By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Richard Taylor didn’t intend to make history.
But when the Tupelo High School senior, who has been deaf his entire life, was elected student body president by his classmates, it was a significant moment.
“I wanted to make high school a little better for everyone,” Taylor said through Gloria Jarrell, who has been his sign-language interpreter with the Tupelo Public School District since he was a fourth-grader. “He wanted to help other people understand about deafness.”
Better known as “Richie,” Taylor has been active in the school’s student council since he was a freshman. The next year he decided he wanted to be president, but he knew he had to wait until his senior year to seek the office.
Mostly it was the chance to represent the school and serve the student body that appealed to him. But he is aware of the message he is able to send, particularly as an ambassador for other deaf students.
“I want other people to learn,” Taylor said through Jarrell. “For a long time, people have said deaf people are deaf and dumb. We are not dumb. We are smart. We have plans to go to college. Deaf people are just the same as hearing people.”
Tupelo’s student body also made a statement in electing Taylor and looking beyond his deafness. But, THS student council sponsor Amanda Inman said, the election was more about the respect Taylor had earned from classmates.
“Richie’s previous work and his hard work for our student government in the past is the reason he was elected,” she said. “It was not because students wanted to say they had a deaf president.”
Added Jarrell: “Richie is just Richie; his ears are broken. He is very smart. He’s always wanted to be treated as Richie.”
As student council president, Taylor leads meetings and organizes the club’s projects. He is responsible for welcoming the community to the Black History Program, helping on campus tours and generally representing the school.
It’s a perfect job for Taylor, those who know him say.
“Richie has a winning personality,” said THS math teacher Will Scott. “Whether he is deaf or not, his personality wins you over. He has a wonderful smile, and getting by is not good enough for him. He takes everything for perfection.”
Taylor has been involved in numerous clubs at THS. He also works part time at Nelson Animal Clinic and plans to attend Itawamba Community College and later go to Mississippi State University and apply for veterinarian school.
“I’ve always wanted Richie to have the same opportunities my two hearing children had, and he certainly has had that in the Tupelo school system,” said his mother, Randi Bishop. “Always, from day one, his personality was there. He has always had a very outgoing personality and loved people. His deafness never held him back from communicating.”