This week we said goodbye to a local legend. Roger Corey of John F. Kennedy High and other schools succumbed to his battle with cancer sometime between Tuesday night and
Wednesday morning according to a family friend. The details surrounding his passing are not known at this time, but his presence and passing are surely felt.
“Mr. Corey.” I know that I am a grown man and all, but for some reason I still call this man “Mr. Corey.” When I would run into him after I had graduated high school, I would still refer to him as Mr. Corey even though he would correct me and tell me his name was Roger. I could never shake the Mr. Corey because this man was my teacher. Myself, my older brother, and the majority of my fellow JFK alum’s had the honor of having this man as our art teacher, some of us were even fortunate enough to have him for Saturday School and even drivers education. I was lucky enough to endure Mr. Corey in all of these capacities.
He was much more than a teacher to a lot us, however. His profession was educator, but what he stood for was so much more. A tall, loud, and outspoken man, Mr.Corey had no problem standing out in the crowded hallways on campus and giving you his opinion on any and everything. He had an eye for trouble makers, and was on a first and last name basis with the majority of his students and then some. I was one of the kids who was lucky enough for him to know me not just because he taught my brother years before he taught me, but also because he knew my mother.
Mr. Corey was probably most reputable for his few basic principles and standards that stayed consistent through out his career. Don’t talk when he talks. “If parents wanted their kids to listen to you instead of me, then you would be the teacher, so shut up when I am talking” he would say. Be on time. If you weren’t in your seat when the bell rang, you missed class for that day. Punctuality was key. Have respect for yourself. He would watch from his classroom religiously. Laying in wait for someone to act out so he could then tell them about themselves and help them in correcting the “jack-ass” behavior they were displaying. Lastly, no one was to mess with him. This included not listening, B-S-ing, and lying to him. He would jokingly tell us as students “I am a karate man” and that he killed Bruce Lee.
He sounds a bit rough, but anyone who went to JFK during his time there will tell you that we were a bit of a rough crowd. At a time when “expressing yourself” seemed to take precedence over a safe and productive learning environment, Mr. Corey knew that discipline and boundaries would have to be the saving grace of our generation. Everything
from gang activity and drugs, to sagging pants and skipping class, all of it fell under the umbrella of stupidity to him. If you were caught taking part in any of these things, he had no problem calling you stupid and he dared you to tell your parents.
He was hard on us, but behind his discipline and blunt outlook was a heart the size of this city. The hounding, the pushing, the insults even… all of it came from a good place. A place where he wanted to see kids go out there and make something of themselves. He would
always tell me “You may not like my rules Xavier’s brother but you will remember them and you will follow them. Nice doesn’t win wars and I already have too many friends”. I often wondered if he called me “Xavier’s brother” (Xavier is my older brother) because he knew it got to me, or because he knew I was capable of being the kind of student my older brother was. I guess I will never know now.
This was just a little insight as to what kind of man he was during my time with him. I am sure I speak for the majority of the students who had Mr. Corey when I say that he was instrumental in the shaping of our adult lives and how we practice discipline. His presence as an educator and mentor will forever be felt. He was the closest thing to a father that several of my friends will ever know. The world could use more men like him and it is sad to see you go. I know somewhere along the line I told you I would pay you back for a soda but I never got to it and I apologize. Thank you Mr. Corey, for all that you did.