By Treméne Triplett
For the News-Gazette
In recognition of Black History Month, the Osceola News-Gazette features Deloris McMillon for her efforts in the fields of education and community activism that empower and improve African American communities and Osceola County.
In 1969, McMillon was one of the first two teachers to integrate St. Cloud High School. A native of Henderson, Texas, but raised in Jacksonville, McMillon was a product of segregated schools. Her teachers were outstanding educators, dressed professionally, and were critical parts of her community inside and outside of school, said McMillon. She took her academic training from Benedict College (Columbia, S.C.) and the outstanding example of her childhood instructors, and set out to make a difference in Osceola County in an atmosphere where students had begun optional integration in 1967 and state-mandated fully by 1968.
“When I integrated St. Cloud high school, I could feel the tension from the staff and the students,” said McMillon. “The black students were excited to see a face like theirs. I didn’t feel inferior. I knew my subject matter. I was well dressed and well-spoken. I rose to the top of the teaching profession. I did not hold my hand because I was black in an all-white situation. I wasn’t a black teacher. I was a teacher.
“I would talk to all of the kids. They often said I should have been a guidance counselor. I was an English teacher. I made William Shakespeare fun. I’ve taught sheriffs and policemen and teachers in Osceola County. I have taught many people who have gone on and become productive citizens in the country.”
With determination and the caring spirit she had witnessed from her own instructors, McMillon said she impacted Osceola school children inside and outside the classroom.
“I was the first coach of the girls’ basketball team,” said McMillon, which is significant because 1972 Title IX legislation mandated gender equality for boys and girls for federally funded educational programs. “In three years, we were ranked sixth in the state of Florida. I became a sponsor of the varsity cheerleading team, and coached the first black cheerleaders, Jeanette Paul Rivers and Deborah Fullwood Paul about three years after being there.”
During her 20-year tenure at St. Cloud High School, McMillon sought to improve the lives of her students, the community and her own quality of life. She continued to innovate by sponsoring organizations like Future Teachers of America and New Successes, a new club where students were able to tour Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University—first-time college visits for many of the students. In the midst of it all, she took a sabbatical in 1984 to return to school at Rollins College to earn a master’s degree in administration and supervision.
“The students were proud of me as I was of them,” said McMillon. “I wanted to expose them to education. I encouraged several students to go to college. I helped with their education.”
McMillon returned to St. Cloud High as a curriculum coordinator—working with the administration to provide support to teachers to help to meet state standards—prior to being named assistant principal at Osceola High School in 1989. In that capacity, McMillon was the first black assistant principal there, and the first Black female assistant principal in Osceola County.
“When I was assistant principal (at Osceola High), they used to call me ‘Ms. Joe Clark’ because of the movie ‘Lean on Me,’” said McMillon, laughing. “I did not tolerate children being disrespectful to their parents in front of me. I did not tolerate any adult being disrespectful. I would handle it in a professional manner. Teachers were hesitant to have conferences with certain parents. I would tell the parents, ‘You have to respect the teachers.’”
McMillon attributed her no-nonsense discipline approach to her mother, who in the early 1950s had the wherewithal to move Deloris and her brother to Jacksonville after divorcing her husband.
“We did not give her any problems,” she said. “She spoke with a stern voice, but there was love coming from that voice.”
After five years at Osceola High School, McMillon’s indelible impact on Osceola County education was even more evident when she earned a long-deserved principal assignment at Parkway Middle School in 1994. Parents, educators and students, alike, benefited from her groundbreaking career, passion for the profession and eye for creativity.
“She was very personable,” said Annette Campbell, who had two sons at Parkway during McMillon’s tenure. “She had good contact among the students. They loved her. She was very close to them and the parents. She was close to all groups: black, Hispanic, Mexicans, Asians, you name it. She gave good direction to her teachers. They really looked up to her. They knew they could always count on her for professional guidance, training, to become the best teachers that they could.”
Campbell’s career also benefited from the barriers McMillon had broken in education.
“While the kids were at Parkway, I was at Osceola High School at that time as assistant principal, then I became associate principal,” said Campbell. “It was Deloris McMillon’s shoes I was filling. She mentored me. She helped me to learn about prinicipalship, and being involved in the community. She also was very instrumental in the Osceola Visionaries. I joined the Visionaries as a direct influence from Ms. McMillon. I wanted to be a part of the community. It’s a small group, but very influential. She’s just a phenomenal person.”
For the discipline problems at Parkway, McMillon envisioned a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program because there was one at Gateway High School. After visiting with the sponsor at Gateway, she learned that what Parkway needed was a Junior ROTC program, the Young Marines. McMillon met with parents and the community to explain the program and to get their buy-in. Armed with a list of the children who displayed discipline issues, McMillon utilized their P.E. periods to expose them to the program. As a result of its positive outcomes, 200 students signed up for the program the following year. The Jr. ROTC program was the first of its kind in the county.
The Young Marines program was just the beginning of creative programming employed by McMillon. An
after-school Boys and Girls Club was implemented to address delinquency, after-school tutoring and hobby exploration. A Parkway graduation was implemented at the Tupperware Center to expose Parkway students to the sense of accomplishment.
Today, McMillon, 72, is president of the NAACP Osceola County branch after serving as a longtime member. She was elected to a two-year term in January 2015. She took on the assignment with the goal of bringing the organization back to the forefront on county programming and issues.
“My desire is to create a trust between the NAACP and the citizens of Osceola County,” said McMillon. “To make the county aware that we are here—that we do exist. My goal when I was elected was to become visible in Osceola County. There has been an attitude that the NAACP did not exist in Osceola County.”
As a result, in recent months, the organization has again promoted voter registration, co-sponsored or participated in a number of events, including the Juneteenth Celebration, Trailblazer’s Breakfast—honoring achievement in the African American community; candidate’s forums – showcases for those running for political office and the Dr. Martin Luther King parade– where McMillon served as the 2016 grand marshall.
“I felt honored,” said McMillon. “It brought tears to my eyes and my heart. I was overjoyed. I take pride in having a positive mark and impact in Osceola County, especially the school system.”
Lifelong friend Ann Jones has been a member of the NAACP for 40 years, and also served as a past president. She gives McMillon high marks for her efforts as president.
“We’ve had many great presidents of the NAACP, I think we are achieving much more now,” said Jones, who currently serves as NAACP secretary. “We were at that point where we were becoming stagnated—as all organizations go through a period like that. Since Deloris McMillon became president, we have become more visible.
“It’s been many years since we’ve had a Freedom Fund dinner—a fund raiser, but we’re going to have one in June 2016. Anything going on in the community, she’s keeping us active in it.”
Ann Jones graduated from Kissimmee High in 1964, as a result, the Joneses and McMillons were long-time family friends, where the two Jones children—MeChelle and the late Jamerson “JJ” —were like sister and brother to the McMillon’s only child, Samuel “Tiger.”
“She was such an encourager and supporter to my kids,” said Jones. “If anything was going on in their lives or activities, she was a supporter. When you saw the McMillon family, you saw the Jones family—a true connection, family-oriented bond that will never be broken.”
McMillon’s efforts have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.
“She became a very good personal friend to me and my husband, along with Sam McMillon,” said Campbell, who later became principal of Parkway Middle. “After 2005 when she retired, I had big shoes to try to fill. The kids and community had been so supportive of Ms. McMillon. I had to try to be on my toes. I know I did OK. When I got to Parkway, we moved the school from a C to a B. While McMillon was there it was an A or B school.”
McMillon hopes that her track record inspires youth of today to make a difference in Black History.
“The fact that I am proud of the history that I have contributed to Osceola School System, and the legacy that I am leaving for the community makes me proud,” said McMillon.