The African-American Teaching Fellows — a group that works to increase the diversity of local educators — hosted its fifth annual John E. Baker Legacy dinner Friday.

More than 250 people gathered at Farmington Country Club to pay tribute to Baker’s community service, to recognize those following in his footsteps and to help fulfill his vision for recruiting young African-American teachers to Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

The featured speaker was another prominent Virginian and trailblazer.

In 1983, at the age of 32, John Charles Thomas became both the youngest ever and the first African-American jurist on the Virginia Supreme Court.

“It is so important to build upon John Baker’s legacy to recruit and retain African-American educators,” said Thomas. “One of the things I like most about his vision is that he sought to inspire young people to be all they can be.”

John E. Baker (1932-2005) was the first African-American elected to the Albemarle School Board and he served as its chairman during 1998-1999. The county’s Baker-Butler Elementary School is named in his honor.

Baker was one of the founders of the African-American Teaching Fellows in 2004. The program recruits teaching candidates who receive a $5,000 scholarship per year in return for agreeing to teach in either Charlottesville or Albemarle public schools.

“He wanted to help everyone in the community move forward and realize their potential,” said his wife, Marie Baker. “Tonight he would be pleased at the progress we have made towards diversity.”

Thirty-two fellows have completed the AATF professional development program over the past decade and 13 of them currently are teaching in local schools.

The annual dinner serves as a fundraiser for the scholarship program and recognizes community members who exemplify Baker’s legacy.

Albemarle schools Superintendent Pam Moran received the Baker Legacy Award. Moran said the honor really belongs to all the people in the room who have helped recruit and retain teachers who reflect the diversity in the community.

“He wanted to help everyone in the community move forward and realize their potential.”

Marie Coles Baker

“John Baker was a man of principle, and when he found a problem, he wanted to solve it,” Moran said in an interview. “When he found this gap in our workforce, he and others went about solving it. We are making his dream a reality for these young teachers.”

Former Charlottesville City Councilor Holly Edwards was recognized with the Baker Community Education Award, which honors an African-American educator who has created “a love of learning in students of all abilities and backgrounds.”

Edwards works for the Jefferson Area Board for Aging in nursing clinics in Westhaven and Crescent Halls, two of Charlottesville’s public-housing sites.

“The person we honor tonight … is the essence of community,” said Colette Blount, a member of the Charlottesville School Board. “Holly is all about keeping it local. Her impact is one that keeps on giving.”

Edwards shared a special memory of Baker — a time when he came to introduce public speaking skills to students in public housing.

“I remember Mr. Baker as being warm and welcoming and treating each public housing resident as if they were all star students,” Edwards said. “He introduced them to the importance of public speaking … and long before it became a national mantra, he knew that ‘Black Lives Matter.’”

Two former Baker-Butler students — Teddy Cross and Amy McDonald, now both sixth-graders at Sutherland Middle School — were recognized as this year’s Baker-Butler Scholars. 

“Because of the high standards of both John Baker and James Butler, the school honors two students who excelled the entire time they were attending Baker-Butler,” said Enid Krieger, the dinner’s mistress of ceremonies.

They were joined on stage by Muhammad Nazeer, an eighth grader at Jack Jouett Middle School, who volunteered to help with the evening’s program because he wanted to learn more about John Baker.

For more information, visit