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Fund created in memory of Flint educator will support racial equality


Nat Burtley was Flint Schools' first black superintendent, from 1987-1994, then briefly retired. (Date shot: 1/18/2008) (The Flint Journal / Jane Hale)The Flint Journal

By Winter Keefer |

FLINT, MI -- A fund to increase racial equity and support the education and development of diverse leaders has been set up in memory of Flint Community Schools’ first black superintendent.

Nathel Burtley died of COVID-19 the morning of Monday, April 6 at Hurley Medical Center in Flint.

The Dr. Nathel Burtley Leadership and Racial Equity Fund has been established through the Community Foundation of Greater Flint in memory of Burtley who not only served as a Flint educator, but also helped head desegregation efforts at Grand Rapids Community Schools.

First black superintendent of Flint schools dies from coronavirus

Due to concerns of coronavirus transmission, Burtley’s family plans to hold a private burial service Thursday, April 16, said Nathel Burtley’s son, Chris. A public celebration of life will be held at a later time following the pandemic.

Instead of flowers or gifts, individuals looking to contribute to the family are asked to donate to the fund, which can be found on the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s website.

The longtime educator, father and Flint resident dedicated his life to bettering his community, Chris Burtley, said after his father’s death. He called him a man of integrity.

His father grew up before Brown v. Board of Education, Chris said, noting that desegregation issues continued into the 1970s and still persist today, well after the Supreme Court ruling. Nathel Burtley graduated high school in 1958. Even into college, his classes were segregated.

“That was a big part of his life," Chris Burtley said. "He didn’t have a white classmate until college. His mom couldn’t read or write and he grew up in a house with no electricity.”

Nathel Burtley’s first degree was in speech pathology, Chris said. His father overcame a stutter growing up.

His entire life was then dedicated to teaching kids that having less and facing obstacles does not translate to their ability to succeed, Chris said.

While many would shy away from urban districts that faced additional challenges and lacked resources, Chris said his father “relished” working for inner city schools because he saw himself in every kid.

“He knew the type of environments that those kids came from,” he said. “He understood what it was like growing up without a dad. He understood what it was like growing up with a parent who couldn’t help you with your homework. He understood what it was like to be hungry going to school. He knew those circumstances because he grew up in it.”