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Nathel Burtley

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The first black superintendent to serve Flint, Michigan, schools, who also helped desegregation efforts in Grand Rapids, has died as a result of the coronavirus, his son told BuzzFeed News. Nathel Burtley, who died a week before his 80th birthday, first became sick in early March and was hospitalized on March 20. He died on April 6, after nearly three weeks in the hospital. Burtley grew up in Cairo, Illinois — the southernmost tip of the state — at a time when schools were still segregated, his son Chris Burtley told BuzzFeed News. "He grew up in an era where, in a small town, there was a black high school and a white high school," Chris Burtley said. "That was the era. ... The black school had black teachers; the white school had white teachers." Nathel Burtley, who was raised alongside five siblings by a single mother, was championed by a number of his teachers, who didn't treat him like "just another poor kid," Chris Burtley said. He had a stutter growing up, leading him to later pursue a college degree in speech pathology from Southern Illinois University. Nathel Burtley dedicated his career to teaching and empowering students, the same way his teachers had advocated for him growing up, his son said.