Black History Month Profile
In celebration of Black History Month, for over a decade, the MSR has sent writers into the community to find elders with stories they are willing to share and to record them for posterity’s sake. For this year’s Black History Month, we are highlighting individuals who have been pioneers in education, struggled to raise families, been supportive of their community and worked to diversify the corporate landscape. Their stories highlight contributions to their own and the broader community.
We hope you enjoy the stories of triumph offered in this 2016 Black History Month edition.
Gladys Brewton, the 86-year-old matriarch of the Myers family, 30-year resident of St. Paul, and all around hands-on individual, is still at it. Brewton, originally from Iowa where she was born and raised, smiles as she reflects on her life’s journey.
One of her first jobs in Iowa was at a government agency under the Community Action program. She remembers working with the youth and physically going to their homes and making sure that they made it to school each day.
Married at the age of 19, Brewton had six children with her late husband who died in a car accident 10 years into their marriage. During her marriage, Brewton and her family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, to be closer to her family. After her husband’s death, she hit the ground running as a single mother who had to make ends meet. This started the road to the many jobs she held during her lifetime — from homecare assistant and sales representative to cook.
While in Nebraska, Brewton decided to give love another try. Her second marriage lasted three years. When thinking about her ex-husband, she recalls, “He was very abusive.” When asked if she ever married again, her response was “No.”
Brewton kept busy as usual. After being let go from a job, she enrolled full-time into cosmetology school. She later earned her license and worked in a beauty salon and at the state welfare office. “I have always liked administrative roles,” said Brewton.
With most of her children becoming adults at this point in her life, the only thing Brewton could do was stay busy. She recalls “I had a good life in Iowa, a really good life, but something was missing.”
Brewton tells the story of one night lying in bed listening to Sally Jesse Raphael’s show, and the topic of the night was about being happy in life. Feeling the prompt in her spirit, Brewton called into the show and explained that she was just not happy.
She had recently visited an uncle in Minnesota and felt conflicted about what to do next in her life. Brewton recalls, “She [Raphael] told me move and never look back.”
Brewton did just that, and remembers, “My family was so upset and could not understand my decision.” To this day, Brewton still can’t believe she made the move.
While staying with her uncle and aunt in Crystal, Minnesota, Brewton remembers being the only Black family in the neighborhood, and the stares she would get as she walked in the neighborhood. This came as no surprise to her, as she states, “I have always been the only [one] many times in my life.”
After staying with her aunt and uncle for about a month, Brewton’s search for an apartment was in full effect. She loved being with her family but, “Minneapolis was just too big for me. I was used to small-town living” she said. When she visited St. Paul, she knew it was the perfect fit.
Thirty years later, she is still working at Pilgrim Baptist Church as an administrative assistant, a position she has held for many years. Going to work only part-time these days, Brewton looks forward to Pilgrim’s food shelf and initiatives at her church. Brewton orders the food, stocks the shelf, and twice a month people from the neighborhood are welcomed into the church to be served. The requirements to be served are proof of I.D. and a source of income. Brewton states that this is done to know who they are serving.
Apart from her duties at work, Brewton is very active with the senior community in her apartment building. She often keeps herself busy by doing puzzles and coloring in her adult coloring books. When asked when she will retire Brewton says, “Every year, I tell myself this year. But what will I do? I have worked all my life — I don’t know what I will do.” And with a smile on her face, she recalls her doctor encouraging her: “Don’t you give up, Gladys; don’t you quit! You keep going!”
Julia Johnson welcomes reader comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.