HAATz Off to Pioneer Teachers of MPS Column
By Vicki Singh
According to a definition of a civic leader, can we say “Who has changed Milwaukee’s central city (our village) for the better”, may be the first criteria? Well, from HAAT’s perspective each one of the “Challenge Award” recipients fits the bill. They were the visionary recruits which have stepped up and now are institutions in our “village”.
Their names are synonymous with success, courage and determination. Like the pioneer teachers, we can point to them with pride and call them pioneers also.
Age and illness have provided them with some “challenges” yet at every function or event in our village, their names are prominently acknowledged. We only ask that you get to know them before their recognition luncheon on June 25, 2011. Many of you will agree, their contributions to the community, have made lives better in many different ways.
HAAT selected the number nine (9), which is the number closely associated with the Yoruba deity – Oya. She symbolizes change and a profound, drastic augmentation of circumstances. One could never mistake her presence as ordinary or the changes she makes, ordinary. Oya is the hurricane, thunder storm and the destroyer of “status quo”. She waits for the opportunity and “wow”, it hits you and her presence is undeniable. Oya has nine in her mythical pantheon to symbol many accomplishments better told as you “google” the Ife’ African religion of the ancient Yoruba, Benin and Nigerian people of West Africa.
HAAT is presenting the foundations on why these individuals were selected and how the spirit of change, wears with those affected by the change. HAAT wants you to see the feat at which one must survive the blows, yet persevere, to become a “change agent”. We want you to know Dr. Anthony Mensa, Beechie O. Brooks, Ralph Jefferson, Justine McCord, Willie White, Gwendolyn Jackson, Nathan Conyers, Robert (Bob)Thomas and the late Velma Coggs, our Challenge Award Honorees.
Their challenges were not always physical. Some had political challenges as they knocked down doors to put institutions in our community. Some had social challenges as they pulled the Black community forward, some “kicking and screaming”. Some had racial challenges because they were the “first” and others wanted to say “why her or him”? Some had academic challenges. Some were just a “town crier”- a pain in the neck, as some would say because they just didn’t do “injustice” well. The following is a glimpse at the honorees: Ralph Jefferson, retired with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the State of Wisconsin Health and Welfare Department in Madison, WI. With help from many others, he reformed the State’s means of dealing with the poor of humanity.
Whether government assistance to individuals and /or families, foster care, assisting in legislation, addressing the unequal treatment toward the elderly, the mentally ill and physically disabled, Jefferson was on the cutting edge of many of those landmark decisions. He knew how to build coalitions and extend a sense of dignity to those who had “fallen through the cracks”.
Nathan Conyers, co-founder of the Milwaukee Times, formally known as the Milwaukee Christian Times. He, Mrs. Louvenia Johnson and Luther Golden founded the Times, more than 26 years ago. Known for its annual Black History program, “The Black Excellence Awards” has garnered respect and admiration throughout the community.
Robert (Bob )Thomas known by many old-timers of Milwaukee as “Bobbie”. Thomas, Marquette University man of acclaim had leadership in his blood. His dad was a businessman who had the first drive up “hot dog and hamburger” restaurant on Teutonia, below Center Street. Did you know Robby’s Corn- Roast at Summerfest belongs to Bob?
Thomas made his mark with teens as the director of the Northside YMCA in the 50‘s and 60‘s. We all knew him as Mr. Thomas. He, along with Robert Starms and Lincoln Gaines moved Milwaukee Black teens in their own facility in 1966, on 12th and Garfield. Swimming pool and all, that facility marveled any facility in the white community. It was a place of pride and a symbol of a an “institution” with much promise.
Thomas continues to work today at the newspaper that his former wife Patricia founded 35 years ago, The Milwaukee Community Journal. He is an associate publisher of the weekly.
Willie White, a star athlete at Milwaukee Lincoln Jr. and Sr. High School was a person who was mentored by Bob Thomas. A Lincoln graduate of 1963, White attended Stout University and graduated. With degree in hand he landed a job with the Milwaukee Star, as a advertising sales manager. He worked for many years at Goodwill Industries in Chicago and Milwaukee.
A singer who sang in the key of “Eddie Hendricks of the Temps” vain, White, Sandra Moses and Ron Nevels all traveled around the south and mid-west in the 70’s, when work allowed singing their hearts out. White founded two schools for “at risk” teen before it was fashionable. The alternative school concept was just what he needed to clear a path, to successful school board members, like Mitchell, Mallory and Hardin. He also had a career training program for teens and adults, looking for apprenticeships in the building trades.
White was a candidate for Alderman and assisted Marlene Johnson Odom with newly funded groups, in the area of tourism and the arts. A businessman who formed “Upper Fond du Lac Business Association” became one of the leaders in establishing the Minority Chamber of Commerce in the 70’s.
Beechie O. Brooks, one of the founders of United Reality. Buying and selling property just wasn’t enough. He was the first real estate developer, who put a sub-division in the heart of the Black community, when it was said “Blacks would never build a home nor would they ever get financing for these homes”. Brooks made many friends in the real estate community and was a record sales person in Milwaukee. He made a name for himself along with Cheeks Reality and later Baldwin Reality, under Tom and Claude, respectively.
Brooks made a name for himself in the city as a philanthropist and a Christian and he has given tirelessly to many causes, especially educational scholarships.
Velma Coggs, who recently died was a artist and an innovator in community organizing. She paid her dues in the NAACP Youth Corp. Coggs worked at the Milwaukee Courier for many years, along with a long series of employment over 55 years. A graduate of Riverside, she went to college and stressed education to both of her children. Her daughter, Alderwoman Milele Coggs is a lawyer, and a UWMadison grad.
Velma had many successes and enjoyed the satisfaction of being a major player in the “community organizer” network. She supported groups like “Black Women Network and Welfare Rights Organizations- i.e. Welfare Warriors.
Dr. Anthony Mensa, from Ghana arrived with degrees in hand and chose to become a member of the faculty of University of Wisconsin. He soared because he “dared to dream”. He encouraged many Blacks to stay in Milwaukee and attend UWM. Dr. Mensa has received many honors. He has scholarships with his name attached. He has encouraged his students to complete their education and to pursue higher levels of degrees. A “Scholar of Letters”, Dr. Mensa traveled to his native Africa and became a champion of education to underprivileged students there also.
Dr. Mensa is also credited for establishing the “Right of Passage” program. Attended by males first and then females, this program followed a ancient tradition of “making young peoples accountable in the community” The art of traveling from “a boy to manhood” or from “a girl to womanhood” had strings attached, centering on the community and one’s personal character.
Justine McCord, we cannot say enough about McCord’s strength and courage as she faces her “challenge”. Notably, she has been on local tv sharing what her tough journey, for years to come. She was one of the first African American nurses in Milwaukee. A degreed registered nurse, McCord enjoyed a successful nursing career which took her through many disciplines in Pediatric, Ob- Gyn,and Internal Medicine. As a scrub nurse(surgical), a floor duty nurse, a charge nurse or a nursing instructor, McCord has been a credit to her race and to Black healthcare professionals all over Milwaukee County.
And finally, Gwendolyn Jackson, a woman of such monumental strength and courage with a “regal” nature. She worked as an accountant / bookkeeper for Brills Corporation for many years. Brills was a leading men’s clothing store in Milwaukee’s central city. After retirement, she became a professional volunteer, serving on many organizational boards & commissions. Her many contributions, have warranted a MPS school named in her honor.
Jackson has long been a champion of “the lost and the suffering” among us. For many years, she was the International President of the Red Cross, administrating services to the world’s needed.
She has served on the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Library Board, YWCA Board of Directors and finally, where she made her true “light” shine, was at the organization – Family Services of Milwaukee on Highland. This agency implemented programs and change policy on how a government entity or any other service provider, handle the concerns of the poor.
Now one can see why HAAT is doing what needed to be done a long time ago, honoring trailblazers. This is what the HAAT project is about.
All tickets for the “Challenge Awards” will be available on June 1,2011. Our RSVP date for the last luncheon, (#12 ) is June 5,2011. Tickets are $26.00 and $36.00 at the door. All tickets must be purchased at our offices – please call for an appointment (414) 551-2107.