About Dr. Matthew Prophet
Dr. Matthew Prophet’s story, one of courage and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, began in the segregated town of Okolona, Mississippi where the precocious lad learned first-hand the many cruelties and inequities visited upon Black children in the Jim Crow South.
Not only did free school for Black children end at eighth grade, but he and his classmates were expected to leave the classroom behind for the cotton fields where they performed arduous work in the hot sun for very little pay.
Prophet’s parents had a different future in mind for their son. They decided to pay the $150 tuition to send him to the Okolona Industrial School. After graduation, he went on to study at Howard University. In his senior year there, he was drafted into the Army and sent to fight in the Korean War.
In spite of the systemic racism he encountered as a soldier both at home and abroad, Prophet prospered in the military. During his two decades of service, he worked tirelessly toward the cause of military desegregation, ascending to the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel and earning a Bronze Star and Legion of Merit Medal, among 26 other honors.
Prophet never forgot the importance his parents placed on education. While serving as a soldier and officer, he was also putting himself through night school, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in general education from Municipal University of Oklahoma, a master’s in education administration from Roosevelt University, and a Ph.D. in educational supervision and administration from Northwestern University.
After completing his doctorate, Prophet served as the deputy superintendent and then superintendent of Lansing, Michigan Public Schools. The young boy who was told education was not for him was now a man determined that no school-age child would be forgotten or left behind.
Prophet was named Superintendent of Portland Public Schools in 1982, ushering in an era of unprecedented stability, prosperity, and academic performance that the district still benefits from to this day.
In many ways, Dr. Matthew Prophet’s story could be seen as an archetype of the American dream. He lifted himself up out of humble beginnings to heights of great achievement, all while battling the malignant forces of segregation and racism. His journey is also undoubtedly a study in the power of education to alter the course of not just one man’s life, but the countless lives of people he inspired as a teacher, superintendent, friend, and mentor.