Guest Commentary: Honor Pritchett with Wilmington school name


Editor’s note: The following remarks were given by Delaware State University president Dr. Tony Allen at the memorial service for Maurice Pritchett Sr. in May. Dr. Allen subsequently sent the address to Christina School District superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton, to nominate Mr. Pritchett as the namesake of the new Bancroft School, being built in Wilmington.

Before I met Maurice Sr., I met Maurice Jr.; he was actually the person I called “Pritch.”

We were both 12 years old and enrolled in an innovative pre-engineering program called “The Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering.” And, even in his preteen years, I understood instinctively that Pritch was somebody your mother would want you to know.

He was brilliant, polite, hard-working, athletic, direct but soft-spoken and protective of anyone he called a friend. He never looked for trouble, but he was unflinching if trouble found him. Nobody intimidated young Pritch, and if you were ever in a predicament, he was somebody you needed by your side. I was — and will always remain — proud to call Pritch a friend and brother. Yet, like so many friends and brothers, after high school, we went our separate ways.

I didn’t meet Maurice Sr. until I was 18, and he was the adviser to the University of Delaware chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. It is in no small measure because of him that my highest yearning was to become a Kappa man.

I have to emphasize the power of Maurice Pritchett’s charisma and personality here. He had become one of my singular idols before I knew that he was a burgeoning, legendary educator, a Delaware State University Hall of Fame athlete or even that he was Pritch’s dad.

Yet, as I got to know Maurice Pritchett Sr. — my new “Pritch” — it quickly felt familiar. He was brilliant, uniquely polite, hard-working, athletic, direct but soft-spoken and fiercely protective of his friends and charges. I understood where his son had gotten that steely resolve: Never look for trouble but be unafraid if it found him.

He was the kind of man who we all yearned to be: not simply good and decent but an example of achievement and sacrifice, with an unapologetically clear vision about the importance of family at home, school and in his community.

The older Pritch was everybody’s dad, and his assumption of that mantle quite literally saved thousands of lives. There are men and women in Delaware today whose life trajectories have been forever changed because he lovingly busted their chops when they misbehaved but also put that hand on their shoulder and said simply, “I am proud of you,” when they performed up to their highest potential.

You never wanted to let Pritch down.

I also realized that having “everybody’s dad” be your dad was not an unmixed blessing for Maurice Jr., Andre, Dwayne and Danielle. They all had to meet his highest standards every day and share his love with thousands of others. It built them into consequential men and women in their own right, but it would have been a tough road to walk.

Maurice Pritchett Sr., remains — even in death — the essence of my favorite Bible verse, 1 Co-rinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am. And His grace which was with me, was not in vain. Yet, though Labored more abundantly than they all — yet not I — but his grace which was with me.”

“Yet not I” is Maurice Pritchett’s immortal soul.

“Yet not I,” when he started a clothing closet so that no students should ever be ashamed of what they wore to school.

“Yet not I,” when he stood between his beloved Bancroft Elementary and any harm headed in its direction.

“Yet not I,” when he routinely took money out of his pocket to ensure a family had a hot meal or paid the tuition, room and board for countless Delaware State University students, who might never have considered college without him.

“Yet not I,” when he came home late after a hard day’s work and still spent hours helping his children with their homework and opening his heart to their aspirations, concerns and needs.

“Yet not I,” as he and his beautiful wife, Juanita, showed us what 55 years of Black love looks like.

You don’t really have to have known the man to understand the profound legacy he left for us all. In a thousand ways you may never directly recognize, his legacy continues to touch and uplift us all.

We lost some of God’s grace when this giant passed, but we also learned from him the lesson that God’s grace is sufficient to each of us — to be a better partner, parent, son or daughter because Maurice Pritchett Sr.’s life set an unparalleled example for us all.

In fact, I don’t know what it takes, but from this point forward, it will be hard to look at The Bancroft School as anything other than the Maurice Pritchett Sr. Family School. I am hoping that happens soon because his life was our blessing, and his legacy should and will endure.

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