ULLIN — Peggy F. Bradford grew up in Pulaski, the middle child among nine children, in a family that strongly valued education. Her parents were both teachers and aunts and uncles were also educators, some principals in the bunch.
She attended the segregated Benjamin Banneker School in Pulaski, and after schools were desegregated, attended Meridian schools, graduating from the high school just down the street from where she sits today as president of Shawnee Community College.
On Monday morning, Bradford, who spent the bulk of her professional life outside Southern Illinois, will talk about women in education and her own experience as the guest speaker at the NAACP’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. In June, she was hired as the college’s eighth president — and its first female and its first African-American president.
The breakfast begins at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 15 — what would have been King’s 88th birthday — in Ballroom D of the Student Center at SIU Carbondale. Tickets are $5; organizers are also asking guests to bring a canned food item to donate.
This year’s theme is “Hidden Figures: Women Behind The Movement.” “Hidden Figures” is the title of the 2016 movie about three African-American women who were mathematicians and engineers who worked for NASA in the 1960s to help launch astronaut John Glenn into space.
She said she saw herself in the “Hidden Figures” theme.
“I was just so happy to see powerful, passionate and positive role models for African-Americans and also for people of all colors because the movie is really one of overcoming barriers and challenges,” Bradford said.
Plus, Bradford said, the women in the movie are part of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
” … The character Kevin Costner played, he was looking at NASA (saying) ‘we have a goal and we want to be the first one (in space), and for us to do that, we want to utilize the talents of every individual,'” Bradford said.
It’s a lesson she said she employs as a college administrator.
Costner’s character, a NASA administrator, is a composite of several people at the agency.
One of the organizers said she was chosen as this year’s featured speaker because of her educational accomplishments.
“We chose Dr. Bradford because we believe she sends a wonderful message on how successful you can be starting at a local junior college and going on to pursue your educational goals,” Stephanie Brown, one of the organizers of the breakfast, said. “Dr. Bradford also is a graduate from SIU, and (she is) from Southern Illinois and she has returned home.”
Native daughter returns home
Bradford grew up not too far from Shawnee Community College, in Pulaski, in the middle of five sisters and three brothers born to Lue Dee Sr. and Tris Jackson.
Her family placed a high value on education. Her own parents were both educators — her father taught sixth grade for 37 years at Meridian schools, her mother for more than 20 years in Cairo — and several aunts and uncles were also teachers and school principals.
“Education was just all around us,” Bradford said.
Her father, Lue Dee Jackson Sr., 90, still lives in Southern Illinois; her mother, Tris Jackson, passed in 1996.
Bradford attended Benjamin Banneker school, a segregated school in Pulaski, up until fifth grade, when schools were desegregated.
She went on to high school at Meridian High School — a few short miles from where she now works — the same place where she started taking classes at Shawnee. The high school still has the Escrow program that allowed her to earn college credit.
After she earned her associate degree, she transferred to Southern Illinois University. At SIU, she earned a bachelor’s degree in counseling and administration and a Master of Science in administration and community development.
Her educational pursuits took her farther from Southern Illinois, first taking her to the University of Iowa College of Law, where she earned a law degree in corporate and business planning law, and then back to the state, to Northern Illinois University, where she earned her doctorate in higher education administration.
It was while at the University of Iowa that she met her husband, C.R., now a retired principal who also earned a doctorate. The couple has three adult children, two sons and a daughter.
She moved back to Southern Illinois from Elmsford, New York, which is north of New York City. She was the interim provost and vice president of academic affairs at State University of New York Westchester Community College.
She still visited Southern Illinois about four times a year, before relocating back here for the SCC president post.
What’s it like being tapped as the eighth president of at Shawnee?
“It’s just like being home,” Bradford said.
“I was thinking that I always wanted to come back and really be of service to Southern Illinois,” she said. “In this region, the college had such an impact on the lives of people in the community, and I know that how I benefited — along with four of my siblings who graduated from the college — that it really was key in our life.”
Shawnee now No. 1 subject
Within two months of being hired, she faced criticism from some critics of what they called her overspending on her inauguration.
Nothing of the kind, Bradford said. She noted that funds for the inauguration expenses, about $6,000, all came from private donations.
She was criticized for overspending on a lectern, a $13,000 state-of-the-art computer that is ADA compliant and allows users, staff, teachers and the community to use PowerPoint and other technology. She said the system was recommended by the college’s Technology Department.
Plans to upgrade other technology from 2005 standards to 2018 standards will cost $1 million and new furniture and carpeting and other upgrades will cost another $2 million. To finance these upgrades, she worked with the board to prepare a $6 million bond levy that the community approved this past fall.
The technology, for instance, would provide health students with a simulated patient — which can cost about $170,000 — that mimics breathing, pregnancy and delivery and other human conditions.
Another of her goals is to develop more real-world work experiences and internships for students and more scholarships.
She said the Board of Trustees also had a goal of reopening a Shawnee site in Cairo, to give residents in that city and throughout Alexander County a location to take college-level courses and other classes. Bradford said Shawnee alum Ed Smith had donated money to buy and renovate property for that site; it is expected to open in fall 2018.
“To envision coming back and being a part of the college and being a part of the community, it was like a lifelong dream,” Bradford said.