Trailblazer Tells Story to Alma Mater; Program Preserves Stories for the Future and Raises Awareness of Blacks' Efforts

Article excerpt

Byline: KATE HOWARD

When Delores Brisbon attended South Jacksonville School No. 107, it was a place where black children used books cast off by the city's white schools.

Decades later, she was the first black chief operating officer at a bastion of white privilege - an Ivy League medical school hospital.

Brisbon, now 77, returned Friday to share her story with the students of PS 107, now the nationally renowned Douglas Anderson School of the Arts magnet school.

Many students admitted they didn't know the history of their school, and Brisbon, flanked by a group of alumni who came to hear her speak, made that history real.

Brisbon hoped she could serve as an inspiring real-life example of who a young black woman coming out of Jacksonville can become.

"I started in that very discriminatory environment of segregation, and for 28 years I led an all-white institution," Brisbon said. "It's all very unreal to me."

Brisbon grew up in the Southside area and got much of her education in black-only institutions. She graduated from Stanton High School and went on to Tuskegee University, earning degrees in sociology and nursing. Her first historic moment came when she joined the staff of the University of Pennsylvania hospital in 1959 as its first black head nurse.

Her excitement was balanced with implicit racism, so different from the segregation of her youth. Instead of calling her names, doctors would simply pass her by, never believing she could be the one in charge.

She climbed the ladder nonetheless, making history at the institution with each step. Named chief operating officer in 1979, an achievement she now attributes to strong faith and a loner personality: She took the isolation and exclusion she faced and turned it inward to help her focus on her goals.

Now, active in leadership programs and finishing her memoir, she's anxious to speak out about her legacy.

On Friday, Brisbon was peppered with questions from Douglas Anderson students.

Should we listen to our parents or our hearts when we pick a career? How do we stay focused in a world full of distractions? How have you handled it when you encountered racism?

Her answers all came back to her central message: Be yourself if you want to be successful. If you know who you are, there's no limit to what you can accomplish.

"I like who I am," she said. "I wouldn't change anything, because I am who I am in part because of my struggles."

Brisbon's visit was part of the HistoryMakers program, a nationwide effort to raise awareness of the contributions of African-Americans and preserve their stories for future generations. She was one of 200 HistoryMakers nationwide to make a school visit on Friday. …