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AFAI: Bryants

Honoring a “First Lady” of Philadelphia The Jessie Lee (Bryant) Coleman '75 MEd. Endowed Scholarship aims to bring more Arcadia teachers into the city's classrooms

“I listen when I hear a still, small voice or when I sense a tap of my shoulder,” says Brigette A. Bryant, Arcadia’s vice president for development and alumni engagement.

She heard that voice—literally and figuratively—in 2019, when she learned Arcadia needed someone with her experience and accomplishments to lead its fundraising strategy. Two years later, she felt a tap on her shoulder when a wonderful woman—a relative—passed away. It was only then that Bryant learned from an obituary that her relative graduated from Beaver College with her master’s degree.

Those two factors—a growing love for Arcadia and a deep admiration for those in her family tree —inspired Bryant and her husband, Lance, to establish the Jessie Lee (Bryant) Coleman ’75 MEd. Endowed Scholarship.

A longtime Philadelphian, Coleman held degrees from both Arcadia University and St. Joseph’s University. She dedicated her career to the city’s children as an elementary school teacher and reading specialist in the Philadelphia School District. In retirement, Coleman and her two daughters, Stephanie and Jennifer, established the JSJ Learning Center to provide additional educational support and outreach to the poor and underserved students of the city.

“I only met Jessie Lee once, at a family reunion in Mississippi in the 1990s,” Bryant remembers. Describing a photo taken of the two standing arm-in-arm, Bryant recalls that Coleman exuded such warmth and light—qualities that endeared Coleman to many Philadelphians as the “First Lady of City Council” when her husband, Joseph Coleman, served as the body’s president from 1980 to 1992. Despite their one-time meeting, Bryant was reminded of Jessie Lee’s kindness. “I knew then, after meeting Jessie Lee’s children—Gregory and Jennifer and the rest of the family—at Jessie Lee’s funeral, that I had to do something.

“There were so many reasons why this scholarship at Arcadia made sense to my husband and me,” Bryant adds. “It’s a way to honor an incredible woman, pay our respects to family (Uncle Charlie and Aunt Hannah) and give Jessie Lee a special space at Arcadia to be remembered for what mattered so much to her.”

Studies have shown that Black students who have at least one Black teacher in their early school years are more likely to graduate from high school and consider college. Yet nationally, only 18 percent of teachers are people of color. In Pennsylvania, that number falls to just four percent—giving the Commonwealth one of the most extreme imbalances between teacher and student demographics in the country. 

The Jessie Lee (Bryant) Coleman ’75 MEd. Endowed Scholarship will be available to students pursuing degrees in education—particularly to support the increase of teachers of color, which, in turn, will benefit the primary and secondary students in the city of Philadelphia. The Bryants made their $50,000 gift to create the scholarship as part of the Arcadia Financial Aid Initiative, which offered a 1:1 match to donors who established new endowed scholarships or supplemented existing endowed scholarships.

Since arriving at Arcadia, Bryant has been impressed by the quality of students that the School of Education attracts, as well as the difference that Arcadia’s School of Education alumni are making across the university’s hometown and beyond. The Jessie Lee (Bryant) Coleman ’75 MEd. Endowed Scholarship is intended to further that momentum; recipients must be enrolled in the School of Education, demonstrate financial need, and be committed to teaching in Philadelphia after graduation.

Bryant feels strongly that helping to open Arcadia’s doors to more aspiring educators will have an exponential effect, benefitting the hundreds—even thousands—of students they can reach once they enter the classroom as teachers. 

“I’m serving the entire community here, not just Arcadia,” Bryant says. “If I can support Arcadia while also helping the school aged children of Philadelphia—which happens to be exactly what Jessie Lee did in her lifetime—why not do something that can powerfully and materially enhance student outcomes?”

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