Hundreds Celebrate Unveiling of Milele Chikasa Anana Elementary School
A rare and special jewel bringing joy and laughter forever.
The phrase, flowing like a Shakespearean sonnet, is the Swahili translation for the name, Milele Chikasa Anana. Most suitable for the beloved woman known as Madison’s Village Mother. It’s even more appropriate for the precious children who will be nurtured and educated in the schoolhouse that now bears her name: Milele Chikasa Anana Elementary School.
“What better name for a school full of young learners,” said Dana Warren, one of Anana’s cherished friends. “The name Milele Chikasa Anana evokes good memories and the image of a strong, competent and caring woman.”
The Madison School Board approved the renaming proposal in January, to rename Falk Elementary School as Milele Chikasa Anana Elementary School. A search for a new school name was first considered in 2018 after allegations of racism by its namesake, longtime Madison School District superintendent Philip Falk. Falk served as the superintendent from 1939 to 1963.
On May, 6, 2020, Anana died peacefully, at home, surrounded by love and laughter ̶ just the way she wanted. At 86, she left behind a lengthy list of accomplishments including being the first African American to serve on a Wisconsin school board; and, being chosen as the city’s first Affirmative Action Officer, paving the way for women and minorities who were excluded from opportunities in employment.
She also served as interim director for the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, where she worked with the Black Chamber of Commerce to develop a directory of Black-owned businesses and start Black Restaurant Week. She received many recognitions, including the city of Madison’s Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian award in 2009. Anana was unable to receive the award in person because she flew to Washington, D.C. to witness President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
The beloved community activist took a two-page newsletter and turned it into the beautifully illustrated publication, UMOJA Magazine, where she served as publisher and editor for nearly three decades, until retiring in November 2018. As a mentor, advocate, community leader, few days would go by without her seeking ways to help others. This may explain, in part, why her longtime friends, Richard Scott Sr., crafted a petition asking for a school to be named in her honor.
And it happened.
On Aug. 25, the school grounds along the 6300 block of Woodington Way were transformed into festivities fit for an African queen. Under the late summer sun, thunderous sounds from goblet-shaped African drums began filling this air. Community elders, heads held high with pride emanating in their eyes, slowly crossed a grassy field to sit under a white tent. Giggles from knee-high children sprinting one behind another added to the event’s celebratory spirit.
“Ms. Milele truly embodied what it means to be in the community,” said Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). “We take inspiration from her legacy and are committed to being intentional about serving our community with humility, compassion, and a deep regard for human decency. It is a fundamental demand of America’s promise, and a requirement of human decency, to expand pathways for all to participate.”
In large, capitalized letters, Milele Chikasa Anana Elementary School, stretches high above the school entrance. It’s a sight to behold. A regal portrait of Anana standing in a blazing-red jacket, painted by renown local artist Jerry Jordan, was unveiled, and is slated to be hung inside the school that enrolls about 400 grade schoolers.
“This was truly an honor,” said Jordan, whose art was displayed on nearly 15 UMOJA covers over the years. “She was one of the first persons to have my work seen and I’ll always be grateful.”
Community leaders and family members shared favorite memories of the civil rights warrior and great grandmother. Among the guest speakers was her cousin from Texas, Opal Lee, known around the nation as the Grandmother of Juneteenth.
“She was the wing beneath my wings,” Lee said of Anana. “She was my everything. Having her name on a school in a community she was deeply rooted in, is a dream come true.”
Anana was born Bettye Jean Ingram on Jan. 31, 1934, to a single mother in segregated Oklahoma City. She was raised with the help of her aunt in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the home of Black Wall Street.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Talladega College in Alabama and a master’s degree from Purdue University in Indiana. She wrote for Essence, Ebony Jr. and The Black Scholar and worked as a professor of English at Florida A&M. After marching on Washington in 1963 and working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Boston to fight for better schools for African American students, Anana relocated to Wisconsin with her husband, Dr. James Latimer, who was recruited by the University of Wisconsin. The couple had five children. Four attended the renaming ceremony.
“We are so honored and so grateful as her family,” said Anana’s daughter, Amani Latimer Burris. “We know she would be humbled and honored to have her name on a school because she fought for a good education for everyone. More importantly, she knew the value of having an education that is grounded in positivity and resourceful environment; is filled with encouragement and innovation; and it’s rooted in the commitment to excellence and high expectations.”
A devout member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Anana’s impact remains deep and wide?
“We stand on the shoulders of Ms. Milele,” said Ali Muldrow, president of the Madison School Board. “I, like everyone else here, remembers our first encounter with Ms. Milele because it was inspiring and challenging. She described herself as a general hell-raiser because she was a force to be reckoned with. In a world where Black women are told to watch their tone and know their place; in a world where Black women and girls are told to take disrespect on the chin and to stand up for everybody but themselves; she refused to be left out of the room. She refused to let this community talk about Black people instead of with Black people. … She was ahead of her time.”