Standing just over 6 feet tall and riding in on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, Dr. Gary Speers often paints an imposing picture.
During his short time on the Scottsboro City Schools Board of Education, Speers has been a vocal member, but this is nothing new for the 64 year old — who's birthday is next week. A pastor at Aspel United Methodist Church and retired educator, he is not a newcomer to public service.
While earning his Ed.D. Speers served on the Scottsboro City Council. He then went on to be the principal of Brownwood Elementary School during the last few years it was in operation.
During his tenure as principal, the school achieved three A ratings from the State Board of Education while Speers was there — the achievement that Speers is most proud of.
"At the time the standard had not been set," said Speers. "That school did it the last two years I was there, and it was on an upward trajectory, that was due to the kids, the teachers, the parents, everybody working together"
Speers noted that at the time the decision to close Brownwood hurt at the time, but in the intervening years the feeling has settled.
"I didn't like it," said Speers, but as he has served on the Board of education it has provided him a new perspective on the decision. "Now that I sit on this side of the board table, we may find ourselves in that situation again and you want to do what's in the best interest of the community."
Speers grew up in Birmingham, and then went to Alabama A&M University in 1976 on a football scholarship. He said that he began coming to Scottsboro when he met his wife Kim during his junior year.
Initially, when Speers came to Scottsboro, his life wasn't what it was now. He expected to be working as a radiation technician for TVA. However, he didn't initially have a job and found himself working in the school system.
Speers recalled this time fondly and described himself as a no-nonsense "old school" teacher.
"When I was in a junior high school class I put my name on the board and no one said anything," adding that he liked the discipline of students.
When Speers tried the same thing with a kindergarten class, he said he received a different result as a student raised their hand and informed him that "Mr. Speers, we don't know how to read"
"And I loved it ever since," added Speers.
When describing his experiences as a child growing up in Birmingham during the Civil Rights era Speers said that he was never afraid, but that changed this summer.
As Speers described an incident over the summer when he was pulled over, he said that he was afraid for his life for the first time.
"I don't know if I was more aware, or if I had started noticing it more," said Speers about the encounter.
He explained that after the murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Black Lives Matter rallies prominent coverage in the media that he became hyper aware of the tumultuous relationship between police and Black communities in America.
“I have not really been afraid, concerned about things,” Speers said that this changed in November of last year. When a police car passed by him in Huntsville while his wife was at a Target.
Speers feels that the civil rights protests after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police that sparked widespread non-violent protests in the United States brought to him a heightened awareness.
“It was a different time in our country — a lot of uneasiness” said about his childhood and the differences between his early life and later experiences, adding that “I guess I’m noticing stuff more now.”
Then, after an attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol this fear became even more real for Speers and led him to suggest a potential police presence at the systems Board of Education meeting.
"If they'll do that in the capitol, imagine what they'd do here?" Speers said after meeting adding that he was concerned about his safety and that of other board members.
Speers isn't obsessed with the past; his education is a testament to that as he works to be constantly learning. When asked how many degrees he had, Speer replied that he hadn't counted — the answer? It's seven.
Speers has studied everything from urban affairs — a combination of political science and urban planning — to education leadership during his doctoral program adding up to an impressive list of educational credentials.
For Speers, however, all of these degrees simply represent a steppingstone on a longer journey.
An active member of the community and pastor, he explained that he doesn't feel he's an activist or even an advocate.
"Thank you for doing this, but it's not just about Black History Month," Speers said at the close of an interview. Speers added that he feels that at times Black history month and the parade of Black communities across America's media feels exploitative, when the coverage fails to create long-term visibility throughout the year.
Speers added during an interview, that Black history month is about more than one month. That focusing on African American communities and highlighting them must be a year-round thing, instead of something that happens during one month of a year.
"We are spotlighting or highlighting Black history month, but Black history takes place every day," said Speers. "As we look particularly to Black history month, that we want to let the community know and let others be aware that we're all here and we're all making contributions."
Speers added that "we're all reaching for the same things" and we're all reaching for "good."