The students walking the halls of Dunbar High School aren’t just thinking about their next test. They’re composing songs in their heads. They’re memorizing lines for their role in a play they wrote. They’re poets and athletes.
Like its namesake, Dunbar High School is fostering creativity in students to help shape scholars who are diverse in interests and bringing art into the community.
Paul Laurence Dunbar was a Black poet and author and is widely acclaimed as one of the most influential Black poets in American literature. He was born in 1872 and died 33 years later after several health issues exacerbated by alcohol. Dunbar published several collections of poems, novels and other written works.
Schools across the country are named after the writer, with Fort Worth ISD adding to that list in 1953 with the high school in the Stop Six neighborhood of east Fort Worth.
“(Dunbar was) just a person who wanted to spread love and joy and tried his best to make a difference in the world,” junior Bryton Woodard said.
Dunbar High School is a majority Black campus, 63.4% of students are African American, and 33.8% Hispanic, according to the Texas Education Agency. The school has 858 students, according to 2021-22 enrollment data.
Principal Justin Edwards said it makes sense for the Stop Six community to have a school named after the poet.
What’s in a name
Dunbar High School
History of the name: The school was named after notable Black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in 1953.
Racial/ethnicity breakdown: African American, 63.4%; Hispanic: 33.8%; White, 1%; American Indian: .5%; Asian: .1%; Two or more races: 2%
Current principal: Justin Edwards
Quotable: “I feel like people who graduate from Dunbar are destined for something great.” – Senior Chimere Nweze
“When you finally get here, you understand what it means to be a part of Dunbar,” he said.
The school has long been known for its Flying Wildcats basketball team and Hall of Fame coach Robert Hughes, who retired as the nation’s winningest coach in 2005. More recently, the school’s Aviation Engineering and Technology program is thriving.
But it’s also the legacy of the poet that lives on at Dunbar, where students advocate for their community and value the arts.
Junior Kathryn Jones said attending Dunbar feels like preparation for attending a Historically Black College or University because of the bond, school spirit and talented drumline.
A lasting legacy
Jones sees the spirit of the poet in the students today, she said. There’s music in the halls and poetry in their notebooks.
The arts are still important to students, many who use music as a coping skill, Jones said. Music is poetry, and poetry gives everyone something outside of themselves to relate to, she said.
Senior Daniela Baeza said most students aren’t just involved in one thing on campus. Many are like Woodard and are involved in sports, theater and other extracurricular activities.
The students believe the expectations and culture at Dunbar High helps them grow in ways outside of academics. Woodard has more confidence because of the school, he said. Jones knows how to work with people from all walks of life because of the school’s diversity, she said.
‘I be a Wildcat, who be you?’
When senior Daniela Baeza is out with a Dunbar T-shirt or letter jacket, she always gets stopped by someone in the community who attended the school and has a story to share.
“There’s people that have been here that want to help,” Baeza said of the strong alumni network. “And there’s people that give you such great advice about the outside world and they get you opportunities.”
Woodard said he’s been in Fort Worth ISD his entire life and believes Dunbar is the campus with the strongest alumni support. Senior Deaunte Thomas said he appreciates the role models alumni provide.
“It’ll help me get to where I want to be later on,” Thomas said. “It’ll be good going back to that community when I graduate, I’ll be a Dunbar alumni, and once a Wildcat always a Wildcat.”
Students at Dunbar aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves, Baeza said. Some people think less of the school, she said, but the students are part of a community-based campus that takes pride in the school and defends it.
Alumni coming back to visit the school re-energize the students, Jones said. She can see the community pride in those returning.
In East Fort Worth, if someone says “I be a Wildcat,” they’re likely to hear the response “who be you?” – even in a room full of strangers. The saying, she said, is a callout to the Dunbar community and “if you know, you know.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.