General Education instructor shares the benefits of a rich family history
SJVC students who take a seat in Russell Grimes’ classroom soon realize that they will be getting a lot more than the General Education lessons they signed up for. In addition to basic math and business communication skills, they will learn life lessons that will serve them equally well on the job…and in life.
Russell’s rich family history of civil rights, business ownership and push for higher education quietly changed the black community in 1960s Bakersfield, and made Russell an ideal mentor to his many students striving for a better life. Struggle creates bonds.
Russ’s grandfather, Russell D. Grimes Sr., was among the first black pioneers in Bakersfield to own a business in the 1930s. Born in 1892 in Missouri, Russell Sr. moved to CA where he worked multiple jobs, as a barber shop boot black, Elks Club porter and utility man at the Welfare Department, before opening the grocery-retail store with his wife, Myrtle. They went on to buy two more stores, several homes and a boarding house close to the local college, where in the 1950-60s college coaches would have their potential football recruits stay.
Russ’s grandfather left his mark on that time in many ways. It was he who pushed the City to change Cottonwood Rd. to Lakeview Avenue, at a time when he, as a black man, was not even allowed to attend City Hall meetings. “That area was a main-stay for black businesses and had people like Ike and Tina Turner go there when they came to entertain in clubs,” says Russell.
Russ’s father, Russell D. Grimes II, continued the family’s work ethic, as well as efforts toward racial equality. He worked as an electrician, postal worker and newspaper deliveryman, while he immersed himself in a growing movement of civil rights. “He brought Mohammed Ali to Bakersfield to speak; he got involved with Islam and changed his name to Saleem Omar, a name he kept until his death a week before he turned 90,” says Russ.
“It was an era of revolution, of riots, assassinations, marches; being minorities my parents grew up in that and struggled together,” says Russ. “For me, it was more awareness than deep involvement; but the situation opened your mind to help yourself out and improve things.”
Another early influence on Russ during his pre-teens was his cousin, Michael Garrett, running back for the USC and Heisman Trophy winner, who eventually joined the Kansas City Chief’s where he played in the first Super Bowl at the L.A. Coliseum. O.J. Simpson was part of the group of players Russ got to hang around.
“Mike was a motivational spirit for me, and taught me about the reality of the sport,” says Russ. “He told me to not believe in football alone, but to get an education.”
It was during his impressionable high school years that Russ remembers a coach’s advice. “He told me that if I got into coaching, I would have to teach. From that time on I decided to get into teaching.”
When it was time for college, Russ was awarded football and track scholarships for Cal Poly. Russ earned his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Technology, followed by a teaching credential in math at Cal State Bakersfield.
Along the way he found himself doing lots of coaching. “I was into working with students and had some City recreational jobs when I came home for the summer. I coached football, track and field for the Kern High School District.”
Something connected with Russ that never left. His coach and teacher roles fused into a dynamic that has brought him a great sense of satisfaction, while it touched many student lives.
Like his father and his grandfather before him, Russ consistently works three jobs. Since 1976 he has taught high school full time, and he just retired from coaching track and field at Cal State Bakersfield, where he had been since 1990. Russ has worked part-time, evenings at SJVC Bakersfield for 15-years, where he grooms his students for a world that goes beyond successful employment.
“I always introduce myself as a coach,” says Russ. “I give them the feeling that I’m behind the whistle, to point them and let them know I am here to help them.”
Russell gives his students every bit of what he has learned about how the world works and what they need to focus on to find a successful place for themselves and their families.
Russell and his wife June have worked to provide a good life for their six children. Although all the kids are on their own now, Russ is no less inclined to continue to plant the seeds of a strong work ethic and commitment to education to all who look to him for guidance.
“I teach with the purpose of students understanding the philosophy of and the reality of the importance of education in getting jobs now.”
Russell Grimes teaches from the vantage point of a life fully lived and a heart fully invested in the success of others.
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