His life was driven by education and pride and he joyfully brought thousands of students along for the ride.
Retired teacher and school administrator Frank Withrow died August 7. He turned 74 last month. Although his body was wracked with cancer, Withrow kept a positive attitude to the very end. That’s how he’ll be remembered by those who called him an instructor, mentor or friend.
Franklin Ellis Withrow came to Sacramento in 1972, equipping students at C.K. McClatchy and Sacramento High Schools with necessary tools. He also consulted with the Del Paso Heights School District, aiding then Superintendent Dr. Ramona Bishop in improving academic outcomes there. He created curriculum and action plans born of Black roots, wisdom and genuine care.
Withrow served as a teacher and leader within the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) for more than three decades. His dedication to students — including founding the C.K. McClatchy High School African American Cultural Exchange Program and chairing the United Black Student Unions of California (UBSUC) Advisory Board for 15 years — earned him admiration and countless accolades.
Withrow was lauded over the years for his ability to motivate, uplift and inspire. In addition to his work in the classroom, he also encouraged foster and incarcerated youth to reach deep and aim higher. Praise came from Black Educators for Action, SCUSD’s Community Advisory Committee, the International Educators Hall of Fame, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors a well as a coalition that included Kings & Queens Rise, Build.Black, the Sacramento Kings, The Center at Sierra Health Foundation and the Black Child Legacy Campaign. He’ll also be known for an eternity as Poet Laureate of the Western Province of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
While the Sacramento OBSERVER and others presented him with lifetime achievement awards, Withrow would say that helping others was his greatest reward. Even in retirement, he often travelled the country as a consultant sharing his expertise and knowledge. As the creator of the African American Young Males Conference, he organized workshops on everything from bullying and gangs to developing critical thinking skills and preparing for college.
He also turned his penchant for poetry, it into a business — Reasons For Rhyme (Withrow was the self-proclaimed “Middle Aged Rapper”). Through the venture, he produced more than 40 books, posters and calendars as well as t-shirts and caps that featured words from his motivational raps.
“Achievement Is In My DNA,” and “To Be Somebody (Should Always Be Your Goal)” weren’t mere slogans, though. They were how Withrow lived his life and gave others the confidence to grow. He assured people that their Black lives mattered, even when others left their self-esteem and self worth tattered. One of his signature poems extolled the virtues of the “Ebony King” long before Beyonce declared it a thing.
In his students, he saw the future– movers and shakers, influencers and changemakers. He helped them navigate in spaces with unfamiliar faces. Under his guidance they found the voice to speak up and speak out and did so without a doubt. Former students recently voiced their appreciation for Withrow with a celebratory caravan, calling him a class act, not wanting to wait to give him “his flowers” after the fact.
At his side that day, as all others, was his Ebony Queen, the former Karen Massie. The two met in 1993 while working in a fashion show they were forever in sync showing off their coordinated fashion sense while emceeing local Sweet Potato and Meadowview Jazz events.
Many in the community count Withrow as a mentor. He supported the efforts of those who desired to educate and lead, showing them by example, what it meant to succeed. That he was a proud lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity cannot go unsaid. His favorite suits and matching gators were definitely red.
Withrow was preceded in death by his brother Donald and their parents, Rossie and Henry. Wife Karen, daughter Melissa Carter, and sister Henrietta W. Farve are among those left to cherish his memory.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer