(Part 2 of 3)
It was about 4th or 5th grade when I found out that Mrs. Cannon was a superhero. Yes, a super hero! She taught the “little kids” (i.e., 1st graders) and that in of itself was worthy of stardom in my book. She was the fiercest black woman I had met while attending Milwaukee’s Forest Home Avenue School. I remember that she wore dresses with colorful long and flowing scarves. She knew the answers to everything her presence alone brought with it positive energy. From posters of black ballerinas to the Kente cloth she kept draped over her desk – her classroom was black brilliance before we made it a hashtag.
Early in the school year she stopped me. She placed her hand on my shoulder and asked me if I’d like to be the classroom monitor for her class. For others, this may have been just a casual interaction, but for me it was like being invited into a grown folks’ conversation with black women you admire. I felt like I had made it in life at this point. I spent that school year reading books to her students about black girls who flew planes, black airmen, and even black folktales. The first time I spent recess with her class, I learned that she jumped double-dutch better than any girl in my neighborhood. She could pop pencils with the best of them and took no mess from anyone!
She was our superhero because she loved us. Looking back, I know she cared about us because of how much she poured into us. From the kind words she offered to each person who entered her classroom to the way she sought out students like me who at the time preferred to read alone then to be bothered with much else during recess. She created the space for us to thrive and build positive relationships with others.
Maybe we all won’t have a “Mrs. Cannon,” but it is definitely beautiful when we do.
It’s with joy that I share more words of kindness and advice from black women and the mother of a black woman with you.
Ronnicia Johnson-Walker, TOPS Program and Internship Manager at the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County
MADISON365: Congrats on your upcoming role with Milwaukee Public Schools! You’ve been a great asset to high school girls, especially the Delta Gems. What are your top 5 tips for black high school girls for a successful school year?
1. Be organized. Organize yourself in a manner that helps you. Use your calendars (physical and electronic), binders, pencil holders, etc. You don’t have to organize your supplies and assignments to “standard” opinion. Some people do better within organized chaos. Know what works for you, and use that system to plan for your success.
2. Make friends. Build a positive “Sister Circle.” As black women, it is important that you build each other up and support each other. This is not to say you should surround yourself with “yes women,” because your circle of friends must be able to constructively call each other out on wrongdoings. If you can’t be real with anyone else, you should be able to be real with your girls, your friends, your “sister circle” …which leads me to my next point…
3. Avoid drama. Or know how to deal with it. AVOID drama; leave that to Love and Hip Hop. The transition from summer to high school and the navigation into adulthood is hard enough without engaging in drama! Every statement nor glare, requires a response. Who cares what people are saying about you on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and their Group Chats? What others think about you isn’t your business! This is where your “sister circle” becomes important, this group of your peers is your support system through the dramatic moments. I am not saying there won’t be drama, but don’t create drama with an unnecessary response. Furthermore, when drama is brought to your front door, close it, and carry on spreading your fabulous #blackgirlsmagic throughout your high school hallways.
4. Be an advocate for yourself. No one will love you, like you (besides your mama and your higher power, ha!). You must always believe in yourself. There will be plenty of moments where no one will believe in you but YOU. Speak up for yourself! This includes in the classroom, within your friendships and relationships.
5. Know your “end goal” and maintain focus. Set small check-in points for yourself throughout the schoolyear. Celebrate the small victories! Celebrate that B in Biology! Celebrate fundraising enough money for the BSU HBCU Spring Break trip! All of these smaller victories may be a part of your ultimate “end goal,” high school completion and beyond.
Overall, enjoy the school year!!
Marquayla Ellison, Owner, Ellastic Designs, LLC
MADISON365: Quay, you’re really active in Milwaukee’s social scene, especially in creating opportunities for young professionals. I’m excited about what’s to come from you in the next year! What are three things you’d tell your middle school self if you had the chance?
1. This is the best time to figure out who you are and where you want to be. You should be figuring out what you really like to do, and how you can get better, and learn more about it. For example, I haven’t always wanted to be a graphic designer: I wanted to be an artist, in middle school I wanted to study architecture, then in college I switched to graphic design after my sophomore year. Middle school and high school are the best times to plant as many seeds as possible for your future. Join clubs, find people with similar talents, or soak up knowledge from those who you aspire to be.
2. Focus on what really matters, your education. Boys, gossip, and friend drama never ends. So make sure the books remain your priority over it all.
3. Don’t rush life. I remember wanting to work really bad, learn how to drive, get my own room, have my own cell phone… Don’t rush adulthood. It coming for you one way or another (lol). Make memories and take your time.
Hedi Rudd, Manager, First Impressions at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center
MADISON365: Hedi, you’ve been such an integral part of Madison’s vibrant Southside that there aren’t many people who haven’t benefited from your work.
I remember that you completed the Odyssey program. What advice do you have for other adult community members on going back to school and reaching for new goals?
HR: My daughter, who is a single mother of two, holds two jobs and starts back to school this year. She also graduated from the UW Odyssey Project and has had to start and stop school many times. I have seen her going back and forth on whether she can do it, but it is only when she is actually doing it that she feels good about her future. Working as a CNA and Special Education Assistant with MMSD, she knows that those jobs are not the key to her future, but they are critical to her reaching her goals. Education is the key and she is setting the example for her sons and others who are watching her.
I think that programs like Odyssey offer a support network and access to resources that make the journey a little easier and possible. My advice is to not wait, but look for ways to make it happen. If you don’t have family support, look to friends and co-workers and once you get in class you may find others who are in your situation to lean on. Also it is never too late! I myself have to get back on that train to complete my own educational journey, but for now, supporting my partner, daughter and son who are all in college is just as important.
LeAndrea Vernon, Outreach & Recruitment Management Specialist, UW-Madison
MADISON365: I absolutely enjoy your morning posts of you and your daughter off to a new day. What tips can you give to parents of elementary age girls about helping their daughters to build a healthy self-image?
LV: Helping young girls discover their identity can be a lot of fun. With my second grader Lillian, there is a lot of listening on my end and asking open ended questions when it comes to things she likes about herself. For example, she might be really excited about a new shirt she has, so I’ll ask her what she likes about her shirt and how it makes her feel.
We also have morning photoshoots, where I ask her to take a photo of me and let me take one of her. During these photo sessions, I let her pick her favorite photo and ask her, why she chose the photo and what she likes about it. I try to encourage her to focus on things about herself, such as how the photo makes her feel, and how she feels about the photo she chose.
I also begun using positive affirmations with her and let her use a mirror to say them to herself. It’s cute watching her say things to herself in the mirror like “I am beautiful”, “I love my wiggly tooth” and things she likes about herself. Building a positive self-image for our daughters starts with us as parents just encouraging our daughters to look at themselves and find all the things they love.