“Milele Chikasa Anana means a rare and sparkling jewel bringing joy and laughter forever. And that also defines Milele,” said Dana Warren, a long-time friend of Anana and Delta Sigma Theta Inc. sorority sister. “[The name] evokes good memories and the image of a strong, competent, and caring woman.”
On Aug. 25, hundreds of students, faculty, community members, and Ms. Milele’s family joined together in celebration at the newly renamed Milele Chikasa Anana Elementary School — formerly Falk Elementary — to honor the school’s late namesake. The event took place in tandem with the school’s Back to School Night which featured a variety of kid’s activities and food.
This is the second recent Madison school renamed in honor of a Black Madison woman, after Glendale Elementary was renamed for Dr. Virginia Henderson last year.
“Ms. Milele herself described herself as a general ‘hellraiser’ because she was a force to be reckoned with,” said MMSD school board president Ali Muldrow.
And raise hell she did.
In 1974, when elected to the Madison School Board, Anana became one of the first Black elected officials in Wisconsin and spent nearly 30 years as the publisher and editor of UMOJA magazine. She also served as both Madison’s first Black affirmative action officer and as interim director of the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission.
“In a world that tells Black women to watch their tone and to know their place; In a world that tells Black women and girls to take disrespect on the chin and to stand up for everybody but themselves, she refused to be left out of the room, to be forgotten, to let this community talk about Black people instead of with Black people,” Muldrow continued.
“Black women would put so much work into their communities and fight back and be forgotten and all their progress was almost lost in that way,” said Nia Anana-Burris, Anana’s grandaughter. “And so remembering it is a way of commemorating it and showing younger Black women, Black children, Black little girls that they can do anything.”
Other officials and community members spoke at the renaming ceremony including YWCA Madison CEO Vanessa McDowell; MMSD’s first Black superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins; MMSD chiefs of schools Carletta Stanford; MMSD chief transformation officer Ennis Harvey; UMOJA magazine publisher and editor Yvette Craig; Delta Sigma Theta alumnae chapter president Soror Bobbie Briggs; and several of Anana’s family members such as daughters, Treater Prestine and Amani Latimer Burris and her cousin, Opal Lee.
After various remarks made by the above speakers, local artist Jerry Jordan unveiled his portrait of Anana. The event was brought to a close by a dance performance by the Limanya Drum and Dance Ensemble.
“As a young kid growing up, a young Black kid specifically, it was important that Ms. Milele honored every little thing that we did,” McDowell said. “She would put us in this magazine, called UMOJA magazine and she would make sure that she uplifted us as a community and showed our successes because so often we didn’t get to see that in our community.”
“She fought for good education for everyone,” said Burris. “More importantly, she knew the value of an education is grounded in positivity and a resourceful environment. It’s filled with encouragement and innovation. It’s rooted in the commitment to excellence and high expectations. High expectations. High expectations. “In order to do that, you need to complete these expectations with an absolute willingness to see and develop every diamond in the rough. Every diamond in the rough.”
Interim principal for Milele Chikasa Anana Elementary School Chelsea Prochnow further emphasized Burris’ statements in an interview with Madison365, assuring that the voices of Black and brown students, families, staff, and community members will be paramount as she takes on her new role as principal. Prochnow noted that she will be working “to ensure that [Anana’s] spirit and her advocacy work continues to live in our building, and that we’re truly providing an anti-racist education (and) learning environment for all of our students.
“I think education and high expectations are the root of transformative change…and I think that starts with the belief that all children can meet those expectations,” Prochnow continued. “So there has to start on the teacher side and the leader side to ensure that everybody is truly seeing the full potential of every child and ensuring they have those opportunities to meet those high expectations.”
“We have a responsibility to create a place where everyone is seen as a rare and sparkling jewel as a diamond, which brings laughter and the possibility to this world forever,” concluded Burris.