Having Their Say

Geraldine Jones

Interviewed by Zakiya Evans

“Just focus and keep on keepin’ on.”

Geraldine Wells Jones

Geraldine Jones was born in 1923 and raised in Hartford. After graduating from Hartford Public High School, she graduated from Oberlin Conservatory of Music with a B.S. in Music Education. She received her Master’s in Music Education from the Hartt College of Music. Ms. Jones was hired as the first African-American music teacher in Hartford in 1947 and remained there until her retirement in 1982. In addition to teaching, she organized the Allegro Choir for young adults. She was also an organist at Union Baptist Church. Ms. Jones was married to William Jones, Sr. for 52 years.

Zakiya Evans

I was born on Feb. 18, 2000 at 8:42 a.m. in Hartford. I was raised in the north end of the city and attended Jumoke Academy for 9 years. Growing up, I discovered my love for dancing at Artist Collective. I also always watched my dad play soccer on Granby Street and now play at my high school, The Ethel Walker School. By living in Hartford, it has helped shape the way I am today and I am grateful for that.

Sistah Nandi

Interviewed by Simone Shorter

“Our history doesn’t start at the boat of slavery. Our history goes way back.”

Sistah Nandi

Following a visit to West Africa, “Sistah Nandi” Christine Dixon-Smith, Executive/Artistic Director, founded Sankofa Kuumba in 1986 in the Bellevue Square Housing Project’s community center in Hartford. She established arts-based programs to bring the story of the Journey from Africa to the US to life. Sankofa’s programming has been built from a network of organizations including The Greater Hartford Arts Council, Connecticut Humanities, and others. Sistah Nandi has dedicated her life to elevating the Hartford community through arts enrichment platforms. She is currently working on a documentary to share with clients as she transitions into a freelance consultant for nonprofit organizations and individual adult and youth artists whose voices must be heard.

Simone Shorter

I am a senior at Granby Memorial High School, where I play basketball, which I plan to pursue in college. I love helping people, so I ultimately want to travel to developing countries and cities all over to help the less fortunate. I am excited for what the future holds.

Janet Jackson

Interviewed by Tyra Harris

“Everything you do leads to something else — and I wouldn’t do anything differently.”

Janet Lee Jackson

I was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and I am the second of six children. My late husband, Jim, was a trailblazer as an African-American in corporate America in the 60s. We moved often but returned to Connecticut from New Rochelle, New York in 1977 for employment at Connecticut General. I earned my Master’s Degree in Social Work from NYU, where I was honored as the outstanding female graduate. I spent over 25 years as a social worker at the Village for Families & Children, where I became the first African-American Vice President of Permanency Programs and specialized in recruiting families for children who were waiting to be adopted. I retired in 2004 and dedicate much of my time to being a servant/leader at Union Baptist Church, where I am an ordained Deacon.

Tyra Harris

I have lived in Bristol all of my life. I love reading, playing games and sports, and hanging out with my family. Performing is also one of my favorite things to do — I have been in A Christmas Carol with Hartford Stage for four years. I have performed in two plays at Kinsella Magnet School and play the saxophone, cello, and piano.

Patricia Wrice

Interviewed by Natalie Best &
Elyece Patterson

“I’m hopeful for the future for young people. And I hope that they will see beyond color.”

Patricia Johnson Wrice

I was born in Boston, the oldest of 10 children, in 1943. My mother’s family emigrated from Cape Verde, and my father descended from runaway slaves who settled in Canada. I married right after high school and had three children; two are no longer living. I divorced my husband and returned to school, receiving a Master’s Degree in Social Work from UConn. I have been an executive for 19 years and will retire in June. My siblings are high school graduates, and eight are college graduates. We are lawyers, educators, social workers, and medical professionals.

Natalie Best

Although I am only 14, there is not much I don’t enjoy about life. I love reading — often two or three books at once. I am a Girl Scout, active in my church, and a member of the choir and tennis team. I want to get the most out of life, so I seek new opportunities to reach my goal of becoming a doctor.

Elyece Patterson

I am a 15-year-old ninth grader at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. I enjoy spending time with friends and family, dancing, playing sports, and volunteering for the community. My family originates from the South, and I love connecting with our past and future through annual family reunions.

Petie Gordon

Interviewed by Kamre Williams

“I’m starting to be very vocal, so now, instead of being all of four foot nine, I come off like I’m seven foot nine!”

Helga “Petie” J. Gordon

I was born in Mannheim, Germany to a German mother and a Black American soldier. My mother allowed my biological father to adopt me so her “brown baby” could have a better life in America. I came to Hartford in 1955, attended local schools, married and had a baby at 21, and divorced at 24. I raised my son as a single parent while living in public housing for 22 years, and in 1991, I purchased a condo in West Hartford. After 50 years, in 1999, I reunited with an unknown brother, and in 2001 with our birth mother. I am enjoying my retirement — busier than ever and loving every bit of my “golden years.”

Kamre Williams

I am 16 years old and learned about this project through a caseworker at the Urban League of Greater Hartford. This experience has been so amazing. I especially treasure the interview with Petie. I learned and heard so much; I can even share with others what I have gained listening to her stories. Thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Patricia Johnson

Interviewed by Miracle Hyde

“I make every effort to bring children and elders together. They learn from and teach one another — so important and so necessary.”

Patricia Johnson

In 1969, Patricia Johnson served as a consultant with the U.S. Office of Education, traveling around the nation to provide technical assistance and to evaluate Head Start and Follow-Through Programs. For the past five decades, Ms. Johnson has engaged in educational and social research, planning, and development, as well as training and technical assistance for national, state, and municipal agencies, organizations, and institutions. She continues to redress inequity, racism, sexism, and unfair treatment in all areas of family and community life.

Miracle Hyde

I go to Bloomfield High School and am currently in eleventh grade. I was born in Hartford on December 23, 1999. I am an African-American, and I have lived in Bloomfield for my whole life.

Ann Jennings

Interviewed by Shelby Caballero

“There’s fear when we don’t know one another. And then we realize we have so much in common.”

Ann Simpson Jennings

I was born in Hartford during the Depression. I graduated from Weaver High School and attended the University of Bridgeport. I later married, had three children, and worked as a paraprofessional in the Hartford school system. I graduated from the University of Hartford, where I received a B.S. degree with honors, and began my career in education. I worked with the Hartford Public School System’s Project Concern — where minority children were bussed to suburban communities — and headed the branch in Farmington. In the 80s, I became a human resource professional at Aetna, retiring in 2000. I have been an active member of my church and served on many nonprofit boards. I continue to show all by example a life well-lived.

Shelby Caballero

I was born and raised in Hartford. I am currently studying Liberal Arts at Capital Community College. I look forward to finishing my Associate Degree by the spring of 2017 and enrolling in a four-year university to continue my interest in the humanities.

Betty Taylor

Interviewed by Nakeia Herbert &
Trinity Stewart

“I don’t say that you must accept everything that’s happening in the world today, but you must know what is happening.”

Elizabeth Cromwell Taylor

Ms. Taylor was born in Bloomfield in 1925, the youngest of four children. After graduating from Hartford High School in 1942, she left for New York to study fashion. She graduated from the Peerless School of Design, concentrating in millinery (hat-making). She was hired as seasonal help at B. Altman & Company on Fifth Avenue. Ms. Taylor was employed there for 40 years — moving through the executive training program to become a buyer and, finally, working in human resources until her retirement. An avid world traveler, she moved back to Bloomfield three years ago — keeping up with fashion by reading the New York papers and mentoring young women on how to find success in their own careers.

Nakeia Herbert

I am currently a student at Manchester Community College, graduating this May with a General Studies degree in Science with a course load study for Occupational Therapy. I plan to transfer to Bay Path University to continue my study in Occupational Therapy. From 2001 to 2004, I was a stagehand for Hartford Stage Company. Above all, I have a true passion for helping those in need.

Trinity Stewart

I am 12 years old and I attend Classical Magnet School in Hartford. I was born with a cleft lip and palate, but I do not let that stop me. I love theatre and have participated in Hartford Stage’s education programs for six years. My family and I are very close and are always there for each other.

Elaine Mobley

Interviewed by Simone Shorter &
Kailey Gordon

“Know you have hard work in front of you, and don’t let anyone turn you around.”

Elaine Broaden Mobley

I grew up in Hartford’s Bellevue Square, graduated from Weaver High School in 1953, and later worked at Connecticut General Insurance. I married Thomas L. Mobley and had two girls. We divorced, and I raised my children while working at the Hartford Post Office. After 28 years, I retired and volunteered at Martin L. King Elementary School. I traveled across the country twice and continue to travel, and I volunteered with the Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Foster Grandparent program. I spend time with my family and friends and I am a member of Hopewell Baptist Church in Windsor.

Kailey Gordon

I was born on January 4, and I am 13 years old. I am half African-American and half West Indian. I have two siblings — an older sister and a younger brother. I currently attend Classical Magnet School, and I am in the seventh grade.

Simone Shorter

I am a senior at Granby Memorial High School, where I play basketball, which I plan to pursue in college. I love helping people, so I ultimately want to travel to developing countries and cities all over to help the less fortunate. I am excited for what the future holds.

Alyce Rawlins

Interviewed by Amara McNeil

“In order to change racism, you’ve got to change people. And people just don’t change that easily.”

Alyce Taliaferro Rawlins

I was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, as the youngest of three children. I was the valedictorian of my high school graduating class, and received a B.A. magna cum laude from Fisk University in 1950 and an M.A. in Sociology the next year. I married Dr. Sedrick Rawlins in 1952, and we have two sons. We moved to Connecticut in 1956 after spending two years in Fort Dix, New Jersey, where my husband was a dental officer in the Army. When I came to Hartford, I was the first African-American professional employed by Aetna. I have been active in many organizations in the Hartford area over the last 50 years, most recently the Women’s Committee of the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Amistad Juneteenth Committee.

Amara McNeil

I am 14 years old and I love public speaking and performing. I enjoy joining all types of clubs and trying new things. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and now live in Bristol. I am of African-American and Jamaican descent.