Dr. Harold Cornelius Haizlip, the son of a Pullman porter and a civil servant in the nation’s capital, who rose to become an educational leader and author, died Jan. 31, 2018, in Oakland, Calif.
His death, peacefully asleep in his daughter’s home, was confirmed by his family. The cause was congestive heart failure. He had been ill for an extended period of time. He was 82.
Dr. Haizlip’s lifelong mission to encourage promise and create opportunity for children of whom others expected little was indelibly shaped by his own upbringing. The youngest son of Allen Haizlip and Nellie Mae Hill, Harold grew up in the Northeast Deanwood section of Washington, D.C. His father died when he was only 10 years old. Inspired by his working mother, Harold delivered newspapers to neighbors’ homes. His summers were spent picking tobacco, shoeless in the dusty red clay of his grandmother’s family compound in Stokesdale, a small, rural town in the northwestern corner of Guildford County, N.C.
Blessed with a robust, inquisitive zest for life and a childhood centered on family, church and education, Harold grew up determined to improve life not only for himself, but for others as well. As a youngster he attended Carver Elementary School and Browne Junior High School. He graduated valedictorian from the then-segregated Dunbar High School, which was acclaimed as the most academically elite school for black students in the nation’s capital and, by many accounts, the entire country. Harold knew that education would be his ticket. He enrolled at the prestigious Amherst College, ultimately graduating cum laude with a B.A. in Latin, Greek, and classical philology.
During his junior year at Amherst, Harold met the love of his life, Shirlee Taylor, the daughter of a prominent Baptist minister from Connecticut. Shirlee was a freshman at nearby Wellesley College. They initially went out on a study date, with an option to continue studying in the library if sparks didn’t fly. Instead they went for ice cream and stayed out well past curfew. As he recounts in the 1999 book co-authored with Shirlee, titled “In the Garden of Our Dreams: Memoirs of a Marriage,” Harold "didn't sleep more than 10 minutes all night. I relived our evening, minute by minute by minute, over and over and over. It was the best evening of my entire life. I loved her. No question about it. I loved her."
They were married on June 27, 1959, in Dwight Chapel at Yale University, with Shirlee’s father, the Rev. Julian A. Taylor, officiating. Thus, began a romance, which, as the New York Times reported on the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary celebration, “in a larger sense, paid tribute to the striving souls of black people.”
Following Amherst, Harold embarked on a distinguished and varied career as a teacher, educator, and director of foundations, private schools, education systems, community colleges and public-private coalitions. Selected as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, he earned his M.A. in classics and education and his Ed.D in education policy and management at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
During those years in Boston, Haizlip taught English and Latin at Wellesley High School and was assistant director of Harvard Newton Summer School. He became the education director of Action for Boston Community Development, a Ford Foundation-funded anti-poverty program. He subsequently was associate director of educational planning at Xerox Corporation’s Basic Systems.
From 1968 to 1971, Dr. Haizlip served as headmaster of the New Lincoln School in New York City, a private, experimental kindergarten through grade-12 school. New Lincoln was once the laboratory school for Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. “We had a lot of well-known people on the board,” Dr. Haizlip once said. “Elinor Gimbel of Gimbels Department Stores was chairman of the board. They had never had a black headmaster, they had fewer than 5 percent African-American students in the school, but I came along at a time when they were looking and had the right mix, perhaps in the wrong package but the right mix of what they were looking for.”
In 1968, Dr. Haizlip hosted an episode of SOUL!, a groundbreaking, Emmy Award-winning PBS Black Arts series known to many as the first “black Tonight Show,” which aired on WNET Channel Thirteen and was produced by his first cousin, broadcast pioneer Ellis Haizlip.
In 1971, Dr. Melvin H. Evans, the first popularly elected governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, appointed Dr. Haizlip as commissioner of Education for the multi-island territory in the Eastern Caribbean comprising of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. Harold and his family loved the island lifestyle, participating in Carnival with the Gypsy Troupe year after year. He later served as principal at the Ss. Peter and Paul School, the only private Roman Catholic high school on St. Thomas. He was the first non-Catholic, male head of this esteemed institution.
In 1979, Dr. Haizlip and his family moved back to Connecticut, where he commuted daily on Metro North to serve as vice president of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York.
After many fulfilling years on the east coast, Harold and his wife moved to Los Angeles in 1989. From 1996 to 2000, he served as the western region director of Communities in Schools, Inc. In that capacity he supervised support for minority education and training in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington.
In 2000, he served as executive director of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation of Los Angeles in Pasadena, Calif.
Despite more than 40 years as a teacher and education industry leader, Harold remained dissatisfied with the impact he was having on disadvantaged students whom he passionately believed had the potential and power to succeed.
“I became increasingly dissatisfied with my lack of success in opening doors for low-income students much like myself in my childhood,” Dr. Haizlip said. “I never thought about giving up on this goal.”
As a member of a commission formed after the 1994 Los Angeles riots to address the trauma that the events had inflicted on schoolchildren, Haizlip proposed a unique intervention program. He envisioned using art as therapy. Harold brought the previously inaccessible world of the arts into the lives of low-income students at underachieving L.A. elementary schools by introducing them to successful artists from their own communities. He also created a youth orchestra based on Los Angeles Philharmonic Director Gustavo Dudamel’s El Sistema Program in Venezuela.
In May 2003, Haizlip was appointed executive director and corporate consultant for LA’s BEST (Better Education for Students of Tomorrow) After School Arts Program (ASAP). It served 26,000 students at 180 schools every day at no cost to students or parents. During his seven-year tenure, he designed, sought and secured funding, and implemented artist residencies for roughly 50,000 lower-income students. For his inspiring work with LA’s Best, Haizlip was named a Purpose Prize fellow in 2008.
Recognized by the HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video and oral history collection, Dr. Haizlip often broke the color line as the “first black” in one role or another. He was one of only two black students in the Amherst College Class of 1957. At the time of his passing, he was the oldest living black Amherst alumnus. He was also one of the first black members of Amherst’s Phi Alpha Psi fraternity. Even more noteworthy, he was the first black board member of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He later served as chair of the Education Outreach Committee of the Southern California’s Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, as well as board member of Child Advocates for Children. Other influential positions included chair of the Multicultural Commission of the United States Environmental Protection Agency; board member of Harvey Mudd College; adviser to The Natural Guard; and board member of The New Visions Foundation of Santa Monica, Calif.
Harold remained active throughout his life, enjoying summers on Martha’s Vineyard with his family. He was an educational consultant and an inspiration to many, as an Aspen Institute Fellow, a member of the Xi Boule chapter of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, and a mentor to young and old alike through the Angel City Links Achiever Program of Los Angeles. He spent countless hours holding court in his preferred coffee shop, nicknamed “the office,” on Larchmont Boulevard. It was his favorite spot in the Hancock Park neighborhood near the Ebell of Los Angeles, his social club. Family members and friends remember Harold as an outspoken gentleman with a resonant voice made for radio and as a stylish dresser who, with his penchant for monogrammed French cuffs and dapper outfits, looked like he had stepped out of the cover of GQ Magazine.
Dr. Harold Haizlip is survived by his beloved wife of 58 years, Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, author of the best-selling memoir The Sweeter the Juice; two daughters, Deirdre Haizlip Celotto (Mario Celotto) and Melissa Haizlip Wildman (Don Wildman); brother, Allen Haizlip (Elnora Haizlip); one grandchild, Talia Celotto; two sisters-in-law, and multiple cousins, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Allen and Nellie, and his sister, Vira Haizlip.
Dr. Haizlip was laid to rest on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, Calif. A memorial will be held in Los Angeles in the spring.