From Phillips Hall to City Hall

By Charles McKenzie, February 14, 2020
IC assistant professor and school board vice president Sean Eversley Bradwell honored for commitment to education and diversity.

The fact that their plaque literally overlooks Ithaca’s Common Council was an intentional metaphor. Each name represents a different approach, perspective or mission, but they all have one thing in common. The award states that each fought “for social justice and change, racial equity, and fairness in the judicial and educational systems.”

The newest name to be added is that of IC’s Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell, who last week received the 2020 J. Diann Sams African American History Month Award. Bradwell, an assistant professor in the Department of Education, said he’s honored not just to be recognized with those former winners, but to be in some ways a product of them.

Just off of the top of his head, he rattled off the names of a dozen past recipients, almost all of whom have been mentors in one way or another. Several were even in attendance in the council chamber as Bradwell was recognized at City Hall.

“I'm humbled to be mentioned in the same vein as any number of them. They're all giants in our community. I was blessed to have taken classes as a TA for Dr. James Turner at Cornell.” He said educators Denise Lee and Millie Clarke Maynard took him under their wings in the Ithaca City School District. Now its vice president, he is serving his fourth term on ICSD’S Board of Education. He listed other recipients as friends and community partners.

“Almost all of them have been mentors. So that's what makes the award even more humbling, to even think that I would be anywhere in the same realm as their work and their mission.”

Even the namesake for the award, J. Diann Sams, had a role in his career.

“I was young when I moved to Ithaca, and Diann was clear to set me on my path,” he told the council and a standing-room-only audience. “She let me know how to fight for justice and that what you believe in may not always be the most well received but that shouldn't stop you if you believe it's in the best interest of the community and particularly in the best interest of young people.”

“We have chosen to make Ithaca our home. That's intention. Academic accolades are phenomenal and other recognitions are great, but to be recognized by people whom you have profound respect for in a community that you consider your home makes it all the more special.”

Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell

Sams was the first African-American woman on the board of the Ithaca City School District. Six years later (1993), she became the first African-American woman on the Ithaca Common Council and the first to serve as acting mayor. Former alderwoman and Tompkins County poet laureate Michelle Berry helped create the award. Sams was the first recipient and after her death in 2005, the award itself was renamed in her honor.

"She was our Rosa Parks, a brilliant force of nature," Berry told the Ithaca Journal. "She lives in our hearts and minds. Each time that we see something that we need to address as racist or sexist or ageist or homophobic, we think of Diann and we should not be afraid to speak."

The proclamation for the 2020 award states that Bradwell has left “an indelible stamp upon Ithaca history” as “ an educator, elected official and community member committed to educating the masses about the invaluable benefits of diversity and inclusion, equity in education and justice in the community and beyond.”

Bradwell thanked his family, including his wife Nicole Eversley Bradwell, MS ’02, IC’s director of undergraduate and graduate admission, and he said it’s touching to be honored by their adopted hometown of 25 years.

“We have chosen to make Ithaca our home. That's intention,” he said. “Academic accolades are phenomenal and other recognitions are great, but to be recognized by people whom you have profound respect for in a community that you consider your home makes it all the more special.”

“Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has not true power potential.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

Before coming to Ithaca and getting his Ph.D. in policy analysis and management from Cornell, Bradwell earned a B.A. in political science and an M.S. in education from the University of Rochester.

He became director for the Kaplan Education Centers in Ithaca in 1995 and joined the Ithaca City School District a year later, as a social studies teacher and assistant to the principal for multicultural affairs at the Lehman Alternative Community School. The following year, he helped moderate the Tompkins County Search Conference on Racism.

His impact has been felt beyond Ithaca, where he serves as vice president for the Board of Education. Earlier this month, Bradwell facilitated a discussion hosted by the Greece Central School District, where teachers, parents and students have voiced concerns about the use of the n-word in school. The topic, “The N-Word: Origins, Ownership and the Impact of Language,” centered on how the words we use influence others. Bradwell will continue to advise the schools on how to incorporate findings from the discussion into the curriculum.

At IC Bradwell teaches in the Department of Education and the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity (CSCRE). In addition, Bradwell was the director of IC’s Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Social Change (IDEAS) and serves as a faculty associate for IC’s Martin Luther King Scholars Program.

“One of the quotes that I use with our MLK scholars says that education without social action is in essence a waste. And so to have education is great, but if we don't put it to use, then I think we're losing a key opportunity to make our world a better place.”