Peggy Pickens: Celebrating the Past and Looking to the Future of KHS

As we celebrate 40 years of Kingwood High School this year, we look back on the students, faculty, and administration that have impacted our community and school. There are many individuals who were foundational in the origins of Kingwood High School and its beginnings, and these individuals all made incredible contributions to the Kingwood community and the students at KHS. One especially notable KHS counselor is Mrs. Peggy Pickens, who worked at KHS for 15 years and is well known and loved by many in Kingwood today. I received the opportunity and honor to speak with Mrs. Pickens and gain insight into her experience as a KHS counselor. 

Mrs. Pickens: “I was there for 15 years, and all 15 of those years, I was a counselor. I was a counselor in ‘87, my first year there, for A through Q, the 10th graders. When they graduated in 1990, Mr. Wells, who was the principal at that time, decided that he wanted us to be by alphabet so we could work with families. He changed me, since I was graduating my class, and I got the beginning of the alphabet, so I was the counselor for the A through Cs from that point on. When I finished, I was A through Car, so I was the beginning of the alphabet. My role was a counselor the whole time I was there until I retired May, 2002. It was a great place to be. Some of my best years in the education field were at Kingwood High School. Quite honestly, in many ways my blood still runs blue. All three of my children graduated from Kingwood, so I have a bond there. I just can’t say too much good about Mr. Wells and the way he bonded with me and my family; it was just absolutely fabulous. He was an icon, and as far as I’m concerned, he still is an icon in this community. He touched the lives of many, many people. I will always have the highest degree of respect for him. There had not been a lot of African Americans working at Kingwood High School or in the district, and for me to be in Kingwood as a counselor was a first. Nobody was ever outrightly ugly, but as I look back, there were little things that happened, and at the time, I didn’t see them, but God slowly took the scales off my eyes and I could see. But He protected me, He did. All glory to God, because my 15 years there were 15 of the best years of my life, they really were. I just worked with good people; it was a good place to be. I would not trade it for anything. Every once in a while the registrar, in the counseling office, would get a call, and people would ask, “How many blacks are in the school?” and would indicate that they didn’t want the black counselor, but we would laugh about it. I worked with a very good group of people. We were just one family.”

Mrs. Pickens has lived a very fruitful life and has touched the lives of so many former Kingwood students and community members through her position, and people who know her know that her wisdom and encouragement is highly relevant and valuable for individuals to hear. Mrs. Pickens continues to leave her mark in the Kingwood community daily as a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, bible-study teacher, and friend to many of all ages daily. My family has been fortunate to be on the receiving end of her wisdom daily from the first moment we walked into our church community. I decided to reach back to few of her older students and her church community to hear from others on Mrs. Pickens continued impact after retirement. 

“Mrs. Pickens was, in fact, my counselor. She has this amazing ability to be firm, yet kind at the same time. I was a very frustrating teenager, and she would meet with me often to determine what I wanted to do upon graduation. I was always very dismissive and, pretty much, was like “whatever.” Then there was this one day that I will never, ever forget.  She stood up, firmly landed her hands on her desk, leaned over towards me and said (very firmly and loudly) “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE, SUNSHINE?” Everytime I think about that, and see the memory in my mind, I instantly light up smiling. She had tried and tried to reach me, and I was so dismissive; but at that time, she got my attention! lol!!! She helped me plan my future. I owe her a lot. No matter how much I acted like I didn’t care, I think she knew I did…she just had to figure out how to “reach” me. As an adult, I have more respect for her than I can possibly express.  When I see her, my soul feels at peace. During her time at Covenant Preparatory School, she would say things to me, as if she just knew what was going on in my life. She has wisdom beyond measure, a love for God that everyone should have, a kindness in her soul that touches everyone around her. I’ve never met anyone like Mrs. Pickens, and it’s people like her that make this world a better place. I wish everyone could meet her because she impacts all she meets, in the most positive way imaginable. I admire her, and I always have.” – Sunshine Fraley, KHS Alumni and Kingwood community member

In the KHS class of ’93 a talented, outgoing, and involved young man committed suicide. That day is a day that no one of the class of ’93, ’94, and ’95 will ever forget.  This next story is from a KHS alumni who was close to this student.

“What can you say about a woman that eased your pain during the darkest week of your young life? It was 1990 and my best friend committed suicide. We were all lost, adults and students alike. I had every counselor and youth minister in town trying to ‘counsel’ me. I had nothing to say. I didn’t know what to say or think. I was called down to her office. I thought, “Here we go again with someone trying to help,” knowing there was nothing anyone could possibly say that would help. I don’t even remember how she did it, but before I knew it, I was talking. Sharing with her what was bothering me the most about this horrible situation. After listening to me for who knows how long, she responded with two sentences. That’s all it took. Two sentences, and I was changed. Not healed, of course. But able to move forward and heal. That’s a gift. That’s a calling. And I will forever be thankful to have had her in my life when I needed her the most.” – Charlynn Grace, KHS Alumni

“I have known Peggy Pickens for more than 20 years. Two words come to mind when I think of Peggy – Godliness and Consistency. Peggy is a very godly woman. She consistently lives out her faith both privately and publicly. She is an amazing woman whom I count as one of my closest friends.” – Pastor Mark Terry, Second Baptist Church – Kingwood

This past February was Black History Month, so I asked Mrs. Pickens, as a woman of color, about her early life without any sort of Black History celebration and how she believes Black History Month should be celebrated and meaningful today. 

Mrs. Pickens: “In the time that I grew up, there was hardcore segregation. I mean, blacks just didn’t go to school with whites and certainly didn’t live in the same neighborhood, but that was just the way it was and was accepted until the movement began with Rosa Parks and the spark of the movement for equality for blacks. But before that, it was just accepted, and we had history, but it wasn’t black history. We learned about Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver in school, but I don’t think there was any thought given to a Black History Month, and that didn’t come along until there was the move to make us more relevant and to let people know that we were more than slaves and that we can be more than what was done to our ancestors when they were brought over from Africa. That we could be more than people just working in the field. The purpose of the month is to make people aware of who we are, where we’ve come from, what we’ve overcome, and where we want to go, and I think it’s good. But before then, I don’t think much thought was given to it. I have to thank Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, and all that they started and did to get us where we are now as far as having the ability to go to school anywhere as long as we can get in, live anywhere as long as we can afford to, and to have the opportunities both educationally and professionally that we have. It all started with them. Before then, it was just something we accepted. I would like to see, in Black History Month, most definitely, a celebration of the many leaders that we’ve had in our race that have overcome the obstacles that they were presented with, and I would just like to see more celebration of those leaders. Yes, we do need to look at the past, but we also need to focus on the future more than the past. And the future is education, the future is hard work, the future is working very hard towards the goal that each one of us has for our children, our grandchildren, and that needs to be taught in the home, that they can do anything they want to do with hard work, studying, good education, drive, and motivation. The fact that we were once enslaved should be a motivating factor for them to pull themselves up and move forward and to not look back but look forward.”

We can all look to Mrs. Peggy Pickens and her life, work, and vision to see the importance of what serving your community means and the necessity of looking to the future. Mrs Pickens continues to work tirelessly in her retirement teaching small children and adults daily. She will always be a counselor at heart giving you advice at every encounter she has with you. I am thankful to be a life student of Mrs. Pickens.