To possess sound judgment or common sense; to have a clear understanding of a situation.
Creating community, restoring community, and positively impacting communities have been a huge part of my life’s commitment. My family was part of the Great Migration. The elders instilled in us that moving “up North” was synonymous with increasing educational and employment opportunities for ourselves and others, that we would have to work hard for every gain. Nothing would be easy, and we would be judged harshly for any missteps. But, despite the uncharted waters, we had a rich legacy to build on that would guide us to successful lives. Success was not defined by financial gain but by commitment and responsibility to family, God, and others. Now in my life, in the midst of a pandemic, a recent event offered me a chance to assess whether or not my lived experiences line up with my intended direction. And if that direction was uplifting.
Recently, Pastor Shannon Dotson Sweet invited me to an event, Women of Royalty Celebrating TrailblazHERS, to recognize women for their impact and contributions to the community. Her church is dedicated to positively impacting the community, using multiple tools to educate, inform, and help others move in an upward direction. During the late eighties, my adopted community, Battle Creek, Michigan, was amid the resegregation of public education, although we did not clearly understand the phenomena. The hype words were “schools of choice,” “neighborhood schools” and “magnet schools.” During the sixties, significant numbers of Black teachers from HBCUs were either promoted to administrative positions, retired, or pursued other employment opportunities. The public schools hired primarily white educators to teach an overwhelmingly Black and poor student population. Parents were disillusioned enough to enroll their children in these alternative programs.
The Southwestern Michigan Urban League, in partnership with Battle Creek Public Schools and Western Michigan University, created a pipeline program to increase the numbers of African American students enrolling in and graduating from the WMU College of Education and hopefully choosing to teach in the Battle Creek Public Schools. We called it Future Force. Black children needed to see teachers who looked like them, lived and worshipped in their communities, and could connect them with their rich heritage.
Shannon Sweet was part of that first Future Force cohort. She participated in monthly activities at the Urban League, received tutoring from current Battle Creek Public Schools teachers, and participated in annual campus trips to WMU from middle school until she graduated high school in 1995. Because of the students’ preparation and academic prowess, the majority of student participants received had multiple options for college. In addition, they received scholarships to various universities because of their outstanding grades and test scores.
Although they chose multiple universities to continue their education, the majority of Future Force participants graduated from college with advanced degrees. Some eventually became K-12 and college educators, counselors, and administrators. However, some other students decided education was not their calling and pursued careers in business and social services.
Over the next twenty years, the aims of the program have changed to include more disadvantaged students as well as students who choose to pursue career opportunities outside of education. Nevertheless, it is still a powerful resource for educating and supporting high school students at a time when they can improve their grades and focus on future opportunities.
As I reflected on the recognition and the accolades for the other honorees, our collective actions have brought about advances and positive changes in education, medicine, community services, and business. Each of us was able to see our career direction more clearly by looking backward, reflecting on the paths taken, the unexpected successes and failures, course corrections, and the paths avoided. Each honoree had left an imprint on the community leading to greater viability and improvements. The future of the community looks brighter because each woman honored chose to “lookup” and used her talents and education consistently over a period of time until changes occurred within the community.
Upward mobility, community engagement, and community uplift were phrases that guided my life during the turbulence of a segregated world of the fifties and sixties. “The Crisis” Magazine of the NAACP and “Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life published by the National Urban League. Both organizations have dedicated their efforts to economic empowerment, equality, and social justice. And these issues must continue to be at the forefront of our efforts to determine “which way is up.” No single endeavor will result in the changes we aspire to see.
All I can say is, “thank the Lord, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey.”
Dr. Joyce A. Brown
Dr. Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens.