The Power of an Educator
to be successful as adults and pursuit in post-secondary education."
For Camyle Hughes, she did not have any Black teachers in high school while attending Edgewood, but she credits Mrs. Bernard and Mrs.
Odom, who taught at Leopold Elementary, as being "strong Black women who wanted to inspire and develop other strong black women." For
the brief time she spent at West High School, she recognized Joe Thomas as a counselor who "created spaces for minority students to feel
safe, included and inspired to contribute to their school/community and their futures."
JoAnne Brown, a homegrown educator in the city, and the subject of this month's YP Spotlight, is certainly of the same cloth as these
educational giants. Being an educator is more than collecting a paycheck for her; Brown shows concern for her students' educational
wellbeing and development as a person.
Q: Where were you born and what brought you to Madison if you are not from here.
A: I was born in London. My mom was in nursing school there. My dad was in school here. So, she moved to Madison to be with him. I have
lived here all my life, with the exception of when I went to college.
Q: What is an interesting fact about you that most people do not know?
A: I did not like my dark skin until I went to college. I had a complex about being dark-skinned.
Q: Some Black women and girls are conditioned to feel that way because society paints a narrow picture of what beauty looks like. What did
you do to overcome this perception of yourself?
A: The crazy thing about it was that it was my own Black peers who made me feel this way. I didn't get ridiculed for being Black or being
African from my White peers. It was the kids in my neighborhood that used to jump me. They called me African booty scratcher and all these
other names because we were African and everyone else in our neighborhood who was Black identified as African American for the most
part. So, I began to believe that the darker I was than everyone else, the uglier I was. This began to change for me when I went to college.
Although I did not go to a historically Black college, I went to a diverse college. I got involved with Greek life and a whole different spectrum. I
felt a connection between myself and my people, so I just embraced it.
Q: You described being involved in Greek life. Are you part of a sorority?
A: I am sweetheart for Iota Phi Theta. I am also a member of the Order of Eastern Star.
Q: What you are doing professionally in the workforce?
A: I work for Madison Metropolitan School District. My role is as multicultural services coordinator at Memorial High School. That was actually
my dream job when I was in high school. I had some key women like Tracy Stafford, Rosalyn Greer, and Michelle Olson who were in those
roles. I just loved to watch them in their roles, as wives, mothers and community members and I said I want to be like them. When I was
graduating, I told Rosalyn to watch out because I was coming back for her job. Years later, it’s a reality. Mainly, I support African American
students, but also all students of color and other underrepresented students. I help guide them through their high school career and prepare
them for college, trades and to be global citizens.
When students start a club, they can reach out to me to be their advisor. Among other clubs, I support the Black Student Union, Queens of
Distinction, Minority Student Achievement Network, which supports students of color to eradicate the achievement gap, the Kappa League,
which is a national organization, and AP potential group that supports students preparing and taking AP classes.
Q: You just recently celebrated your seventh anniversary as a staff member of Memorial High School. What have been the most satisfying
aspects of the work you do at Memorial?
A: Every year I say that it's going to be my last year. I say that because I am ready for a transition but it's the kids. I want to make sure that they
graduate and that they have a plan. Around this time of year, I am always asking my seniors, what's your plan? I don't want them to graduate
and still be in Madison doing nothing. Whether they go to UW-Madison, Edgewood, Madison College or an out of state school, it doesn't matter
to me as long as they go somewhere. They can pick up a trade or an apprenticeship, as long as they are doing something productive. What
breaks my heart is when I turn on the news and I see one of our former students being arrested for a robbery or something else. I think what
did we do to fail that child to not be ready for society and the responsibilities of being an adult? This is what motivates me to stay.
Q: Our community has been challenged with an uptick of crimes committed by youth, particularly an increase in stolen vehicles with children
as young as eleven allegedly being involved. How do we engage our youth and steer them from this type of behavior?
A: Recently, we held a community forum called SODAS (Saving our Daughters and Sons). It was with members of our Black Student Union,
one of principals, parents, and community members and leaders to talk about the issues facing African American youth. We had a pretty good
turn-out. One of the things that came out of it is that we are doing action planning. Pastor Marcus Allen immediately called me after the forum to
meet with our kids. He wanted to talk with them about what adults could do. That was one of the things that resonated from our forum: what
could adults do to help protect our Black boys and girls.
Pastor Allen brought some men from his church to meet with our boys. They had an open and honest conversation and the students said that
what would keep them out of trouble was gainful employment. They wanted jobs. They wanted to feel connected to something. They talked
about Kappa League and how they liked to feel a part of something and providing that space was something that we needed to do, not just
having a Boys & Girls Club, but giving them a sense of identity. I am part of the Kappa League. I am an AVID student. For teenagers that is key.
When our kids have lost their way, or gotten into trouble and society has given up on them, they may move toward gangs or negative activities
with people in the same predicament because that is who accepts them.
Q: I hope that our community rallies together to advocate for the resources we need to achieve those positive outcomes for our youth.
A: Yes. The other big issue is our girls and that is even worse. The sex trafficking trade in Madison is so high, especially on our West-side
with our girls. With the upcoming Super Bowl, my fear is that we are going to have a lot of girls going to Minnesota to entertain fans and players
and it's just heartbreaking.
Q: You are in the thick of this due to your close interactions with students. But for many of us in the community, we may be oblivious to the
problem. What can we do as community members to mobilize on this issue facing our girls?
A: We just need people to be present. Our kids spend approximately 70 percent of their day at school. There are some great women that work
there, but they don't see people like you or enough people like me. I can count on my hand how many Black women we have on staff. They
don't see Black women who have made significant strides and accomplishments. Therefore, their bar is set low and their self-worth is set
low. They may come from situations where they are not being loved at home because mom has been hurt too and the cycle continues.
So just being a presence in the school and coming to talk about careers and being indirect mentors for our girls is beneficial. Someone like
Lilada Gee has always been a gem by coming in and speaking her truth and allowing these girls to see that just because something bad
happened to you when you were a child doesn't mean that you have to grow into it and have it stick with you.
Q: That is truly powerful. What is your proudest accomplishment as a young professional in our community?
A: When I see my students graduate and go to college. When a student comes back and tells me that they are so glad that I pushed her or him,
encouraged her or him, and took him or her to this college, I truly see how the person's life has changed.
Q: What advice would you give to young professionals of color that are new to Madison?
A: Stay focused. Stay out of the drama, you will be fine. Associate with people who are on the same mission as you. When you do climb, reach
back and pull up others. Because there are just some who don't have the opportunity for someone to show them another way. Stay connected.
Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of your work and civic activities?
A: I enjoy going to my daughter's basketball games and being a mentor for current and former students. I had a former student seek advice
from me. I was flattered because I did not think we had a tight connection when he was at school but he said he always appreciated the
support I gave him while he was there and that I truly cared about him. That's why I stay supporting and mentoring kids even outside of work.
That is special. Not everyone has the gift to connect with young people in such a purposeful way. Thank you for being such an extraordinary
role model for our students.
Authors Note: The role of educators can sometimes feel like a thankless job. Many former students and parents who were consulted for this
article wished to thank or acknowledge a host of African American educators that have positively impacted students in Madison: Lois Bell,
Mrs. Bernard, Michelle Borleske, Sandra Brown, Mrs. Buchanan, Lee Calloway, Nancy Evans, Rosalyn Greer, Mr. Hamer, Ed Holmes, Mazie
Jenkins, Tenia Jenkins, Katie Jones, Mrs. Lovett, Mr. Moore, Mrs. Odom, Michelle Olson, Kendra Parks, Gilbert Richardson, Vera Scott, Karen
Seno, Carolyn Stanford Taylor, Joe Thomas, Richard Thomas, Tracy Thomas-Stafford, Corey Thompson and Phil Watters.
Nia Trammell is a professional in the legal field.
Not all educators are cut from the same cloth. The truly exceptional ones recognize that apart from a
child's parents or guardian, they play a most pivotal role in building the character of children and
guiding their life-long aspirations and trajectory. Regardless of the students' gender, race, ethnicity,
disability and orientation, the greatest educators serve as mentors, role models, motivators and as
a source of inspiration to the students they are in daily contact. They are the ones that become
legendary — their students continue to talk about their imprint even after they have graduated and
they fondly remember how that principal, teacher, counselor, coordinator or aide changed their life
in a profound way.
The Greater Madison area is home to numerous exemplary African American educators, past and
present. Deputy mayor of Madison, Gloria Reyes, who grew up in Madison, recently reflected on
educators and mentors like Milton McPike, Richard Scott and Ed Holmes, who influenced her as a
high school student. "I would not be where I am today if it were not for them. Mr. McPike was a huge
influence for me and many other students of color. Mr. Scott never gave up on me telling me over
and over that it was not too late for me. He was persistent and led by example," said Reyes.
Monica Hale, also a long time Madisonian, echoed Reyes. She remembers McPike, Scott and Katie
Jones for their "knowledge, consistency, innovation in education, their personal approach. They
were the first Black leaders I was exposed to in MMSD. They were consistently encouraging, kept
us in check, inspired through stories and many analogies and gave us life lessons that we could use