Alumna pays tribute to Sarah Ella Wilson’s struggles and triumphs

Tiana Philips, Vice Principal of Belmont Community School

On June 1, members of the community gathered at Belmont Street School for the unveiling of the Sarah Ella Wilson portrait. In a moving address, Vice Principal Tiana Phillips ‘06, who led the effort to restore the portrait, honored Sarah’s life and legacy. Here are remarks:

Today, we gather here to honor a remarkable individual who has left an indelible mark on the lives of countless students. It is my privilege to stand before you to speak about and pay tribute to the extraordinary life and contributions of Sarah Ella Wilson—a long-time educator, a beacon of inspiration, and a shining example of what one can achieve through dedication and determination.

Born in a time of great adversity, Sarah Ella Wilson’s journey began under the weight of the legacy of slavery. Her parents George and Elizabeth Wilson were born into slavery in Virginia. After the war they married and moved to Worcester with the help of abolitionist Sarah and Lucy Chase. The Chase sisters mentored young Sarah, teaching her the piano and taking her on trips.

Having been born in a time of segregation Sarah faced numerous challenges and hurdles throughout her life. However, Sarah refused to be defined by her circumstances. Instead, she emerged as a shining example of resilience, determination, and the power of education to transform lives. From an early age, Sarah recognized the transformative potential of learning, both for herself and for others. With a passion for knowledge, she sought to rise above the
challenges of her past and forge a path towards a brighter future.

Against all odds, Sarah Ella Wilson pursued her education with unwavering dedication. She understood that education was not just a means to personal advancement but a powerful tool for uplifting entire communities. Armed with knowledge and a profound understanding of the struggles faced by those around her, she set out to become an educator—a beacon of hope for the young minds in Worcester.

Sarah Ella Wilson’s impact was felt most profoundly at Belmont Street School. Where she taught first grade for 49 years. It has been said that within all that time of teaching she only missed one day. Within those halls, she dedicated her life to shaping the lives of generations of students. Day after day, she poured her heart and soul into the classroom, instilling a love for learning and inspiring her students to reach for the stars. Through her teaching, she opened doors of opportunity for countless children who may have otherwise been denied access to the joys of education. It’s been said , Sarah who never married- often joked that “she was married to her school.”

But Sarah Ella Wilson’s influence extended far beyond the classroom walls. She was a mentor, a role model, and a friend to many.  An active clubwoman. She was a member of the Worcester Women’s Progressive Club, and vice-president of the Home for Aged Colored People. She was active in the local Negro Women’s Club, and the Worcester Inter-Racial Council, as well as the local NAACP chapter. She was treasurer of the Northeastern Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, for twenty-five years, and chaired the NACW scholarship committee. She was also an active member in her church.

Her wisdom, compassion, and unwavering support made her a beloved figure in the community. Countless lives were touched by her guiding hand, and she helped pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable society.

Today, as we celebrate the life and legacy of Sarah Ella Wilson, let us remember the struggles she faced and the triumphs she achieved. Let us honor her memory by rededicating ourselves to the cause of education and the pursuit of equality. Let us commit to building a society where every child, regardless of their background, has access to quality education and the opportunity to realize their fullest potential.

Sarah Ella Wilson’s journey reminds us that no obstacle is insurmountable, no dream too big, and no legacy too small. Her remarkable story is a testament to the power of education, the strength of the human spirit, and the enduring capacity to create change. May her legacy continue to inspire generations to come and serve as a reminder of the limitless possibilities that lie within each and every one of us.