How I Found My Love for Cass Tech

here Did Our Love Go" was a big hit for Motown legend Diana Ross, who graduated from a prestigious Detroit high school: Cass Technical High School. It's also something I used to wonder a few years back when that school, which I also attended, was being torn down.

My grandmother, Estherline Johnston, was the first in our family to graduate from Cass High (before it become Cass Technical High), back in 1924. She died 10 years later, never seeing that almost all of her descendants would also go to Cass.

Because I never met my grandmother, I never knew anything about her except her name. I never saw pictures or anything else to verify her existence; all I knew is that she went to Cass between 1920 and 1930. So when I went on a quest to find her, I found her senior class photo at the old Cass Tech. For the first time in my life, I was able to match a name with a face.

The staff allowed me to take copies of the photo, and I was able to share it with three generations of Estherline's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom are Cass Tech alumni.

Recently, the Cass Tech Alumni Association celebrated its centennial anniversary. I jumped at a chance to participate. I know my family's blood runs green and white, and that this would be more than a celebration. It was a chance to celebrate my family's legacy in a school we loved like no other. After all, we've attended Cass from 1924 through 2014.


I graduated from Cass in 1971. When I told my fellow Technicians about our family's story, people were amazed-especially when they saw my grandmother's class photo from 1924, or when I told them how I sold Tootsie Roll pops for 10 cents each to get lunch money.

In my days there, Cass offered her a more diverse setting not always seen in many American urban neighborhoods. I made friends from several different backgrounds; we had 900 in our graduating class. My relatives that attended Cass-two brothers, my granddaughters and some of my cousins-had similar experiences. And thanks to a Cass Tech education, they have grown up to be ministers, doctors, engineers and film producers. The most recent Cass grad from our family currently plays football at the University of Buffalo.

When the old Cass Tech was torn down, I-and thousands of others-was heartbroken. Surely, I thought, something could have been done to save it. It was like tearing down my childhood home. My family memories were behind those walls. Their identities were encased behind those doors. Every other day I’d pass it by, watching it crumble section by section. Where did the love go?

I would learn that the love didn't go anywhere. It would just manifest in the new Cass Tech built next door. The old Cass would live on through its students, like my cousins and granddaughters and thousands of students to come.

Today, our alumni association remains one of the most active in the city, with pancake breakfasts, mixers and other social events every month. Cass was not just a building but a labor of love of students, teachers, parents and a community. No bulldozer could every haul that away. Cass Tech will live forever.


Denise Ford is a mother of three, a grandmother of 13 and a great-grandmother of one. She heads a nonprofit, Saving Our Kids, and is completing her studies at Wayne State University.

Facebook Comments



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here