John Wiley Price, You've Been Schooled

John Wiley Price, namesake of a new African school
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Later this year, Masai children in rural Kenya will begin classes in a school named for “one of Texas’ greatest sons.” They -- indeed their parents and just about everyone else in Kenya -- might be a bit puzzled about the name. And no, it’s not George W. Bush.

Plunked down in the middle of four villages in one of the poorest areas of Africa will be a new high school, complete with computers and solar technology, called The John Wiley Price School, in honor of, yup, the Dallas County Commissioner.

“His record as a fighter for the underprivileged and for justice is legendary throughout Dallas and the State of Texas,” reads the Web site for Build African Schools. “He is in the vanguard in the fight for those who are discriminated against in their struggle to be invited to the great table of opportunity.”

The site posts photos of Price and the Masai children in the area, accompanied by this explanation: “One of John’s greatest successes was to help broker a ceasefire between racial warring gangs in Dallas some years ago. His main success was to give them a vision, that with access to education and justice, they would be valuable members of society and their communities.”

The praise -- and a big donation -- came from “another Great Son of Texas,” Russell Fish, a Dallas computer entrepreneur and political activist who says he made the bequest and named it without consulting Price.

Which begs the question: Why name it after Price?

“He is one of the best friends that Dallas students have,” Fish tells Unfair Park. “I told John that when we were doing the DISD fights, there were a number of times when he was the only one standing with me.”

Two years ago, Fish donated the money for a school and named it for his 18-year-old son. The Tommy R. Fish Secondary School is located near the town of Sultan Hamud.

“A lot of these places aren’t on any map,” says Fish, who visited that school in Kenya last summer.

Patrick O’Sullivan, director of Build African Schools, says that construction of the JWP School, their sixth, was delayed by political unrest in Kenya, but is due to start in three weeks.

“I went out there at the end of January to have a look for myself,” O’Sullivan tells Unfair Park. “I wanted to visit the schools. I expected some form of disruption or chaos. But everything was up and running. I couldn’t believe it. It was fantastic.”

The location of the Price school was negotiated like the others. O’Sullivan sat down with the elders and thousands of villages in a big circle and “chatted” about what the area needs. “All the kids dress up and dance and sing and strut,” O’Sullivan says. “Then we get into the serious issue of where to put the school.”

The school honoring Price should be finished by the end of May. “Then we’ll put computers in,” says O’Sullivan. “It takes about two weeks to equip the school and do the solar power.”

Because of the school year, it will be ready for students in September.

That’s assuming no construction delays. O’Sullivan says the last school ran into trouble when a herd of elephants tromped through the site and drank all the water that had been collected for mixing concrete. “It took four or five days to get the water built up again,” O’Sullivan says.

O’Sullivan says he wasn’t surprised Fish named the school after Price. “He said he had a lot of respect for this man and trusts his judgment,” O’Sullivan says. Course, he’d probably name a school after your cat if you have $100,000 to help build it.

The Department of Education in Kenya, says O’Sullivan, has agreed to supply the teachers for the school. But until September, they have no idea how many children will enroll. “There are four communities who have banded together to have this one school,” says O’Sullivan.

He says that about 70 percent of students in Kenya do not go to high school. “Most children throughout Africa generally do not go to high school,” says O’Sullivan. “Most do not go because they can’t afford it, or the school that would service them is about 20 miles away, too far to walk every day and back. Most of them will go to high school for the first time.”

A pretty cool thing to have named after you. The future.

Price did not return a request for comment. --Glenna Whitley

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