Dr. Brenda Snipes: A History of Excellence
By Rasheed B’aithe and Bobby R. Henry, Sr.
Part 4 of 4
“Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.” (Proverbs 4:1)
There are those who make an enduring footprint in our character and in our mind. Those around us whose example of how they live, what they say and how they do what they do shape us for the rest of our lives. They make cornerstones and niches of consciousness in our lives. They teach us what truth is, how to define courage and what is the honest meaning of sacrifice. Any adult we know is the sum total of their childhood and the aggregate of lessons learned and observed from childhood. Dr. Brenda Snipes has made those who were her life examples proud. Most especially her father.
How is your family holding up?
“Actually my family is doing much better but doing the height of all of this, they were like crazy. Because they didn’t like hearing their mother’s name come out of the mouth of the guy who is the president in DC – they just didn’t like it we have two daughters and they came home. The Broward County Sheriff’s department provided 24 hour security. I was escorted to work and escorted home. We started getting these threatening phone calls from the mob and these calls were pretty rough.”
Were there any death threats?
“Yes. One on yesterday said something like death to your wife. They are prosecuting that guy. We have had to put up security cameras and all kind of things to protect ourselves.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on 10 points on how to handle one’s responsibilities as a leader. One was about beliefs: can you identity how your belief has allowed you to deal with this situation? He talked about fearlessness, to not allow fear to keep you from moving forward and he also talked about the need for one to fight for yourself, in spite of anything, to keep it moving forward and to follow your morals. What has allowed you to equate or relate to these from your experiences?
“I grew up in Talledega, Alabama which is a college town and our parents were educators. As educators they couldn’t get involved in a lot of stuff at that time. I remember my daddy would leave home and go down to Talledega College where he and other men would meet in the library on campus to talk about the social climate and would come together on the things they could do. My daddy grew up in Talledega, he was born there and his family lives there, and his family were farmers. They dealt in the dirt. And he loved Talledega, Alabama and he went to Talledega College for a little while. He was a part of this group of men who would come up with these ideas. Now he would not talk to us a lot about it, but I knew my daddy was concerned about the climate. Afterall, he had four girls. He was always concerned about how his girls could be successful. I watched my daddy take that on. My daddy worked the U.S. Census- that’s what he would do for summer work. He would make sure that every person of color who lived in Talledega in his section of the county where he worked was counted. You know if you grew up in the country you could only drive your car so far on the little dirt roads and then you got to get out and walk. Sometimes you have to walk around bib rocks, blueberry patches and snakes and all that stuff. So my daddy did his part in what he could do to make a difference, and it’s just something that I think has become a part of me. I’m not super bad but I must do something! I got to find something there to make a change and I’m gonna always be that. My background is in teaching. I was a trainer. I helped to train teachers and prospective administrators, actually principles and I’ve trained district level administrators.
“There was a lawsuit brought against Broward County School Board to hire more Black administrators. A position was created and I applied for the job and I got the job. My job was to go out and get Black people engaged in leadership, a kind of workshop that would make them better prepared to get the job. I did and that open the door for Black people who were interested in administrative positions and I named it TOPS Targeting Organizational Potential System, and I think it was. I would go to schools I would have workshops I would put out information inviting people to come and it was for Black people who wanted to be administrators. The first one I did I think it was at Dillard High School in the auditorium, and it was full of people and they were not all Black. Do you know if you have something good everybody wants to be a part of it. I did that for about five years and then I went to an in-service position to track and keep up with people’s In-Service records. Mr. Willian Dandy asked me to apply for it, I did and I got it.
“From there I was approached and asked by Dr. Davis, an area superintendent to go to Markham Elementary to be an assistant principal. I said to myself I don’t know anything about being an assistant principal. I went and I stayed six years. It was hard work, really hard work but I remember my daddy going out in the backwoods of Alabama. He did it so I figured I could do it too.
“Then I got promoted to area director. There were 12 of us with the 16 schools we worked with, then I retired. I was retired for three months but I was working with the consulting group. They would go around the country working with school districts to look at the programs they had for their teachers and administrators. I was in Louisiana and I got a call from a good friend of mine who wanted to know if they could put my name in for the Supervisor of Elections and I thought well, I don’t know anything about that. What would I do? After a little persuasion I decided I would do it and now here I am.”
We ask some people about you, those who suggested that you take certain jobs and did a little bit more research on you and we have a question to ask you and the question is: do you really know what capabilities you have and how important you are? She laughed and said – “I don’t know. I love anything that would allow me to work with a crew and problem-solving to make it better. I love what I did as the Supervisor of Elections and I love the work, I love the outcome, I love working with people and I know.”
If you could pick one job ,Dr. Snipes, what would it be?
“I’ve worked so long all my life I don’t know.”
We as a race of people, we don’t do enough talking about our Black women and that warrior spirit that they have and how they are capable of doing more than one thing- multitasking – and be good at it. We don’t talk enough about it.
When you look back at everything that you have experienced from the time that former governor Jeb Bush appointed you while Rick Scott and DeSantis tried to belittle you, of all the things you’ve gone through what strength have you gained from this and what would you tell somebody that comes after you and even if you took the job back, what have you gotten from this?
“You know I think you have to confirm for yourself who you think you are and then I think you have to make some real decisions. You have to talk to yourself – nobody else can do it and honestly I had the conversation with me. I said it. I have never had a job where I have work to the point where I almost quit killing myself. When I was at Markham, that was a challenging job – you almost had to start from scratch. I think at Markham nobody paid attention and here I am “with her high heal shoes and suit dresses” and what do I do, I took off those high heal shoes and suit dresses and got down to work. So you see, I have the conversation with myself. I know who I am. Whenever I have had a job, I worked that job; I never really took a vacation. I was always taught that I should perform at the highest level possible. And I always wanted to be in on the level where people we’re making decisions. In dealing with this you know I thought to myself my daddy would be real upset with me if I just curled up in a ball and ran into a corner and just cried or became belligerent or lost my dignity over what these people were saying about me.
“So I just made up in my mind I wasn’t going to let it happen. I never got to the point where I wanted to just call somebody up, tell them to stop lying especially when they don’t know me! I just figured, God would take care of them. I wouldn’t be fair to me or to my heritage or my parents’ hard-work. Maybe that’s why I don’t take vacations, because they didn’t. I’ve always had great work ethics because of them. Even as a kid when we would go to the fair, we could only stay out there for an hour because they always have some work to do. I don’t usually let stuff get me down – I try to see if there is an alternate path.”
Not to be morbid but looking at reality when God has decided to call you home what would you want on your epitaph, what would be befitting for your hard work and all that you’ve done, all that your parents instilled in you and all the things you try to emulate?
“I don’t know. I guess I work through challenges. I did manage to make the situation better. When I went to Markham it was to pick up. So the first thing we had to do was to clean up everything. So I formed an alliance with some of the community people. I remember one day I saw a snake come out of the bushes from across the street and that was too much for me so I said the kids can’t continue to come here in this kind of condition, all of this trash and junk! How can they learn walking down the street and suddenly here comes a snake! Because of all of this stuff and when I came into work that Monday, there were bulldozers call palm trees and grass to be lying in. Somebody else was on the other side of the street cutting down all the leeds which the children had to deal with forever and that was the start. That was the start of making that place better for the kids. We just kept going and going, involving the kids . I remember thinking I was punishing the kids by telling them that if they continue to mess up they would have to pick up trash but the kids loved it. They enjoyed making their school look beautiful and spending quality time with their principal.”
Thank you Dr. Brenda Calhoun Snipes for your fortitude, your sensitivity and your faith in God, Bless you.