Great things are happening at Douglass High School, and right in the thick of it is Coach Elizabeth “Liz” Marable. Coach Marable wears multiple hats at Douglass High. She coaches volleyball, basketball, and track; she teaches algebra and geometry; and she serves as Dean of the Freshman Academy. Coach Marable began teaching, coaching, and mentoring in the Memphis City Schools in 1983, including long stints at Treadwell and Kingsbury. She arrived at Douglass in 2008, the year of its reopening.
In all of her many roles, the things that keep her motivated are her love for children and her love for the community. And make no mistake, her love is not one of lip service and critical observation. Coach Marable loves her students, both past and present, in a very active way—so much that many of them refer to her as Mom or Grandma. And her love for the community is evident in the work she does.
I had the opportunity to talk with Coach Marable. I was expecting to go and capture and interview, but I ended up getting much more. I walked away inspired.
Did you go to high school here in Memphis? I did, I went to Ridgeway High School. I grew up in Whitehaven and went to St. Paul. And, you know, we had “white flight” when the schools were integrating. There were six of us, and for the first year after my parents moved east, all six of us went to six different schools, because we couldn’t all get into one private school. Well, my AAU coaches told my parents that I needed to play with black girls, so my parents put me in Ridgeway, because that was the school in our district. I went to Ridgeway from the 7th grade through the 12th grade, and I loved it.
That was my first real encounter with black people, to be honest with you. Actually, that’s what changed the course of my life. I had a great junior high and high school coach, a lady named Mary Robertson. When the schools integrated, they had something they called “activity bus.” After basketball practice, a bus would come and pick all the black kids up and take them back to their neighborhood. Well, my coach wasn’t comfortable with that, because she had girls walking home and she didn’t consider that acceptable for any neighborhood.
One day I rode with her while she took some of my teammates home, and I was amazed. I had never seen those houses; I had never seen that neighborhood, which was Orange Mound. Here, we lived in this affluent area and then we go across town to drop my teammates off, and I just couldn’t believe it. It was such a shock that I had teammates that didn’t have what we all had. Then I thought, “Man, look how late they go home every day.” And later I realized how early they got up every morning to stand on the corner in the cold, or the wet, or the heat, just to catch the bus to school. It really did change the course of my life. I realized there were people of other colors, and people of other situations.
From that point, I remember things changing so much. I found myself tutoring some of my teammates, because I was always good in math. Ms. Robertson always had us tutor each other, and she’s part of the reason I always wanted to work in the urban schools and coach. Sometimes I think of what some of these kids go through to just to get here every day, and I wonder if I could have done the same thing.
What do you love most about what you do? The kids. It’s the kids by far. I love kids. You know, I’ve never had any biological children, because I feel like I’ve had thousands of kids. It’s funny; the kids don’t call me Mom anymore. Now most of them call me Grandma [laughs]. But I love working with young people and trying to steer them in the right direction.
And you know, they keep us grounded, too. The reason why I think our teachers are so good is that they genuinely love kids. I think Ms. Thompson [Principal of Douglass High School] looks for people who genuinely love children, because she does.
I love being around the kids and I get excited when I see them bring their trophies back, whether it’s the majorettes, step team, chess team, basketball, or whatever. And I love teaching math and seeing a kid who struggles with math finally get it. It’s so exciting!
I don’t really think of my job as work. It’s more like I get to come here and have fun. Don’t get me wrong, there are some bad days when I’m like, “Oh, really. Why am I doing this?” But I would say that out of the 200 days I come to work, on 190 of them, I’m jumping up and down ready to be here.
Also, we’re an optional school for community service. Some people say the kids have bought into it. I say they have bitten in. They’ve chomped in and are chewing it up. They look forward to passing out light bulbs, cleaning up the neighborhood, checking on the elderly. They are just chomping at the bit to help in the neighborhood, so I think that’s big source of pride for them.
We can already see it, but I think people will begin to see even more what a beacon of light this school will be for this neighborhood. Just since the school has been here, the pregnancy rate in the area as started to drop. If you walk around the school, you’ll notice there isn’t a single mark anywhere on it. That’s unusual for a school in its sixth year. Look at the chairs—they’re not written on. They’ve really bought into it, and I think people are going to see even more change in this area, because the school is such a beacon of light.
I always tell the kids, “You can’t help where you’re from. But you can help where you’re going. And you can always ‘come back home,’” as Ms. Thompson tells them, “and give back.”
What are some of the biggest challenges you face? The biggest challenges are poverty and, for the school, funding. We have such big ideas and so many things we want to do with our children, but sometimes funding is hard, just to be honest with you. It’s hard to raise funds in an urban community that has a high poverty rate. For instance, there are many things my sports teams would like to do, and I usually try to get donations. I don’t want to send girls out to sell things. Well anybody, but especially girls. Also, people are already struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. So definitely funding.
What is your hope for the community and for the kids? This community has so much pride already. I want things to get better, not only for our kids, but for their parents. I think some people in urban neighborhoods, at some point they lose hope. They think, “This is just what’s gonna happen here.” As their kids come into a good school where they are loved and educated, I hope the parents—even if they’ve lost hope for themselves—that they’ll have hope for their children. That they’ll see that their children really could have a better life.
When I talk to them, I know these parents want the same things that parents who are more affluent want. They want their kids to get a good education and get into good a college. They want their kids to make good grades and have a good life and a good job.
I think the blight in the neighborhood is getting better. It’s amazing. Back behind Douglass Park, it was so trashed for so many years, and every year we have a major cleanup back there. It’s so funny, the major cleanups are now becoming minor! As people see it cleaned up, they quit throwing tires and stuff back there. There are some people who always chunk a tire or a refrigerator, but for the most part, it’s clean now. We still go back there and clean, and go into the neighborhood and do things, but people are buying into it. They have pride in this community.
What advice would you give someone who is considering working in the schools or working with kids? I tell people all the time to be flexible, because kids are so flexible. You have to be flexible, and you really have to love kids. You have to have the expectation that you’re going to make a difference. I’m not just talking about a difference in the world, but making a difference in a kid. Parents don’t do it all. Lots of kids go through that stage where they think their parents are so dumb, so a lot of them need another adult to tell them things and help guide them.
All I want is for kids to be happy, make an honest living, be a viable community member, and to just be somebody that can make a difference.
Coach Marable is definitely doing her part to make that happen. If you would like to donate time or money to Douglass High School or any of its athletic, academic, or extracurricular departments, you can contact Coach Marable at the school at 416-0990. Or you can call her directly at 461-5603.