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Rooted in her Liberian identity, Duluth home to educator, entrepreneur

From the column: “For anyone of African heritage, living in Duluth can be challenging. Microaggressions are common experiences. … Nonetheless, Jebeh loves living in Duluth.”

She is a hockey mom. You can typically hear her loudly cheering either of her sons in the hockey rink on a game night. Max is 13, and Mateo is 10.

She is proudly Liberian American and embraces her cultural identity and heritage fiercely and passionately.

She is an educator, born to educators — and a solopreneur, a one-woman squad running different aspects of her consulting firm.

Let’s meet Mrs. Jebeh Edmunds.

Born in Liberia to parents who would soon become immigrants in a foreign land, Jebeh’s sojourn in the United States began as a 2-year-old when, along with her father, she joined her mom in the U.S. Growing up on the college campuses of Ohio State and Southern Illinois universities, where her parents pursued graduate education, Jebeh’s formative years were spent immersed in the world of academia, an environment that brought people from different nationalities together to form a global community. She fondly recalls it as “a little UN.”

In pursuit of employment opportunities, her family moved to Minnesota, settling in the northern Twin Cities suburb of Coon Rapids, where Jebeh went through grade school and graduated high school. She went from having friends from all over the world to being in classroom settings where she was the only Black child. She remembers with fondness showcasing her rich cultural heritage through her hair and clothing.

“I credit my parents for my upbringing and my strong love of being Liberian,” she told me. “I’m the only Black girl there, but I’m rocking my hair tie.”

Jebeh’s career trajectory in teaching was not conventional. She earned a bachelors degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth, where she majored in communication. Her first job after graduation was as a news producer for WDIO-TV Channel 10, where she worked for two years.

Jebeh married her born-and-raised-in-Duluth sweetheart Andy in 2005. They had met a couple of weeks before graduating college. By then Jebeh had a position with the Duluth School District where she was engaged in an enrichment program that coordinated multiple cultural centers. Budget cuts soon resulted in the closures of the centers.

Ms. Williams, an art teacher who Jebeh worked with in the enrichment program, had developed a curriculum intended to give grade-school students an immersive experience in African/African American cultures. Jebeh, being an African in diaspora, took the curriculum and tweaked and augmented it with activities that were storytelling-based, with music (e.g. drumming) and community-outreach components. The programming gave children a more immersive experience. She did this for eight years, a testament to her passion for education.

In 2010, at the urging of then-Nettleton Elementary School Principal Mrs. Stephanie Heilig, Jebeh enrolled in a nontraditional track through the Graduate Teacher Licensure Program at the College of St. Scholastica. She did so while caring for her toddler son, Max.

Following in her mother’s footsteps

It was a full-circle moment for her when she landed her first teaching job, soon after having their second son, Mateo. Like her now-retired mom, who taught first grade for more than 30 years in the Minneapolis Public School District at Hiawatha Elementary, Jebeh taught first grade at Piedmont and Myers-Wilkins Elementary. Being in the classroom has been both exciting and fulfilling for Jebeh.

Over the course of her professional journey in education, Jebeh has not been immune to the experiences of microaggressions and racial discrimination.

“Some parents wanted their kids out of my classroom because I was the Black teacher,” she said. “A lot of them came back thankful after seeing that their kid was thriving in my classroom.”

A true veteran in the profession, her mom has been her mentor and a great inspiration in her journey as an educator.

“First year, when we had our first winter break, I went and I observed my mom through a teacher lens for a whole week and … I mean, she showed me how to run reading centers. She showed me the whole gamut, and I felt way more prepared than I did before, and that really was instrumental in getting me to where I was,” she said.

Jebeh is currently teaching fifth grade at Congdon Park Elementary, where she has been so blessed to teach each of her boys. Incidentally, her husband Andy also attended Congdon Park Elementary, making the experience even more special. Jebeh is the only Black educator in her school. She is thankful for the opportunities she has to educate children and dispel myths about Africans living in America. She finds it fulfilling knowing her presence in the educational space is shifting perspectives and changing the narrative around people of African heritage.

Jebeh is an advocate for more intentional mentoring that goes beyond meeting scholastic needs. Given the contextual layers of identities, Jebeh believes there is added value in mentoring persons of similar background and shared lived experience.

“I kind of find myself gravitating toward those graduate students that are like me,” she said. “They have families, (and) it’s nice seeing that they’re going back into this profession of education.”

She continues to be involved in mentoring programs and community-outreach initiatives aimed at getting more Black students into the educational profession.

Emergence of the educator-solopreneur

The pandemic, while certainly challenging for everyone, also proved to be a blessing for Jebeh and her family. In addition to strengthening family bonds, it was during this time that she caught a vision for her consulting firm, Jebeh Cultural Consulting LLC ( jebehedmunds.com ). She had always been the resource person, sharing information with her classmates as early as grade school. With the increase in awareness of systemic racism and the push toward more diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, Jebeh’s natural inclination to educate others about these issues went into overdrive.

In 18 months, Jebeh created more than 50 lesson plans for kindergarten through eighth grade, with accompanying pictures, books, worksheets, questions to guide discussions, and step-by-step guides on how to use these resources. Teachers anywhere in the United States can purchase these resources and teach them. This curricula content is mapped onto the common CORE standard benchmarks.

Another branch of her consultancy is DEI training for business owners and nonprofit organizations. This includes training on implicit bias and rethinking DEI in the workplace, which, she points out, is quite challenging for organizations. Her approach, through storytelling, integrates her lived experiences as a Black woman, growing up a Black immigrant child in Minnesota, and job seeking and other interactions as a person of color.

Jebeh runs her business mostly at night. The consultancy is growing at a rapid rate and expanding to include a variety of media platforms, including a podcast, a YouTube channel, and a blog. To adequately respond to the growing need for DEI and related education, Jebeh is moving toward making consultancy her full-time job. She is so excited to be pulling on her broadcasting expertise and leveraging her educational background to further develop this work. She is loving the adventure into this next season of her professional life.

Living in — and loving — Duluth

For anyone of African heritage, living in Duluth can be challenging. Microaggressions are common experiences, and even more so for persons like Jebeh: a first-generation immigrant, a Black woman living in a predominantly white neighborhood, and being in a biracial marriage.

Nonetheless, Jebeh loves living in Duluth, primarily because she is surrounded by family. Her sister in-law and brother in-law, with their children, live a couple houses from her, and her parents-in-law are just a few blocks away. Her mom, step dad, and one of her sisters are a couple of hours away. Jebeh also has two sisters out of state. She enjoys spending time with family at their cabin on Island Lake and connecting with good friends in town.

While strongly rooted in her Liberian identity, Jebeh can truly say Duluth is home! In her words: “Living here, I don’t feel alone because I have always in my heart grown up Liberian American. I’ve always been strong in my Liberian American identity. I’ve always been proud of who I am. So, for me, it’s OK. No matter where I am, I’m proud and I know who I am.”

Source: https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/

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