Allen Bernard Poole, former student activist who pressed for reform at Gratz High, 67

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Allen Bernard Poole

Allen Bernard Poole, 67, a former Philadelphian who was instrumental in reforming Simon Gratz High School in the 1960s, died Sunday, Nov. 20, at home in Cambria Heights, N.Y.

The cause of death was a sleep disorder, his family said.

As a student at the school, Mr. Poole was an early, relentless force for change at Gratz in North Philadelphia. He was not afraid to challenge wrongs he thought should be righted at the school.

When news reports circulated portraying Gratz as one of the city's lowest performing high schools, Mr. Poole, a football standout and student council leader, objected.

A group of students led by Mr. Poole, marched on the school district administrative offices, went on Georgie Woods' radio show, met with newspapers, and demanded change, recalled his sister Lorraine Poole-Naranjo.

"It was something he felt a deep commitment to, because the school was a reflection of who he was," his sister said. "If the school was mediocre, then he was mediocre; if the school was high-functioning, that was who he was."

The Philadelphia School District tried to persuade him to abandon the cause, and not deliver a speech to parents and supporters pointing out the wrongs. In return, administrators promised him a scholarship, his sister said.

"However, Allen's integrity and commitment would not allow him to do so. He gave his speech, to the dismay of the school administration, and as a result, positive changes were made," she said.

The school district appointed dynamic reformer Marcus Foster to become the school's new principal. Under him, academic standards were raised and "pride in the school replaced shame," his sister said.

Throughout the period of activism, Mr. Poole never failed to credit fellow students for the victory at Gratz. In 1966, he graduated from the high school with meritorious honors.

Born to Bessie Sydnor and Booker Thomas Poole, Sr., Mr. Poole was one of three children. He was reared on French Street in North Philadelphia, surrounded by a large, supportive neighborhood.

Though he was the youngest child on the block, he hung out with the "big boys," his sister said.

"Allen was everybody's friend," she said. "He was tall, and most thought he was older. Allen was always thoughtful, loyal, sincere and kind. He was a boy who loved playing half ball, skating, and Dead Man's block."

In his first experience away from his own neighborhood, he attended Gillespie Jr. High in Nicetown.

He loved dancing and could cut a rug "like a pro," his sister said. "Everyone wanted to party with Allen."

Mr. Poole majored in business at Hampton University in Virginia. He was known for his thick Afro and being a sharp dresser.

College life was a natural fit for Mr. Poole who excelled in academics and kept up a busy social life. He met Laverne Hall, and married her.

After graduating from Hampton in 1970, the couple moved to New York where he was a financial officer for Domino Foods, Inc. while attending Long Island University - Brooklyn. He earned a master of business administration, and then moved to Philadelphia, seeking job opportunities. While there, the couple's daughter was born.

After several years, the family moved back to New York. Mr. Poole became a chief financial officer for the New York City Urban Development Corporation and then the Harlem Urban Development Corp.

He worked for the Urban Technical Assistance Project at Columbia University, and later transferred to Columbia's office of government and community affairs and finally its department of communications.

Before retiring in 2014, Mr. Poole obtained a second master's degree in negotiation and conflict resolution. He put the degree to use by volunteering with Community Mediation Services, a branch of the New York court system.

A man of strong religious faith, Mr. Poole was a member of Brooks Memorial United Methodist Church in Jamaica, N.Y. He was known as the family's patriarch and sounding board - "a Mr. Reliable, and a kind, gentle voice of reason."

In addition to his sister and wife of 40 years, Mr. Poole is survived by a daughter Nicole Peters; brother Booker, Jr., seven nieces; and four nephews.

Services were Friday, Nov. 25.

bcook@phillynews.com

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