Joe Clark, The Inspiration Behind ‘Lean on Me’, Dead at 82

by Jamila Lizet White

December 30, 2020

Photo by Joe McNally/Getty Images

Joe Louis Clark, the New Jersey principal whose unconventional methods inspired the 1989 Morgan Freeman lead film Lean on Me, died at the age of 82 on Tuesday (Dec. 29) at his Florida home after a long battle with an unspecified illness, his family revealed in a statement.

Photo by Yvonne Hemsey/Liaison

From expelling 300 students for drug possession, vandalism, abuse towards teachers and peers to roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat — Clark’s efforts to improve the reputation of the school while challenging the students towards greater success did not go unnoticed.

In 1988, the former Eastside High School Paterson, N.J. principal appeared on the cover of Time magazine where he stood firmly by his brand of disciplinary methods stating, “Discipline is the ultimate tenet of education. Discipline establishes the format, the environment for academic achievement to occur.”

Although this newfound attention came with critics, many admired his unorthodox ways including President Ronald Reagan who offered the Georgia native a White House policy adviser position.

Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images

The NAACP Image award-winning film was loosely based on Clark and was released in 1989 — the same year he retired from Eastside and published “Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools.”

He later went on to serve as the director of a juvenile detention center in Newark, Essex County Detention House.

Preceded by his wife Gloria, Clark is survived by his children, Joetta, Hazel and JJ, and grandchildren, Talitha, Jorell and Hazel.

We’re keeping Joe Clark’s family in our prayers.

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