Mrs. Starms has the honor of being the only living person after whom a Milwaukee Public School has been named. Three schools now claim her as namesake: Starms Early Childhood Center, Starms Monumental Baptist Early Childhood Center, which educates three, four and five year olds, and Starms Discovery Learning Center which educates our primary, intermediate and middle school students.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Frances Brock Starms graduated with honors from Spelman College. She continued her education at Atlanta University where she received a Master of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education. Her post-graduate work included scholarly research at the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Since her retirement as Director of the Milwaukee Public Schools Head Start program, Starms has not rested on her laurels. She continues to her fight as a strong advocate for the educational success of all children.
Starms is a prolific writer and she has received numerous awards and citations for them. She has been published in numerous local and national publications. Her poems recount and express the richness and enduring strength of the African-American heritage. Her collection of poems—Love Is Best—expresses the beauty and texture of that heritage and clearly communicates the title of her book.
Starms’ passion for education and writing have served Milwaukee’s community well, and we need only look at the buildings that bear her name or read her poems to be reminded how blessed we are for her legacy.
George Leon Wallace was a master storyteller. And, as founder of the People’s Theatre, he was able to practice his craft and follow his passion. Wallace served as the artistic and executive director of People’s Theatre in 1968. People’s Theatre was the only African American theatre in the State of Wisconsin.
Wallace was also able to practice creativity through his walking sticks, which he began making when he was young. He was known for using the walking sticks in his presentations to schoolchildren and other groups, thus gaining the unofficial title of the “Walking Stick Man.”
Wallace grew up in Milwaukee, attending St. Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal Church as a youth. He graduated from Lincoln High School and continued his education focusing on the performing arts and theatre at Wilson College, in Chicago, IL, also working at Hull House, where he was active in Chicago theater. During that time, he was also part of an entertainment unit that appeared on the “Ed Sullivan” show
After serving in the Army Wallace returned to Milwaukee in 1968, and was hired by Adolph Suppan, former dean of fine arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as an outreach consultant with the school.
Wallace’s dream was to create a true people’s theater. He began pursuing his dream with what he called “Studio Evenings.” He would organize dramatic presentations, including some of his own poetry and that of major writers such as Langston Hughes, in the homes of well-to-do patrons. Eventually, The People’s Theatre became a reality.
Wallace was instrumental in diversifying and enriching Milwaukee’s artistic community by introducing the voice of Milwaukee’s African Americans. He was a prolific playwright, whose successful productions included the direction of James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner” starring Claudia McNeil at the Pabst Theater.
For the remainder of his life, Wallace continued giving presentations at Milwaukee schools and libraries, and to prisoners. He loved coaching, producing and giving dramatic presentations. He last worked as a grant writer.
Wallace was recognized, posthumously, by the Historic African American Teachers (HAAT) of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) by naming their Historic African American Artistic Directors (HAAAD) Award for his artistic leadership and playwright talent.
Jestene McCord has always been a fighter. She fought for mentoring programs for Blacks who wanted to enter healthcare. She championed the cause of inclusivity—where she was determined to see people who looked like her in the healthcare industry. And, she worked tirelessly to promote healthcare as a viable and attractive career choice for people of color. Now she is fighting for another cause. She is determined that she will not succumb to Alzheimer’s disease without a fight.
McCord was born in Arkansas and moved to Milwaukee after high school. She attended Milwaukee Area Technical College and took courses to become a practical nurse. She later went on to graduate from Alverno College with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and she received a Master’s degree in healthcare administration from the Medical College of Wisconsin.
McCord started her career in nursing at St. Michael’s Hospital, where she trained and she retired from Aurora Health Care as director of medical nursing. She is most proud of the fact that during her career she was able to design and support a program for young people who were interested in careers in health. She adopted North Division High School as her major healthcare initiative and was able to pair young people who wanted to pursue careers in nursing, become doctors or technicians, with professionals in the field who would mentor them. McCord said that she always put money in her budget to support mentoring programs because she was determined to bring more Blacks into the healthcare industry.
McCord’s work in the community has not gone unnoticed. Recently her son took all her awards and hung them on a wall in her home to remind her of her many contributions to the community.
Though her memory is fading, McCord shared that she gets up each morning with purpose—resolved to keep her mind sharp, engage with people and remain active in the community for as long as she can. McCord took care of her mother and grandmother when they had Alzheimer’s. She insisted that they get out of bed, engage in the world and not succumb to the disease. Her medical background enabled her to understand how best to take care of them and now it helps her understand the importance of engaging in activities to keep her mind active. With fight and vigor she declares that she has the disease; it doesn’t have her.
Sadly at some point McCord may not remember how she lit up rooms with her smile. She may not be able recall the names of the many individuals whose careers she helped guide and launch. She may forget why she received some of awards her son recently hung on her wall, but Milwaukee will never forget Jestene McCord—a mentor, mother, friend, community activist and role model to so many.
November 18, 2015 //
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