Professor lands grant for homeschoolers

Gladys Mitchell-Walthour is an associate professor and the chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, but it’s her teaching outside of UWM that just landed her a $10,000 grant.

Mitchell-Walthour is a member of a group of Black Milwaukee families that homeschool their children. The group, called Freedom Kilombo, meets weekly so students can interact with their friends and get additional learning opportunities through field trips and special classes.

“We all worked together to apply for this grant,” Mitchell-Walthour said. “The focus was not just on our children, but how can we use these resources to reach out to other Black homeschoolers?”

She and two other mothers, Rachel Johnson, a PhD candidate at UW- Madison and a UWM alumna, and Aletha KhielSelah, led the charge to submit the grant proposal. The monies, awarded by a private foundation that has chosen to remain anonymous, will fund educational opportunities for children in the homeschooling group. Mitchell- Walthour notes that the grant will help pay for things like museum memberships or guest lecturers and speakers.

That’s important because Mitchell- Walthour and the other parents in Freedom Kilombo want to make sure that their children are getting an education beyond reading, writing, and mathematics.

“For me, it’s really important that young people – it would be nice if all young people – were able to see the contributions of Africans and African descendants in all subject areas. One very easy thing we do, even when teaching math, (is) we’ll talk about Black mathematicians. I even organized a series of Black engineers who spoke to (the students),” Mitchell- Walthour explained.

“For me, it’s really important for them to see – of course there are Black engineers! It’s important for them to know that anything is possible. If you want to be an engineer, you can be an engineer. If you want to be a scientist, you can be a scientist. But in a school, they’re not going to necessarily get there. If we were teaching a curriculum void of that, they’re not going to get it.”

That’s why, she added, it’s important that her group intentionally showcases the contributions of Black scientists, scholars, writers, and more, so that seeing Black people in those professions becomes normalized for the students.

Beyond that, Mitchell-Walthour has also made sure that the students of Freedom Kilombo are introduced to the abundant educational opportunities around Milwaukee, including at UWM.

“We visited the (UWM Library) Archives; we visited the American Geographical Society Library. If UWM had African dance (classes or events) we would bring the kids there,” Mitchell- Walthour said.

She’s also invited one of her own graduate students to teach a class on African masks to the group – a lesson met with great enthusiasm – and even brought the kids to tour UWM’s Connected Systems Institute.

“I pass this building all the time, and I’m like, oh my gosh – there are robots in there! I was super excited,” she joked.

Mitchell-Walthour chose to begin homeschooling her daughter, now 8 years old, about four years ago after her child faced racism and sexism at two different preschools. Being a part of Freedom Kilombo has let Mitchell- Walthour’s daughter gain some excellent educational opportunities alongside kids who look like her.

“My daughter is in a lot of activities. She’s usually the only Black girl,” Mitchell-Walthour noted. “She takes Mandarin; she’s the only Black girl. She takes violin; she’s the only Black girl. I could go on and on. … At least in her (homeschool) learning experience, she won’t have to be the only. She’ll be there with other Black children.”

She hopes the grant will allow more Black students around the Milwaukee area to get the same opportunities with the same classmates.

“I want other people who may not have the same resources to be able to (access this learning),” Mitchell-Walthour said. “We don’t want people to feel like, I don’t have the money so I can’t be involved. … There should really be no barriers of entry to learning.”

By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science