Alumna Toni Draper named School of Education graduation speaker

Publisher of the AFRO, pastor, business and community leader, returns to her alma mater to bring inspiration to the graduating class

The Johns Hopkins School of Education has announced that the Rev. Dr. Frances "Toni" Murphy Draper, the CEO and publisher of the AFRO American Newspapers, will deliver the keynote address at this year's school graduation ceremony, Tuesday, May 23, at 7 p.m. on Homewood Field—almost 50 years to the day after receiving her master's degree from the School of Education.

Rev. Dr. Frances

Image caption: Rev. Dr. Frances "Toni" Murphy Draper

Image credit: Courtesy of the AFRO

A lifelong Baltimorean, Draper earned her Master of Science in education at Johns Hopkins in 1973, following in the footsteps of her mother, the late Frances L. Murphy, who earned the same degree. Draper also holds a bachelor's degree in Spanish language education from Morgan State University, advanced degrees in business administration (University of Baltimore) and pastoral counseling (Loyola College, now Loyola University Maryland), and a doctorate in ministry (United Theological Seminary). From 2002 until 2022, Draper was pastor of Freedom Temple AME Zion Church in South Baltimore.

"Johns Hopkins was instrumental in my career," says Draper, who applied her newly minted degree teaching in Baltimore City Public Schools. "My master's degree in education formalized and enriched what I was already was doing in the classroom and made me a complete teacher."

Through publishing, the pulpit, and the classroom, Draper has parlayed her skills into a position of leadership in the Baltimore community through a unique commitment to giving back and continuous education. She served as vice chair of the Morgan State University board of regents and is chair of the board of the AFRO American Newspapers. She also served on the boards of the United Way of Central Maryland, Loyola University Maryland, and the Y of Central Maryland, and was the vice chair of Baltimore's Literacy Foundation. She has been named among Maryland's Top 100 Women three times by the Daily Record and has been enshrined in their Circle of Excellence.

The AFRO American Newspaper—better known as The AFRO—was founded by Draper's great-grandfather, John Henry Murphy, in 1892, when he bought the name and a printing press from a group of local pastors for $200. "They were better pastors than they were printers, but my great-grandfather turned it into a lasting institution," Draper says. The AFRO has been in Draper's family ever since.

The worlds of publishing, preaching, boardrooms, and classrooms are not so far removed from one another as would first appear, Draper says, and her seemingly eclectic background coalesces in a personality of uncommon force and community impact.

"These endeavors in business, church, and in publishing, and that of education are really based in the same skills. All are about teaching, yes, but also about motivating, about leading, about communicating and about inspiring others. Mostly, it's about caring," Draper says when asked to explain how all her diverse interests have shaped her life. "If you can lead a room of seventh and eighth graders, you can lead anywhere."

On that point—caring—Draper is most forceful. Above all, teachers must be role models and aware that the things they say are only half of an incredible power they possess to reach young people and shape complete human beings ready for the world.

In many ways, Draper says she is still learning the same lessons of 50 years ago. Every word and every action—everything one does—are seen and heard by someone desperate for examples of how to live a good and full life. Educators must never forget they are role models, she says.

"Kids need stability. They need educators who care," Draper says. "I'm just hoping to be an inspiration to the graduating class the way I hope they will be to their students. Follow your passions. Make the most of your skills and your time. And never forget: Character is important. I can't teach you something I'm not trying to live myself."