It’s amazing what can be done when the gauntlet is thrown down, challenging someone to do something difficult.
Case in point: In 2009, retired Milwaukee Public School teacher Vicki Singh helped facilitate an interview between a reporter with the city’s daily newspaper and 86-year-old John Outlaw, a retired MPS teacher who travels daily from Milwaukee to Racine to substitute teach in that city’s public schools, something he’s done for 22 years (six of those years with perfect attendance) after teaching 30-plus years in MPS.
The interview is published on the daily’s front page—with pictures—on the same day the nation remembers the tragedy of September 11.
The story earns Outlaw a number of accolades and awards for his continued service to children and the profession of teaching.
The Outlaw profile earns Singh a phone call from none other than “The Connector,” community activist, civic leader and historian Reuben Harpole.
He asks Singh, “What are you going to do to acknowledge the rest of the pioneers in teaching?” Harpole begins listing some of the other Black Milwaukee teaching pioneers who are still living in Milwaukee or other states and how they positively impacted education and taught many of yesterdays and today’s Black movers and shakers.
The gauntlet had been thrown down, and by the paramount chief of Milwaukee’s African American community no less.
So what does Singh do? She picks up the gauntlet and accepts Harpole’s challenge. After doing a little “homework,” Singh establishes a list of some 163 former Black teachers and administrators (school board or principals)—with as many as 144 still living—that stretches from the 1930s to the 1970s.
From there the Historic African American Teachers (HAAT) of MPS is born. HAAT is the vehicle Singh and a committee of dedicated retired educators and community activists is using to organize a series of gala-like luncheons recognizing retired Black teachers age 75 to 101 at Serb Hall, which will be the site of all the HAAT recognition programs.
Each luncheon will have a different theme and will feature a DVD shown during the luncheon featuring the events respective honorees talking about their teaching experiences.
The first luncheon will be held Saturday, July 17 and will honor Ruby Young, Lucinda Gordon, Frances Starms, Beulah Howard, Willie Mae King, Avery Goodrich, Leroy Freeman, Voncile Anderson, Josey Gray, Nandonna North, Wilma Dixon and Annie Beamon. Special recognition will be given to Millie Mae Francis White, the first African American teacher hired by Milwaukee public schools in 1933.
Singh noted the Milwaukee Urban League was instrumental in helping get Francis White hired by MPS. Other scheduled luncheons are August 21, September 18, October 23, November 13, December 11, and January 22, February 26 and March 26 of 2011.
Non-teachers will also be recognized at some of these luncheons for the contributions to and inspiration in the arts.
In a recent interview, Singh said she knew she was “in the ballpark” as it relates to Harpole’s challenge being a doable undertaking after she discovered many of the teachers he listed and she researched are still living.
Singh said she also realized it was her duty to give these educators the recognition they deserved for teaching the adults and children of our community while breaking down barriers of racial discrimination in MPS.
The honorees will receive a number of gift items, including a souvenir book and a DVD of their luncheon. Singh revealed HAAT is currently doing video interviews of each honoree for the luncheon DVDs and for the Public Television series “Independent Lens.”
Tickets for each luncheon is $26 and can be purchased at the HAAT of MPS’ offices, located at 1840 N. Farwell (Suite 405) on Milwaukee’s East Side. For more information and additional updates on honorees, call (414) 223-4228.