Since 2019, Charlene Williams has carried the torch for the legacy of Beulah Rucker as volunteer executive director of the Gainesville museum sharing the education pioneer's namesake.
Although she’s stepping down from her position to spend more time with her 94-year-old mother, Williams said she intends to continue to stay involved at the museum, particularly with the youth mentorship program she helped establish in 2018 to empower third through 12th grade students to “make positive choices, achieve academic success and become productive, responsible students.”
“The main focus was to carry on her (Rucker’s) legacy of nonprofit and community input, while also focusing on what she did with getting kids back there,” Williams said. “We started out with a focus on African American males, but once people heard about what we were doing, it spread to include male and females of all diverse backgrounds.”
Funding for the program was provided by United Way of Hall County and Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County.
Like Williams, Rucker also was a champion for local youth.
At a time when institutions did not permit Black students, Rucker was a pioneer in educating African Americans in Hall and adjacent counties. In addition to founding the first veterans night school in Georgia for troops returning from Korea, Rucker was the first woman to establish a school in Gainesville — the Rucker Industrial School, now the Beulah Rucker Museum.
“She was ahead of her time in her educational pursuits,” Williams said.
Williams served in the local education arena for 21 years — including as assistant principal and, later, principal of Centennial Arts Academy — before retiring from Gainesville City Schools in 2015.
Prior to that, she worked for the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services and the Savannah Housing Authority.
Williams also played a key role in establishing the Beulah Rucker History Hall at Gainesville High School, which was unveiled earlier this year. Located in the main hallway of the school’s advanced studies building, the memorial chronicles Rucker’s life and accomplishments.
“Getting a hall named in the honor of (Rucker) at Gainesville High School was one of the biggest accomplishments of my time as volunteer executive director,” Williams said.
As Williams reflects on her time in the position, her most memorable experience is the success with the mentorship programs.
“We were able to mentor over 250 students,” said Williams. “We focused on increasing their academic performance, decreasing their discipline referrals, volunteer activities, such as a sock drive to collect socks for children and adults in the community without shelter, and exposing the kids to networking possibilities within the community and beyond.”
Williams will be succeeded as volunteer director by Kendra Rucker, a descendant of Beulah Rucker, for whom Williams has one piece of advice: “Continue Ms. Beulah Rucker’s vision of ‘lighting the torch’ for education and continue to build community relationships and a strong nonprofit.”