Dedication, compassion, and the ability to inspire are only a few of the traits that are found in an All Together One award recipient. Also, they are only a few of the characteristics possessed by Dr. Bryson a professor, here at JMU. Given that Dr. Bryson is a social work professor, one might assume that she is dedicated to learning, building the community and working together, but Dr. Bryson truly stands out in the JMU and Harrisonburg communities for being a professor, mentor, advisor, and an active and engaged citizen. For the past seven out of eight years, Dr. Bryson has been not only a great professor, but also a very important member of the Harrisonburg and Waynesboro communities. She has gone above and beyond to show her dedication to learning and building the community through her classes and projects, and it is a great pleasure to be able to recognize her here today.
One of the ways in which Dr. Bryson demonstrates her dedication to community building is through being an important member of the Waynesboro community and helping the students there see higher education as a possible future. After becoming familiar with the Waynesboro community through Dr. Michael Deaton, the JMU faculty member in residence there, Dr. Bryson actually moved to Waynesboro for a year in order to become a true part of the community. Back at JMU, Dr. Bryson requested that her supervision over student field work be involved with Waynesboro agencies. She also created the Purple and Gold Connection. Through this project, JMU students interact with and mentor Waynesboro High School students, who might not otherwise have goals to attend college as part of their career plan. The two sets of students meet weekly, discuss post graduation plans, and develop a relationship so that the high school students have support until their graduation. Additionally, the students take trips to places such as Washington, D.C. and participate in “Take a Look Day” on campus at JMU.
This project benefits the high school students by exposing them to a range of post high school possibilities, allowing them to experience cultural activities, and giving them mentors to look up to and interact with. The JMU student mentors are taught the value of mentoring and being engaged in the community themselves. In a world where education is of increasing importance, this project is a very valuable and unique way that Dr. Bryson contributes to JMU and the community and shows her dedication to learning and commitment to working together.
Dr. Bryson is known as “natural mentor” and is looked up to and inspired by both her students and her coworkers. She pushes and challenges people to do their best and make a difference in the community. According to one of her coworkers, Professor Cindy Hunter, Dr. Bryson “is not one to lead the band”, but pushes others to do so while ensuring that they are effective leaders that make good decisions and take the people following people into consideration. This unique quality allows her to impact so many people, yet another way that Dr. Bryson inspires and builds the community and inspires others to learn and do the same.
Coworkers are not the only people that hold Dr. Bryson in high esteem. This view is also shared by her students, especially one who thinks that Dr. Bryson can truly “appeal to the class” and use her experience and the course materials to “engage the students with deep thought and a call for action.” She shows the students the issues that need to be addressed and facilitates the process of making them active in their communities, so that they may also make a difference. In the words of one of Teneisha Bailey, a past student of hers, “she sees so much potential in all of us, at times when we don’t see it ourselves.” This is a remarkable gift that needs to be shared and spread.
Dr. Bryson challenges the conventional ways of teaching to find success through “teaching from the margins”, as her coworker puts it. Through this approach she empowers minorities and those who might not have the same opportunities otherwise. This makes it possible for anyone to be successful and work toward a higher education, an increasingly important career path for the youth today. Dr. Bryson devotes hours to helping students achieve their goals.
Overall, it is not only her accomplishments, but her great efforts to motivate the youth population in the community and use teamwork to grow and develop the youth that makes Dr. Bryson such a special member of the JMU community. I feel privileged to present Dr. Bryson’s story to all of you. I would like to conclude by reading a quotation from a past student of hers, “When I think of Dr. Bryson, I envision a strong African American woman who is relentless in her plight for change and mentorship. A picture of motivation and inspiration.”
Please join me in recognizing Dr. BJ Bryson as a recipient of this year’s All Together One award.