First African American Alumni Career Fair brings 27 MHS grads back to alma mater

Published 3:36 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

By Rian Johnson

For the Middlesboro News


Last Friday marked a historic event at Middlesboro High School as 27 alumni returned to their alma mater for the inaugural African American Alumni Career Fair.

The idea for the career fair was born when Dr. Roger Cleveland, MHS class of ’82 and owner of Millennium Learning Concepts, LLC, shared his vision with Buffy Dunnaville, MHS Class of ’88, and Partners for Rural Impact’s school-based program manager for the Gear Up program. Dunnaville then shared the concept with freshman math teacher and football coach Nick Shoffner, MHS class of ’15. Once the three MHS alumni began to collaborate, Dr. Cleveland’s vision for the event started gaining momentum.

Dunnaville, Dr. Cleveland, and Shoffner each offer unique expertise and passion for their school and community in creating the inaugural career event.

Dr. Cleveland, an educator and advocate for equity and inclusion, consistently underscores the importance of exposing students to diverse success stories.

“Exposure is the best classroom,” Dr. Cleveland said. “When students see alumni who have overcome challenges and achieved their goals, it inspires them to reach higher and dream bigger.”

Dunnaville firmly believes that students need to see individuals who look like them achieving success to see themselves in those same shoes. Having organized numerous career fairs at MHS, she recognizes a gap in representation.

“Our district lacks diversity among staff, and it’s crucial for students to see role models who reflect their backgrounds,” Dunnaville said. “By showcasing successful African American alumni, we’re empowering our students to believe in their own potential.”

Liz Gilbert, MHS Class ’79, and Assistant Director of the Middlesboro Housing Authority, pointed out that the significance of the career fair extended beyond the walls of MHS.

“Black history is American history, and by recognizing the accomplishments of our alumni, we’re rewriting the narrative of success showing our local kids that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can do anything you set your mind to,” said Gilbert.

Partners for Rural Impact is a national organization committed to rural student success with a focus on accelerating impact across rural America, home to the bulk of places in persistent poverty in the country. PRI works with partners from urban communities to move toward the ultimate goal of an America where all kids — regardless of zip code, income, background or ability — are successful.