By Johnnie Grant
At first sight, Eric Howard (“Big E”) could be intimidating. But up close and personal he is engaging and entrenched with a deep sense of purpose.
His passion is helping youth realize their academic dreams of success. “This is an obtainable goal, so we must commit to support our youth and their families,” he told the Urban News.
Eric and his siblings Tracy and Donovon were born in Homestead, Florida to Johnny and Nita Howard, a career military family. His early education was in Hawaii public schools; later he attended Department of Defense Schools in England. He was a good student academically, and he also lettered in football and track and field.
“When I wasn’t in class or out on the football field, I spent time in the library reading encyclopedias and day-dreaming about being one of the notables whose life would be chronicled in an encyclopedia for something great one day,” he told us.
Eric graduated from high school in Dalzell, South Carolina and began Georgia Military College as a cadet and college football player. Once he completed GMC, he received a football scholarship to play at Livingstone College and Gardner Webb University. His goal was to be a teacher in the field of special education. However, when football season was over, Eric learned that he was going to be a father.
Putting his education on the back burner, Eric left college to work and support his family. “I had a variety of jobs during those early years, from working as a bouncer in nightclubs to being a bodyguard and bar-tending. I even repossessed furniture for rent to-own companies. It didn’t take me long to realize that this wasn’t the life I wanted for myself, or my family. It was a very tough time,” said Eric.
It was also the time when Eric and his wife Nycole were determined to obtain their college degrees at Mars Hill College. “Nycole completed a B.A. in History, and I received a Bachelor’s in Social Work,” Eric said with a confident smile.
When asked about his greatest mentor and academic advocate, Eric said, “There was no greater influence on my academic career or my understanding of Social Work than Professor Julia A. Nooe. She remains my mentor, and to this day and I still seek her guidance. Ms. Nooe encouraged me to get a Master’s degree, explaining to the importance of a black male presence in the field of social work and mental health. The moment I received my Hood in my University of South Carolina graduation ceremony, I realized that we could not be stopped, and as a family we could accomplish anything together. I appreciate all the encouragement Julia Nooe gave to my family and this community.”
Eric and Nycole supported each other through college, and his wife has also achieved her dream; she is now practicing law in Yancey County. Eric is enrolled at East Tennessee State University working toward a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.
“Dr. Gordon Grant inspired me to earn my doctorate,” said Eric. “He is also a mentor and best friend.”
Eric praises the amazing team of educators, students, and support staff within Asheville City Schools. “I was able to bring more partnerships and resources than ever before in the school’s history, and have had the privilege of working with people who truly care about the students they served,” said Eric.
Eric’s life lessons and message of encouragement for others? “Please strive to teach children as well as those around us that social justice and fair treatment of ALL people is the most important value that individuals and societies can possess.”