I walk like a leader. I talk like a leader. I act like a leader, because I am a leader.
Every morning our students are reminded of who they are. These words, in there simplicity, speak volumes. Resonating in our students a sense of safety, responsibility and respect towards themselves, and others. At Sherwood, I recite these words with my students every day.
My name is Yamaka Bracey. I’m the assistant principal at Sherwood Park Global Studies Academy and I want to share my personal journey with you.
As a child, I always knew I would grow up to be a teacher. I’d come home from school every day and gather up pencils, papers and my homemade learning board and prepare to give my lesson. I can still remember asking my friends if they wanted to play school, and they were just not interested! But I still played. Alone for hours I would have my teddy bears lined up, like ducks in a row and in my imaginary world, I would teach!
I remember my mom – a GRPS employee and college professor – handing me a red pen and allowing me to give her a hand grading class papers. It was so much fun, making check marks or stars beside answers, and cheering on these students -whom I never met – to do well. As I was knee deep in grading, my mom would stop what she was doing, look at me and say “Yamaka, you’re going to be a great teacher.”
Growing up with well-educated parents, I knew that college wasn’t a choice. It was an expectation. However, I found myself struggling in high school. For no real apparent reason, I fell through the cracks. I wasn’t a troubled student, I just figured out how to fly under the radar. So when graduation from Ottawa Hills High School came, the path I was headed down was much different than the one I had imagined. Instead of college, I chose to become a wife, I chose to become a mother and I chose to have the white picket fence.
Mission accomplished – well sort of. I married young, and started a family quickly thereafter, but my life didn’t necessarily become the ideal white picket fence I dreamt of. My husband and I knew we wanted more. We wanted more for our kids. We wanted more for our growing family.
The fire inside of me to be a teacher continued to burn, burning brighter with each day, each passing year. I volunteered regularly at my children’s school – Henry Paidea Academy, now known as MLK – as a Parent Action Leader, a PAL. As I worked closely with the teachers, the staff, the parents and the students, that little fire became a passion. And they, the teachers, parents and staff, saw my potential, saw my desire and encouraged me to pursue my dream.
THE LONG ROAD
We were parents of four wonderful children, I was pregnant with my fifth when I began the long journey through college. And it was hard. I lacked confidence, and my mind would constantly remind me of all my shortcomings – and there was a long list of them. It was a battle. On welfare, and hardly making ends meet I remember our case worker giving me an ultimatum – either I quit school and continue on with the needed assistance, or continue my education at the expense of that support.
Couldn’t she see that I wasn’t the person she thought I was? I was trying to make things better for my kids, for my family. I wanted out of the cycle, off the system. So I was faced with a tough decision… I chose to put my chin down, dig in and move forward with my education. Reminding myself daily, struggle for a little while to make it a life time.
That long road of fear was quelled by determination and the sacrifices that my family made to make my dreams a reality. My hard-won battle is a story that helps me reach many of the parents and students I work with today. They hear of my struggle, feel my relief and celebrate my achievements, urging them to want more. More for themselves, more for their family. When the world was set on defeating me, I conquered. When I share my story, trust is built and empowerment thrives. When the world is set on defeating my families, they will and they shall conquer.
Today, my family has grown by thousands! Each and every student and their family are my family! As an educator, I am not only accountable for the educational well-being of each and every student, I hold myself responsible for lifting them up and showing them love – regardless of the bad choices they have made, regardless of the life circumstances they may face. From our gracious Sherwood Principal Mrs. Ross and all the wonderful and dedicated teachers, to the parents and families, we are brothers and sisters who come from all walks of life, each with a different story to tell, a different barrier or hurdle to navigate. It’s the Sherwood way to share these stories, to celebrate accomplishments and to hold each other up when life sets us back. At Sherwood, we teach love, we teach acceptance, and we teach hope. We support each other, we protect one another and we stick together, because at Sherwood we are family.
THE SHERWOOD WAY
A family that embraces our differences and celebrates the many cultures that make our school a community. A diverse and global community that learns together and shares a common goal to be uniquely us. Our learning goes beyond four walls, far beyond West Michigan. We teach to the whole student, through the lens of a global perspective, to mold and shape leaders who will embrace a future of global opportunities.
In a world filled with fear and hatreds, we are building leaders. These students are learning, by my example, and your example to support and stand for each other, and make a powerful impact on this world!
PAYING IT FORWARD
All the good in my life has come because people believed and supported me. I choose daily, to pay that goodness forward and guide and inspire the youngest of generations – just as the GRPS district has invested in me I choose to invest in all our students! We don’t always know the direction our journeys will take, or the obstacles we must navigate to get to the other side. But what we do know is that everyone has a story, made up of ups and downs, mistakes and detours. At Sherwood, at GRPS, we teach love, we teach family, we teach community and most importantly we teach acceptance.
For ways you can help strengthen the educational experiences of ALL GRPS student, like Mrs. Bracey does every day, visit here