Education was the only way out of a life of mediocrity and limited possibilities. Robert Shy has banked his career on education. Growing up in public housing, Shy admitted there wasn’t much emphasis on formal education. Most of his mentoring came from outside the confines of Anderson Court from people that changed his life, then and now.
Shy isn’t ‘shy’ about sharing his story. He was a kid that grew up in poverty. Graduating with honors from high school, he created an opportunity that many weren’t afforded. Upon receiving his diploma, Shy left Paducah with dreams of a better life and endless prospects. Fast-forward, 31 years later, Shy’s back home, only this time, to change the lives of others.
“I was a poor black kid from the projects when I was growing up but yet one of the smartest students in school. The last time my mother saw my report card was when I was in the second grade,” said Shy.
It was mentors like Florence Morton, Christine Harvey, Olivia Burr, Brenda Murray and ‘countless others’ said Shy that supported and guided him in his youth.
At the time Shy graduated from high school, Morton was Dean of Students at PTHS. It wasn’t until 1989 that Morton was promoted to principal. Sister Harvey was the wife of W. G. Harvey, Sr., a local pastor at New Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church. Olivia Burr was a social worker for Paducah City Schools and the site manager of Anderson Court at the time Shy grew up. Brenda Murray was a member of Harrison Street Missionary Baptist Church and the mother of another PTHS student, Alethea Murray. All of these nurturing and caring women were in Shy’s life for a purpose and that purpose was to see him ‘shine’.
Shy said, “My high school years were some of the best of my life. There are a lot of memories, though some are fading.” He was in student council, on the staff of The Tilghman Bell, and a basketball player. After receiving multiple academic scholarships, Shy accepted a full-ride to Southern University of Baton Rouge, Louisiana majoring in English.
Promotions and career moves carried his family to several different states before moving back to his hometown in 2014. After college, Shy took a job in Atlanta, Georgia for the endless opportunities available in a larger city. After Atlanta, he moved to Biloxi, Mississippi. Shy was in Biloxi when Hurricane Katrina hit. He said, “Katrina devastated Biloxi” so the family moved to Texas.
When Shy’s youngest daughter graduated high school, he was ready to come back home. After all, family was waiting. Two of his siblings and multiple cousins that lived in Paducah were ready to see Shy’s sparkling smile and appreciate his positive attitude for more than just the occasional visit.
Every three years or so, Shy made it back home for visits, mainly to attend the Eighth of August Celebration. When Shy visited, he would catch-up with friends and relatives still living at Anderson Court. Shy reminisced about growing up in the projects and said it was like one big family. “The other people that lived there were like cousins or extended family. We looked out for each other and I believe I still owe a few people sugar or eggs that I borrowed 40 years ago and never paid back.”
Shy said things have changed quite a bit in Paducah. Aesthetically, the Anderson Court buildings are nicer and there’s more landscaping, but the sense of pride and drive to commit to education are different. He said, “Growing up, many of us held each other accountable, academically.” Again, another reason to come home to change lives.
In 2007, Shy founded the Future Christian Leaders of America while living in Texas. Upon moving back to Paducah, they reorganized and became 3E Leadership Academy. During the 2019 - 2020 academic school year, the organization served Paducah and Hopkinsville. Beginning January 2021, the organization will expand into Fulton and Hickman Counties.
The goal of the academy, “is to increase the academic level of students in Paducah and surrounding areas. The focus is to help students prepare for college or any post-secondary educational institutions.” said Shy. The organization has helped hundreds of students secure over 20 million dollars in scholarships. Students have careers as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, teachers, engineers, professional jobs that were realized with the help of mentors and the 3E Leadership Academy.
“Education is my passion because I feel that’s the best way a person can change not only their future but the future of generations to come.” said Shy “My mother was the single parent of six and the year I graduated high school, she received her GED. I was more happy for her than for myself.”
For students that don’t have parents that push education, getting ahead can be tough. Public schools tend to gravitate toward students with higher testing scores and parents that are wealthy or connected. Meanwhile, the average student gets left behind.
Shy said, “Many of the schools in our area are great for smart students and students from families that will hold their school systems accountable and are involved in their children’s education. If you’re in honors and advanced placement classes, you’ll get a top-notch education. For everyone else, it’s a disaster including African-American, Hispanic, and poor white students. Taking general education classes only will make it tough to excel, even on the community college level.”
In addition to founding the youth development organization, Shy was appointed by the Mayor and City Commissioners to serve on the Paducah Human Rights Commission. The board consists of five representative citizens that serve in an advisory capacity to city leaders. As Shy enters into his third year as an appointed commissioner, his interest in city government and the disadvantaged has only intensified.
After moving back to Paducah six years ago, Shy said, “I went to the library and read every comprehensive plan going back to the late 60’s. Certain neighborhoods have never been in the plan to improve the city other than to demolish them.” Shy started thinking, how can I help to change lives.
Shy said, “many public housing projects have been torn down or in the case of Anderson Court, downsized over the years.” As Shy advocated for basic human rights for Paducah residents, his passion broadened to include underserved areas of the community. He began thinking about broken neighborhoods and how they could be restored and revitalized. Shy said, “There are grants available to rehabilitate those neighborhoods and homes that are dilapidated and unsafe to occupy.
Shy started to see the big picture. “The Third and Fourth Street loop has shut the south side off from many people travelling from the mall and other areas of town. People haven’t travelled ‘the heart’ of the city in over 20 years. South Sixth and Bridge Streets were once bustling with business but many have closed because traffic was diverted to the loop.” stated Shy.
Shy said that because Paducah elects commissioners based on an at-large election, commissioners don’t always represent certain districts. He believes the city should be divided into wards (part of his experience living in Louisiana). The commissioners that represented the south side of town would live in the area of the people they represent. Shy said, “I’ve always been able to make a difference in people’s lives and my community.” And Shy’s goal, win or lose, is still the same...to change lives.
This passion to change lives has challenged Shy to be one of eight candidates to run in November’s election for an elected position on the Paducah Board of Commissioners. Shy said he's challenged himself in two other races while living in other cities. He narrowly lost both races. Shy said, “Whether or not I win the city commission race, I’ll continue to work in this community to give people the same opportunities I received. I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn’t for people like me.”