For twenty-five years, Sixth District Councilman Dee Andrews has dreamt of creating a Walk of Fame for Long Beach Poly, his alma mater and the city’s oldest high school. On Saturday morning, that dream became a reality as Andrews and the school unveiled four stars honoring former mayor Beverly O’Neill, all-star running back Willie Brown, tennis icon Billie Jean King, and Grammy Award-winning singer Thelma Houston.
“You know me, I bleed green and gold,” laughed Andrews from the podium, as he introduced the four honorees. Each will have their face on a blue star to be raised over MLK Boulevard (“Where people can’t get at them,” said Andrews); the stars were fashioned by artist CJ Latimore, who worked with a grant from the RDA to help make the project a reality.
Mayor O’Neill, the only person to serve three terms as Long Beach’s mayor, said she was proud to represent the school by being among the first group of those honored. “There’s something about Poly that just gets into you,” she said. O’Neill, who met her husband Bill in an English class at Poly, said she was amazed at the way the school has changed the city.
Showcasing the school’s diversity, Houston and Brown acknowledged that both their parents’ families moved to Long Beach after being made to feel uncomfortable from racial strife in Mississippi and Alabama. Both were glad to have found a home and a starting place at Atlantic Avenue. Brown, who played at USC, the LA Rams, and the Philadelphia Eagles after graduating from Poly, joked with his old friend Andrews about making it onto the star before he did.
Houston, the first female solo Grammy Award-winner among Motown’s massive talent list, said she was happy to see her family come full circle. Her two children chose to attend other schools in Long Beach, but she said she was glad they allowed her grandchildren (one of whom just graduated, one who will enroll as a ninth grader in the fall) to attend her alma mater.
Principal Shawn Ashley, who will leave the school after fifteen years to take over at Jordan, summed it up best in saying of the honorees, “Their victories are our victories, their championships are our championships.” If Andrews gets his way, there will be plenty more honorees for the Walk of Fame, with a diverse group to choose from that includes Willie McGinest, Tony Gwynn, Snoop Dogg, and Cameron Diaz among many others. Don’t be surprised if you see Andrews himself up there eventually.