Davenport’s urban education alumna nurtures passion for students, changes lives

Davenport University is the only university in Michigan to offer degrees from a college dedicated entirely to urban education

Davenport University alumna Yamaka Bracey,‘16, is a product of urban education, having attended Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), and that is exactly where she wants to be. She pursued her master’s degree in Urban Education at Davenport while working as a teacher in the district.

“What got me was the title itself, ‘urban education,’” Bracey said. “Coming from an urban district and living in an urban environment, I just wanted more. How much deeper can you go with this? The class sizes were just right for us, and they were very detailed and hands-on. It gave me the tools I needed. It gave me opportunities that I may not have had if I had not had the courses that helped me think deeper, that pushed me to work harder, that encouraged me to think out of the box.”

Bracey’s passion for educating and guiding students she affectionately calls “babies” is obvious to anyone watching her work. As she easily makes her way through the halls of Campus Elementary on the city’s Southeast side, where she is in her 5th year as principal, she alternately calls out to some students and hugs others. This is her place.

“Davenport’s urban education program allows you to deepen your understanding in the urban world,” Bracey said. “It’s not just about going in and helping. It’s really about looking at the student as a whole, and looking at their family, and making a difference the best way you possibly can.”

Before finding teaching as a career and Davenport’s College of Urban Education (CUE), Bracey found challenges – lots of challenges. She had five children and was working desperately to make a better life for her family by getting a college degree. She has stories of setting her children up in hallways, while getting her undergraduate degree at Aquinas College, so she could be in class and they would be safe. While her family gave her support and motivation, she more than understands the urban environment and the family systems that are often so strained that children need more support from their schools.

“I share the experience and lifestyle of many of my parents, whether it’s struggling at home, not having enough food; whether it’s being on the welfare system and trying to get off; whether it’s trying to make a difference and feeling like you’re stuck – I can relate,” Bracey emphasized. “I’m not afraid or ashamed to tell my story. It’s not perfect, but I’m here, and I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles. I’m always believing and pushing and striving, and I want to be that example for my parents, my families and my students. I know what it’s like to struggle and to be in an urban community. They’re like, ‘Oh, so you do get it?’ Yes, baby, I get it.”

 Bracey understands her students and families so well that she has been promoted through the GRPS system, and she has been honored with the university’s College of Urban Education Alumni Award. Davenport’s Associate Department Chair Meaghan Polega nominated Bracey.

“As a school leader, Yamaka exemplifies what the College of Urban Education is all about, helping urban students reach their fullest potential,” Polega said. “She has a commitment to students on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids, and she wants them to be successful in whatever they do.”

Davenport has had a unique focus on urban education since beginning the CUE in 2013. What makes the college distinctive is that it provides both current and aspiring educators with culturally responsive practices that can be immediately and directly put to use in the classroom and in their interactions with families. The CUE has implemented a coaching and mentoring model for its students that Bracey believes provided the support she needed to grow in her abilities to teach, mentor and lead.

“There’s a passion for education that’s growing within me, that’s a fire that will never go out,” Bracey said. “Every fire needs to be fed, and that’s what Davenport did for me. They fed my fire a little bit more. Each class gave me a little bit more desire. Each class gave me a feeling of keep going, don’t quit. And when that fire felt like it was dimming, I had strong support from my instructors and from my classmates from GRPS.

“What it means for me is taking that chance to look at the whole child and every opportunity that you get, to change the world one day at a time.”

Read more about Yamaka Bracey and the College of Urban Education in the fall issue of DU Review coming out in November. The CUE is part of the university’s Elevate Campaign, which is dedicated to supporting the university’s commitment to student success.

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