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Episode 18 - Greg Jones, president of the NAACP-Dane County Branch, joins Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins
Episode 1813th April 2023 • Lead to Liberate • Madison Metropolitian School District
00:00:00 00:25:09

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In this compelling episode, Dr. Jenkins is joined by Greg Jones, president of the NAACP-Dane County Branch. Mr. Jones shares his experiences of migrating to Wisconsin from Mississippi in the 1970s while desegregation was continuing to occur in public schools and higher education institutions. They discuss the importance of voting, the advocacy work of the NAACP, the promise of the U.S. Constitution, and the significance of reading proficiency and early literacy.


00:10: Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.

00:28: Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Wow, I just love that music. Here we are again today on Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, very proud Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District. Each week, we've been bringing to you a different individual that's really trying to impact our community, impact others. This week, like none other, is a special guest. We have a special guest that's been around just a little bit. And this very special guest is Mr. Greg Jones. How are you doing Mr. Jones?

00:58: Mr. Greg Jones: I'm doing great, great, great.

00:59: Dr. Jenkins: Okay. Well, welcome to Lead to Liberate, [alright]. And as you know, on Lead to Liberate, we jump right in. We want to get the stories. This is a community person who's been here for quite a while. He has a very interesting beginning. And so I want to just start right off with that, because we're trying to lead to liberate, but we also have to understand our past to understand what we're trying to liberate to. [Yeah.] So Mr. Jones. [Yes.] Let's talk a little bit about it. When did you graduate high school?

n. I migrated to Wisconsin in:

In those spring and summer of:

04:26: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, you know, that's, that’s amazing. You said your legal, your constitutional rights. And I'm trying to understand because you come in from Mississippi, Laurel, Mississippi, and at that particular time, if my history serves me well, most of our black students were thinking about HBCUs. And HBCUs, what's that, and why are you even thinking about HBCU? What is an HBCU?

04:51: Mr. Jones: Historically black college or university. Mississippi is well known for Jackson State, Alcorn, Mississippi Valley, those campuses and colleges were open to us. We knew they were places that we were accepted. We would get an education. And we would become alums of those organizations and institutions. That's our place of presence. That's our place of pleasure. That's our place that we would be accepted. But remember, because the world, the doors we thought were open, and society's doors were open, we chose to challenge ourselves and challenge society by attending white's, white schools. But remember, I was accepted at Bishop, went there, made the baseball team, ready to play baseball. And unfortunately, the financial aid fiasco. So my wife says today, there was something behind the message of God leading us to Bishop College, [laugher] returning us to Mississippi, then leading us to Eau Claire, I would not have met her.

05:52: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. [Laughter] Well, that's awesome. But tell me this. Could you go to any PWI school – predominately white school – before then, like, back before Dr. King?

06:06: Mr. Jones: Oh, it was difficult. I think that a lot of alums from Oak Park High School, the black high school that was closed before desegregation in the state, I think a lot of black graduates from high school probably did apply, didn't get accepted, were turned down. But the message of that moment, was that hey we're not accepting places for black kids. [Wow.] We took that as a message at the moment. That was a history we dealt with. And as I said, it was a motivating factor for us, saying to after we went to, got accepted to Eau Claire, we're coming, we're going, we're now opening that door at this white school.

0645: Dr. Jenkins: So at a very young age, you had a liberated mindset.

06:48: Mr. Jones: Well, I think that was driven by my grandmother. [Okay.] Who after the Voting Rights Act was passed, [right] she watched her son and daughter – my my mother, and her youngest brother – who was a part of that extended family I grew up in, then voted every year, every election because they had a high school diploma. She could not vote. [Mmm.] When that Voting Rights Act was passed, she put on her Sunday ‘go to meeting clothes’, took my brother, who's a year older, myself, and my sister, who's two years younger, walked with her to the polling place, cast her vote. [Wow.] And cried all the way going there. At the end of casting that vote, she said to us, “always vote, wherever you are, always voting.” So the meaning of voting and voting rights was so dear to her. She took it seriously. That is a legacy that I think I carry with me, or a value that I carry with me in terms of this whole outreach and advocacy role that I tried to play with the NAACP.

07:56: Dr. Jenkins: I appreciate you saying grandma, because that's what we call grandma [laughter] – grandma's Grandma, you never call her name, you know where we're from. Sometimes, it's underestimated the influence, the impact women have had on our society. So I need to know grandma's name today, what’s grandma's name, put it into space.

08:28: Mr. Jones: The name was Cornelia T. Terrell Wales. [Wow.] That was her name. But the fundamental piece that I'm about to reflect on now, really goes back to last week. At the Oregon School District, they had a program called Lift Every Voice and Read. And they invited community people to come and read to the classes. I was assigned to read to first graders, fourth graders and sixth graders. I just want to reflect on the first grade experience that I had. So I go into this room, and I tell them that I want to read about Bessie Coleman. [Mmm.]

09:08: Mr. Jones: And to my surprise, they were knowledgeable about black history. They knew some of the important individuals, Martin Luther King, and so forth. And when we talked about Bessie, and talked about her role as an astronaut, their eyes that lit up. They knew what astronomy was in general, and what an astronaut was. But I say that only because here again, was reflection on another African American female, who made history. Determined the outcome of the lives of a lot of people. So, but getting back to what you said is that, the role and function of women in our community was significant, foundational, fundamental. I know women in my family who were disciplinarians, who were teachers, who played all of the roles. Most importantly what they wanted us to do was this: they wanted the boys to understand that they were free, and that they should care for their sisters, their aunts, more importantly, that they were equal footing. There were no powerhouses in my family. Those women played the role of leadership, and so did the men. And the man that I'm speaking of is my uncle.

10:21: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's transformative. As we talked today, trying to make sure that everyone understands that all human beings mattered. And when we look at, no matter how someone identifies – male, female, whatever identity they have – we all have a role to play. And I think about other, like, leaders here in Madison. You know, we have right here, a lot of people I don't even think know it, we have Marcia Anderson here in our community, she was the first two star general in all of the Armed Forces in the United States. And she's right in Madison's community. And I don't know how much we've celebrated her. But when I think about during those times, her coming up, very much just like Miss Wales, your grandmother. They were under different times, and had to go up against things. And they were part of changing the trajectory for a lot of us who are recipients of their strong will. [Sure.] So I just want to make sure I bring that up. So that [sure], that value system that they put in all of us in particular, like, let's talk about your generation. It has led you to be involved with the NAACP, how many years?

t. When I moved to Madison in:

13:57: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, so when we talk about the Constitution, and everyone, right? The Constitution hasn't necessarily been for all, as it was written. [Mmmhmm] And we start talking about the 13th amendment, 14th amendment, and 15th amendment. And even today, when we will look at our voter participation. [Right.] Right. And I'm talking about all race groups, [right]. You know, we want to talk about the disparities of one group or the other group. But truly, we don't have a high voter participation right now [right] in our local, [right] which are very important, our state or federal, is that an accurate statement?

14:39: Mr. Jones: I think it's very accurate. And I watched the voter turnout data in various different, various communities just to see what's going on. So I'll be checking with our clerk here, just to get the most recent voter participation from this spring election. But I wanted to reflect on that because in the Madison Capital City Hues, you wrote an article that really reflected on this whole question of Civil Rights Acts. And your tone and tenor of that article is essentially this: education, [education] education rights. And I read, I read all articles, I read them all, I read them. And so when you made that statement, or that observation, about the Constitution, you refer to our Constitution and its limitation as it applied to creating those opportunities and opening those doors for African Americans in this country. So I'm gonna try to take personal privilege here and say this. When you asked the question about our Constitution, and it didn't serve everybody, and you referenced the three that we think made the change, 13, 14, 15. You and I can sit here and agree that no, it has not, it was never intended to, whether Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation as president and commander in chief, doesn't matter. The issue is simply this, we have always had a disconnect in terms of how people of color, particularly African Americans, have been treated legally and constitutionally, in this country. Therefore, it's easy to get behind issues of equity, issues of inclusion, and push those for the betterment. So let me conclude by saying what I have observed in terms of the Madison School District. It has been in the last couple of years, and I'm gonna say this under leadership. One district that has really pushed the button to be more inclusive. If you look at some of the activities, actions, and initiatives you put in place, it is an effort to promote and meet the promise of those constitutional amendments, which hasn't been met. That may be a way of saying the following. If we don't make changes that will benefit those voices and individuals who, whose voices aren't heard, individuals I've seen, we don't have a reason for existing.

urt] for the Supreme Court in:

19:23: Mr. Jones: So the issue is this. Go back to something you said earlier. I look at those outcome in elections in terms of percentage change. [Right.] And I asked myself, What do we have to do to reach a level of percentage change that will tilt the scales on behalf of economic opportunity, inclusion, justice for all, not necessarily the candidate. And I asked myself, this can be done. We can open those doors and create those pathways for those people to come in, and be candidates, compete successfully and get into those positions and make the change we need.

19:56: Dr. Jenkins: I want to know, because you're in this whole game of advocacy. We have a governor, we have the Joint Finance, we have other legislators. How do we get beyond the whole polarization that's taking place right now in politics, and we bring together individuals from all sides and say, hey, you know what? Right now we have a national crisis and reading. [Boom.] 35%. So if you tell me 35% of our children are proficient. 65%. Come on. I mean, these are wealthy children, these are children from all races, all genders, however they identify, who are not doing well. So we have a crisis, it's a national security issue. [Yep.] How can we bring everybody in, not calling them out? [Mm-mm.] Calling them in and say, let's have a real conversation. [Right.]

20:49: Mr. Jones: I think what you've done is now, you've asked a question of how do you frame and crystallize the issue. And my recommendation would be this. We have to find a way to present information to everybody so that they can relate to it, accept it, utilize it, and then respond to it. This is what I mean. We often like to define issues in a way that benefits a certain group, a certain party, or a certain segment, [right] but we can't do that anymore. [Mmm] We're gonna have to come straightforward, on issues where everybody can understand it, and relate to it. Let’s take reading, for example. The disparity in reading outcomes, whether it's New York or LA, or whatever are clear. People read that data and say, Well, it ain't me, it ain't my children, why should I care? How do we now say to everybody, whether it's your child, or someone else's child – reading is fundamental, reading is necessary, we have to find their way. And I don't think you can do it by having separate conversations. We got to find a way to kind of now involve people all across the community at the beginning of the conversation, and then frame it and push it out. I don't think the messages can, we can continue to rely on messages of separation and dislocation, like we have in the past. What I liked about the message that we heard in some, in some of the recent elections, and let's take the U.S., the Wisconsin Supreme Court election. What some of those candidates were saying, on some of the issues, not all, they were coming from a collective point of view. Let me try to clarify. The Wisconsin Supreme Court justices are primarily about interpreting [mmhmm] the Constitution, U.S. Constitution, under constitutional laws. When I heard them say, I am going to interpret the Constitution based on what I believe, what I heard them say is that there's a similar characteristic interpretation. Now, it may have different in terms of how they're going to, and what basis they will use. But I thought that's the beginning of at least a concise, coherent message. Take an issue like this, go back to education and reading. You've got now certain groups suing states [mmhmm] because of the lack of reading outcomes. Virginia, for example, NAACP in Virginia took it upon themselves to push that issue in that state. So that says, some changes in terms of how do you provide reading resources to kids, grade school, middle school, high school. So what we're seeing is, they're able to coalesce around issues, on a broad basis. That's going to be tough, because we have still a lot of our time, advocate for issues that benefit us, in our respective organizations.

23:43: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, and I do tell you, I believe with every bone in my body, that reading, the right type of reading instruction, can just change the course of our country. [I agree]. Strengthens our national defense. [I agree.] When we think, right now, how we have to look outside of our country for our innovators [mmm]. We have to look outside of our country for those individuals who are probably going to resolve the issues of cancer. When we look outside of our country for anything dealing with artificial intelligence. We have to look outside of our country to others, to basically protect our own humanity. [Mmhm] So in this case, I'm saying I agree with you wholeheartedly. This is not a Republican issue, or a Democrat issue, or an Independent issue. This is a human decency issue. And we have to come together. And I would love to join with the NAACP, who's been the linchpin in our community, saying, it's not just about us, it's about all of us. Let's pen a letter to the governor and all the legislators and invite them in, not call them out, for a human decency discussion, and let's see how we can shape the $7 billion that we have right now, in our reserves [I agree.] in this state. [I agree.] And I believe it can put Wisconsin in a different place altogether. And being the leader that we know, Wisconsin could be. [Indeed.] That's the bottom line. [No doubt.] Well, I just tell you, it has been a pleasure, and a history lesson for me having you here. And know that I'm walking here in our community next to just a living legend. And I would encourage everyone out there, let's, let's just start acknowledging and celebrating [big time], all of our people who are doing great jobs. There are people that you don't need a big title. You don't need the big job. You don't need to be rich, you don't need to be poor, whatever, just be a human being. And let's celebrate that. Okay, so thank you, Mr. Jones, for being here on Lead to Liberate.

25:50: Mr. Jones: I enjoyed it. Enjoyed it. And I love the title.

25:54: Yes, [thank you very much] we look forward to having our listeners back with us again, as we will have another special guest. Thank you so much.

26:05 Student Speaker: You're listening to lead to liberate a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow