As a child, Willie Horton lived between 31st and 32nd Street and Imperial Avenue, eight blocks from the Club. In 1950, already a talented violinist (he began playing at the age of six and continues to play and perform today), Horton joined the Club because, as he recalls, “I wanted to learn how to swim. I asked my mother to please give me 50 cents so I could become a member.”
Horton enjoyed swimming and playing ping pong throughout his early teens at the Club during Joe Jacobs’ tenure as Executive Director. “Joe was tough, but fair. He knew all the boys by name. We respected him.”
His home life paralleled the Club in that his mother, Carrie Horton, expected a great deal from her son because she had high hopes for him. Horton reveals, “My father was a Chief Petty office in the Navy. He told me he would have achieved a much higher rank if he’d been the ‘right’ color. This was the reality at those times. But my violin proficiency opened doors of opportunity; people who heard me looked beyond my color. Education opened even more doors. My mother was PTA president at all three of my schools and made sure the teachers held me to the highest academic standards. The minute I walked in the door at home, she would say, ‘Sit down and do your school work.’”
Horton’s hard work, and his mother’s attentiveness, paid off. After graduating from SDSU with a degree in Education, Horton matriculated at UCLA’s Dental School for a time, then returned to his first love: education. He earned a Master’s in Biology and served as a teacher, vice principal and principal while amassing an array of teaching credentials and authoring scientific articles. He currently is an Adjunct Professor at National University and also instructs students at the San Diego Juvenile Court school. He has been widely recognized and much awarded as an education pioneer and has served on boards of several organizations, including the NAACP and San Diego Youth Symphony.
Having devoted his life to “bridging the gap between the Haves and Have-Nots,” Horton developed an innovative program that motivates students with behavioral issues to take responsibility for their actions and get back on track by adhering to core values.
Willie Horton says that hearing and meeting Martin Luther King in 1964 was a seminal moment. “Dr. King’s assertion that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ is something I took to heart as an educator.
To students whose destiny has been changed from a Have-Not to a Have thanks to this committed educator, Willie Horton is their role model.
Excerpt from our ""Against The Grain"" book.