By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Retired educator, Margaret Zimmerman Beard likes to think of herself as a giver.
“We were raised to be givers, that’s how our parents raised us,” she said. “If I can give more than I can receive, I’m happy.”
Being raised as a giver is part of the reason Beard became an educator; the other is because she wanted to make a difference in the lives of students.
“I’ve had kids come up to me and say, ‘Mrs. Beard do you remember me? What you did for me changed my life,’” she said. “And it always touches me to see so many of them doing good and having got their education because I wanted them to know they could be more and they did.”
Even in retirement, Beard has found a way to give back.
Beard was elected president of the Jefferson County Education Retirees Association (JCERA) in May 2016. She joined JCERA, a unit of the Alabama Education Retirees Association (AERA), in 2013 after 51 years and 10 months with the Jefferson County School System. The association caters to the needs of education retirees.
Beard became Community Service Chair of JCERA in 2015 and in that position worked with YWCA, did senior care at University of Alabama at Birmingham West, and, during Retired Teachers Day read to students at different schools.
After serving as chair, Beard was elected president and is currently serving her second term.
Beard, 77, said she has always “I put God first. Life is wonderful and it’s such a blessing to be alive.”
Beard grew up in Dolomite, Alabama, where she currently lives. Beard lived with her mother and father, Charley and Adelaide Zimmerman and her five siblings.
Growing up, Beard’s father held many jobs including work in the mine, plumbing and barbering. She also said that her family owned a convenience store in her neighborhood.
“We were poor but we didn’t know we were poor, because we shared everything we had with everybody,” she said.
Beard grew up in the Jefferson County School System, attended schools in her neighborhood like Brighton High School where she graduated in 1957. From there she attended Miles College before leaving for Stillman College and graduating as president of her class in 1961.
Beard would eventually return to her alma mater, Brighton High School, which was still segregated.
“It was wonderful . . . because my students would go to Yale, go to Harvard, they would go to summer programs, go to Rutgers, they went to all of the big schools,” she said. “They would go to Tuskegee and Stillman. They didn’t just go to HBCUS, they went everywhere, because at that time the schools were looking for good minority students and my students went.”
Beard made sure her students not only graduated, but got accepted to college and completed their education. Very few of her students didn’t go to college after high school.
While working at Brighton, Beard was chosen by her assistant principal to undergo training to integrate schools. Once that was complete, she worked as a counselor at McAdory High School in 1969.
“At first they were like ‘who is this (n-word) coming up in here’ and I told them don’t come in my office with that,” she said. “Somebody taught you that hate, you didn’t learn that, but I told them don’t bring it into my office because I’m trying to help.”
Beard said one of her students went to work for Exxon while another now works for the airport.
Aside from work in the Jefferson County School system, Beard has also worked as director of a Teen Pregnancy Program and taught at Lawson State Community College and Jefferson State Community College.
Beard, who has one daughter, Ann-Maria Beard, is a life member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and a member of The Magic City (AL) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated.
This year, the JCERA was given the Unit of Excellence Award for its operations and programs. The organization also was also recognized for community service projects and received $209,095 for service hours completed.
Aside from her work with the JCERA, she gives her time and talent through charitable organizations, especially the Sickle Cell Foundation, United Negro College Fund and The Firehouse Shelter.
Anyone wishing to join the Jefferson County Education Retirees Association can call Ms. Beard at 205-914-2650.