million Man March slogan, “Justice or Else”, 10-10-15, a movement not a moment, Mr. Terry is planning a Black Family Holiday Bazaar on Black Friday and Saturday. The two days after Thanksgiving at Boys & Girls High School, along with an Olympic development track meet on Thanksgiving Day.