Editorial: Paulette Roberts’ life of education worthy of honor

Republic file photo Paulette Roberts has been named The Republic’s Woman of the Year and will be honored in ceremonies in June at The Commons.

Paulette Roberts is the 2024 recipient of The Republic’s Woman of the Year Award — the latest example of strong women who have blessed this community with lives of service and an indomitable positive spirit that continue to enrich us.

An unrelenting force for education, Roberts herself embodies living history in many ways, and not only when she makes costumed historical presentations of historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth or Maya Angelou.

As The Republic’s Brian Blair wrote in a recent profile, Roberts was only the second Black teacher hired by Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. That was 54 years ago. Earlier, growing up in the coal fields of Kentucky, she remembers her father marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King during his 1964 visit to the state capital, Frankfort. Paulette’s father told her and her siblings, “I am doing this for you.”

And though Roberts retired from the classroom 20 years ago, she has never really stopped teaching; if anything, her classroom has become our community.

She works to tutor students who could use a little extra help through a program she founded and continues to lead, the Columbus Enrichment Achievement Program. She also has been a tireless advocate for illuminating to everyone our local Black history, which, in her words that bear repeating, is American history.

Roberts has done these things and so much more with a joy that is infectious.

“You got to be upbeat and wanting to participate,” she told Blair. “I think having a servant attitude is all there is. You know — helping other people. And when I help other people, it helps me.

“It makes me feel better. It makes me feel good to know that I’ve done something that means this other person is therefore going to be able to contribute something of what they’re about.”

At 75, Roberts told Blair she feels like she is slowing down a step; she says she notices this on her daily one-hour, three-mile walks on The People Trail.

But you wouldn’t know that from what some of those who know her best have to say about her many contributions.

“She’s a whole vibe. … She deserves all the accolades,” said King Day award presenter Whittney Gaines, a local educator like Roberts. “She is an example of what it actually looks like to do this (community) work.”

Glenda Winders, who handles publicity for the Columbus/Bartholomew County Area Branch of the NAACP, said Roberts “supplements American history as it was meant to be told — firmly but gently supplementing the ‘white’ history we already know. … She is a gift to this city.”

That is unquestionably the case, as people of every age who have encountered Roberts can attest. Roberts for more than 50 years has made a difference in the lives of students and in the life of our community, and she is among the best examples we have of the virtues of lifelong learning.

The Republic salutes Paulette Roberts, a most deserving Woman of the Year.