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Dr. Pressey was born on February 18, 1961 in Bamberg, SC. She was the middle child of a family of eight boys and girls. Doretha began her educational journey at Denmark Olar Elementary, Middle, and High Schools before going on to Voorhees College where she earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in History, Education, and Educational Policy and an Associate’s Degree (A.A.) in Criminal Justice. She went on to earn a Master’s degree (M.A.) from American International College in Educational Administration, and a Certificate of Advance Graduate Study (CAGS) as an Education Supervisor. In 1997, Doretha earned a Doctoral Degree (Ed.D.) in Education, Policy, Research, and Administration from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She was the first in her family to attain this high level of educational success and, as a result of the inimitable confidence, courage, faith, and tenacity she displayed while getting her education, she was a role model that taught her daughters, nieces, nephews, and indeed all those who had the privilege of knowing her that “All things are possible with God.”  

Doretha believed that great teachers must love teaching and, because of this belief, she dedicated her entire professional career to serving and improving the lives of children and young people through education. She began her career as a teacher’s aide in Denmark and she went on to work as a high school History teacher in Springfield, MA. Doretha had the most incredible ability to connect with her students by delivering innovative and fun lessons while also offering a shoulder to cry on whenever they needed her love. Because of her incredible innovation, compassionate style of discipline, and ability to connect with all of her students, Dr. Pressey was quickly elevated to the level of assistant principal and was one of the youngest women in Springfield Public School’s history to be promoted to that position.

After leaving Springfield, Dr. Pressey began her career in higher education as a much-loved and sought after Professor of Education at Morgan State University. In addition to Morgan, she also held teaching positions at Chestnut Hill College, Mt. Holyoke University, Cambridge College, and Montgomery Community College.

Doretha was a firm believer that every child, rich and poor, deserves the best opportunity and ample support to achieve their dreams. This was one of the central tenets of Dr. Pressey’s philosophy of education which inspired her to establish and serve as the Founder and Director of STOP: The Support Teen Outreach Program, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping at-risk youth, underserved families, and communities in need. Southern Scholars Initiative is an extension of this organization.

Even with her incredibly impressive career, what Doretha is undoubtedly best known for is her profoundly generous and giving spirit. One of her greatest joys was helping others in any way that she could. Whenever she encountered someone in need, she would drop everything and do whatever she could to be a loving, comforting, and supportive presence. Whether that meant fellowshipping or praying with and for them, offering a wise word of advice, or driving across the country, her friends and family always knew that Doretha would show up and be there whenever they needed her. Undoubtedly, the most fortunate beneficiaries of Dr. Pressey’s loving and generous nature were her husband and three daughters. As she diligently climbed the ladder of career success, Dr. Pressey refused to allow her home life to suffer and instead always made her family her highest priority. Because of this, it is without question that Dr. Pressey’s greatest achievement was becoming the heartbeat of her family as a phenomenal wife and mother who was and always will be cherished and beloved.  Dr. Pressey passed away unexpectedly in 2018.  Her family established the Southern Scholars Initiative in her honor.

Dr. Pressey’s personal and professional success would not have been possible without the unwavering support and guidance of her dear mother, Clara Mae Coleman, whom she loved dearly.



Clara Mae Coleman was born on April 12, 1933 in Govan, South Carolina. During her early years, Clara was enrolled in the Olar-Govan School System. Unfortunately, because of family obligations, Clara was forced to withdraw from school during her high school years. As an adult, she relocated to Denmark, SC with her husband and settled there to raise her family. While her eight children were in school, Clara studied fiercely to be a nurse’s assistant in Bamberg County while also working at the Bamberg County Manufacturing Company as a seamstress. She was also an active member of the Sweet Branch Baptist Church where she served as the head of the Usher Board for many many years.
In addition to her family and church responsibilities, Clara was also very active in her community. She truly loved Denmark, and though she traveled frequently to visit with her children and grandchildren who eventually relocated to cities all across the country, she was always eager to return to her friends and many volunteer and community service commitments at home. Clara was an Eastern Star, and she embedded a spirit of political activism in her family by volunteering to support voter registration drives and spent a great deal of her time at polling stations for a number of local and national elections. She was also a long-time supporter of the Denmark-Olar School District where all of her children were educated; serving as a crossing guard, a booster for the district's athletics department, and a cheerful and inspiring volunteer in the classrooms of each of the district’s three campuses.
Because Ms. Coleman did not have the opportunity to complete high school she came to fiercely value education. To her, education was not only a clear path to security and success, but it was also a precious gift that could never be taken away once it was earned.  It is for this reason that she unceasingly encouraged her daughter, Doretha and indeed all of her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the numerous children and young people she encountered in Denmark and everywhere she traveled to “work hard in school, go to college, and get a good education.”

Mrs. Coleman passed away in 2018, shortly after she lost her beloved daughter, Doretha.  Her family established the Clara Mae Coleman Technical Award, one of the Southern Scholars Initiative's signature programs, in her honor.

To hear the Pressey family discuss the lives and legacies of these two incredible women please click here.

Mrs. Coleman
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