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Next Step On A Long, Improbable Journey

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Veteran Educator, Norman Towels vies for Jurupa Valley City Council seat

By Chris Levister –

Dr. Norman Towel’s story is a triumphant one, an odyssey marked by scholarship, public service and a passion for educational pursuit. It was more than Towels’ 40 years of service to the Val Verde Unified School District that cemented his reputation among academics, politicians and civil rights figures as a pragmatic and visionary leader.

It was the reality that Towels, himself a Black man, had a clear eye look into the racial horrors of segregated schools and thus was able to give his academic work as an elementary school teacher, administrator and high school principal a stinging ballast.

Towels, 61 was 6 months old when his mother and step father a military man left Los Angeles for Alaska.

A week before the great Alaska earthquake (1964) the family moved to Alexandria, Louisiana.

“The most memorable thing about moving to Louisiana was I went from an all white environment to an all Black environment,” recalls Towels.

Two years into segregated Peabody High School, the odds seemed stacked against him.

“You could compare Alexandria to Little Rock except without the soldiers. Three students got lynched. I wouldn’t allow my parents to drive me to school because it was too dangerous.”

Towels said the oppressive conditions at the time presented a challenge to the strongest adult. “And to a child it was not merely difficult but cruel.”

“I came from a family of high school dropouts,” said Towels.

“I was a good student at Peabody but I had the audacity to believe I could achieve more at nearby all-white Bolton High. It offered a way to break out of the cycle of poverty that derailed many students fitted in the same shoes,” he said.

His big break came when the local NAACP filed a lawsuit that challenged segregation in the city’s public schools.

“We went to see the superintendent. Basically he tried to discourage me from going to Bolton. He told me Peabody had the same teachers, same books and more shop classes.”

But there was something about the kid that could not be denied.

“There was a stirring reminder of my mother’s dream of becoming a doctor,” said Towels. “She was denied the chance because she was female, handicapped and African American.”

The city refused to fight the lawsuit instead agreeing to integration.

Towels and his sister Jackie became Bolton High’s first Black students.

“Living in a world restricted by laws defining race, as well as creating obstacles, disadvantages and even superstitions regarding race, steeled our resolve for survival.”

Towels persevered with the passion, grit and determination that drive him today as the Chief Execut ive Officer of Perris Community Partnership and a candidate for the Jurupa Valley City Council.

“I’m a driven person on an improbable journey,” he said as a grin spread across his face.

Towels never got his high school diploma. Instead he enrolled in Southern University in Louisiana where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Philosophy with honors.

“I graduated one day, got married the next day…. next day I moved to California.” He recalls the only jobs available to African Americans at the time other than menial labor, was a Riverside County internship to become a teacher.

“I took that job and never looked back,” said Towels. He and his wife Verna a pre-school teacher live in Indian Hills. They’ve raised 11 children including two daughters and two foster kids.

Towels holds a PhD. in Human Behavior and Education Administration, a master’s degree in Multicultural Education and a master’s degree in Counseling.

His numerous accolades and affiliations include the former western regional vice president of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Rotary and the Jurupa Chamber of Commerce. He was inducted in the African Collector’s Hall of Fame and Southern University Hall of Fame. Nov. 2010 he was recognized by Cambridge Who’s Who for demonstrating dedication, leadership and excellence in education and management.

It takes only a moment talking to Towels to discover his passion for education and youth development. It’s infectious.

“When I went to Bolton the education standard was so much higher than at Peabody. I realized even then that we were doing a disservice to students by not raising the standards of expectation.”

“I’m passionate about youth. I’m passionate about the use of education to help secure their future. I’m passionate about giving kids the tools to have a better life and to achieve their dreams,” he said.

As for his 26 years as a counselor at Riverside County Juvenile Hall, Towels believes our society as a whole and the fate of the least among us are inextricably woven together.

“Our entire social system bears the special responsibility for the current plight of these young people who in a very real way, may be regarded as a metaphor for the ills of our society and the problems we face.”

On March 8, Jurupa Valley residents will vote on whether they want the unincorporated northwest Riverside County region to become a city.

The Jurupa Valley includes the communities of Mira Loma, Glen Avon, Pedley, Indian Hills, Sunnyslope, Rubidoux and Belltown.

Measure A, as it will be listed on the ballot, needs a simple majority to win.

Sixteen candidates plus two write-ins are running for five seats on the Jurupa Valley City Council.

If cityhood is approved, the top five vote-getters would be elected to the council.

“I believe we need individuals with vision, leadership and fortitude, with the skills needed to open the doors of the city.”

Towels notes that he worked several years in business management, where he gained valuable experience balancing budgets, making payroll and identifying ways to reduce expenses.

He says the test of a city is not in how many millionaires it can produce, but in how many law abiding hardworking, highly respected and self respecting loyal citizens it can produce.

“I’m committed to creating a city driven by fiscal responsibility, integrity, skill, goodwill and compassion.”

But Towels freely admits he’s got another stop to make before continuing on his improbable journey.

“My grandson is graduating from Bolton High School this year and you guessed it, I’ll be sitting right there hoping the school will give me an honorary diploma. I think I’ve earned it.”

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