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Jerome Byrd Named 2022 Sycamore Distinguished Alumni

jerome byrdA Sycamore High School alumni, current staff member, and community servant has been selected as the 2022 Distinguished Alumni. 

Mr. Jerome Byrd graduated from Sycamore High School in 1976. He has served as a local pastor for over three decades as well as on the custodial staff at Sycamore Schools. He is the district’s first African American Distinguished Alumni. 

HAVING AN IMPACT

It’s a typical Wednesday afternoon at Sycamore Junior High School. Students are piling into the cafeteria for walking tacos, hamburgers, and bosco sticks. The hustle and bustle inside matches the construction happening just outside the windows. It’s noisy and chaotic, yet it all works like a well oiled machine. In the midst of the crowd, Mr. Byrd is doing double duty: cleaning off tables and checking in on a few of his young friends. He is intentional with his outreach, engaging students who may seem lonely or need a friend. 

“You don’t know what a smile and friendly gesture can mean to someone who is struggling,” said Mr. Byrd. “I try to engage students in conversation so they see that somebody does care about them and knows who they are. You don’t know the impact you have, only eternity will tell.”

When Mr. Byrd heard there was a custodial position opening at his alma mater eight years ago, he jumped on the chance to come back to the place that impacted him so much as a child in the hopes of having a similar impact on young lives. He started as a substitute custodian in 2014, before being hired full time later that year. Since then, he has spent countless hours engaging with kids during his service at both Sycamore Junior High and Sycamore High School. And it’s not just students who he has impacted. 

“Some of the most wonderful people are the ones who don’t fit into boxes,” said Becky Taylor, Sycamore Junior High Custodial Supervisor. “Jerome is truly unique and an inspiration to all who know him. I will always cherish his wisdom, humor, and our friendship.”

“I am always a better man after each encounter with Jerome. He always helps me to be a better person,” said Chad Husting, Sycamore High School Chemistry teacher. “He is an incredible human being, friend, and role model for students. The world is a better place because of Jerome Byrd.”

REMEMBERING THE SYCAMORE YEARS

jerome byrd 1976 photoThe construction happening on the junior high campus takes Mr. Byrd back to his days as a young Aviator.When he graduated in 1976, the high school had only been open for two years. During his freshman and sophomore years, he attended high school at what is now Sycamore Junior High, and the old Maple Dale Elementary. He remembers those days fondly. 

“It was such a joy and privilege to have grown up and been part of such a rich heritage in this community,” said Byrd. “I really hope that students today take the time to consider just how blessed we are to have such a great educational atmosphere.”

Mr. Byrd was the class president his sophomore and senior years. He also played football. 

“I have certainly enjoyed the opportunity to come back and think about what it was like when I used to be here years and years ago. It’s interesting to see how so much has changed and yet how so much still has not.”

Growing up as an African American male during the 1960s and 1970s had its challenges. But despite civil unrest across the nation, Mr. Byrd says it didn’t spill over as much into the classroom as perhaps in other areas of the country.

“By and large I felt like we were treated fairly by the faculty and administration,” said Byrd. 

Some of those staff members and administrators have become lifelong friends for Mr. Byrd. He recalls all those who helped him along the way: from Mr. Imhoff on the football field to Mr. Henke in the administrative office to his teachers Mr. McCormick and Mrs. Crumpler, who encouraged him to go to college.

“Growing up, it was something that wasn’t emphasized in my family because my parents didn’t go to college,” said Byrd. “But I will never forget she pulled me aside and encouraged me to take that next step. And I am thankful that I did.”

A CALL TO SERVE

In 1976, Mr. Byrd attended Raymond Walters College (now UC Blue Ash) before transferring to the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). He graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor's degree in Urban Administration/Urban Studies. He had always felt called to ministry but thought it was something he might pursue later in life. It was the encouragement again from his science teacher, Mrs. Crumpler, that pushed him to attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky where he received his Master’s of Divinity. During that time, Mr. Byrd began inner city missionary work. He spent 10 weeks doing ministry work in the city of St. Louis.

“When I look back on that experience, it impacted my life in so many ways. It was an incredible life changing experience,” said Mr. Byrd. “It taught me the philosophy that I continue to share with others, ‘The only time you should look down on a person is when you’re picking them up.’”

Mr. Byrd moved back to the Cincinnati area in 1987 and opened Good News Baptist Church in Mt. Healthy with the help of Mrs. Crumpler’s husband, who served as the pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. Byrd and four other seminary students held their first worship service at Rex Ralph Elementary School in June 1987. It would be another decade before they opened up their first church building in Colerain Township.

“Being able to have positive experiences doesn’t mean it is always going to be easy. You have to be able to persevere through things and let go of negative feelings and not let hurt overcome you.”

Three decades later, his church is supporting other churches who need help and his congregation has grown to over 200 strong. Mr. Byrd continues outreach to the inner city, currently serving as a transition coach for homeless men in downtown Cincinnati. 

“One of my philosophies is hurt plus hope equals joy. We have to give others hope,” said Byrd. “We have to use things and love people. It’s not the other way around. You can make someone else’s life better by not being so focused on yourself but others and show love to people in simple ways.”

Mr. Byrd and his late wife Carolyn showed their love by opening their home to nearly 100 foster children. The couple adopted five children and had three of their own. He is now the proud grandfather of one, soon to be two, grandchildren.

Mr. Byrd intends to share a message about hope and helping others when he speaks to the graduating Sycamore Class of 2022 during their commencement ceremony on May 29. 

“I am greatly humbled to be selected,” said Byrd. “I am certainly thankful my light has shined enough that others have seen it and decided to bestow this honor to me.”

Mr. Byrd will also be honored at the Distinguished Alumni luncheon at the Original Montgomery Inn on May 21. Ticket information can be found here.