Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research
I was working in the School of Public Health in 1998 when Dr. Cleo Caldwell mentioned a new position envisioned by Dr. James Jackson in the Program for Research on Black Americans. The position had not yet been posted, but she thought that I was the ideal person for the job. Almost a year later, I applied for the job and realized that I had come full circle. In 1980, after graduating from UM, I worked in the ISR coding section. I spent a year coding data from the National Survey of Black Americans. I remembered James and Phil Bowman coming to the coders to explain the study, to emphasize its importance, and to give us a pep rally. It was an exciting time in the life of a recent graduate.
Fast forward several decades later, I was back in PRBA but in a different position. This time was equally if not more exciting working with the amazing yet humble set of faculty, staff, students, and postdoctoral fellows. Providing administrative support to MCUAAAR, the National Study of American Life, and other projects, I learned firsthand what it meant to work in an interdisciplinary environment spirited by inclusion, teamwork, and collegiality. I witnessed extraordinary scholars unwavering in their commitment to a vision where their work had meaning while achieving a gold standard for research.
As a higher education administrator, I cut my teeth at PRBA. I learned how to listen, work, and appreciate faculty (at times fickle, yet, nonetheless human and fun loving), staff (high performing yet slightly nervous), students (eager to please), and postdoctoral fellows (eager to get a job). I saw my network expand as I interacted with many esteemed Black and other underrepresented scholars both in and outside of the University of Michigan. As a collective, we worked hard, but we also played hard. I recall the food, the parties, and the outings that we experienced together. I learned from James when he declared that “this proposal will write itself” meant the proposal would not write itself, but instead we would put it together and give to him frighteningly close to the deadline for his review. In every one of my positions held since leaving PRBA, and in my current role as the Director of the Texas Juvenile Crime Prevention Center at Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, Texas), I continue to draw from my time and experiences at PRBA.
Bernard, my husband, is doing well, retired, and here with me in Texas. We spend a good bit of time in Cote d’Ivoire as well and continue to manage our non-profit organization supporting girls’ education (www.iewad.org). Our children are all grown – Caroline, our oldest, lives and works in Ghana (https://wsdao.org/home/) and Courtland (Kofi) is a medical resident in El Paso, TX with his family. I became a new grandmother last year with the birth of Xavier Kouassiaman, Courtland & Melissa’s son.