In his book The Tipping Point, the writer Malcolm Gladwell defines our world as being populated by three types of people: connectors—people who know countless number of people; mavens—people who know how to accumulate information and share it; and salespeople—charismatic individuals who can get the job done. All three of these definitions can apply to Professor Janine Fondon. The founder of the On the Move Forum at Bay Path University and co-curator of the exhibit, Intersection, highlighting women of color, she has worked tirelessly to bring women’s stories, history and issues to all generations. With an aunt (Irene Morgan) who won an historic case before the U.S. Supreme Court and a grandmother who came to this country via Ellis Island, her backstory is a page out of American history.
“I come from New York City and my family lived in Queens and the Bronx. I grew up in a predominately Caribbean / African-American neighborhood. It was very close-knit, and I was lucky to have my grandmother by my side.
Although we had public schools in Queens Village, from kindergarten to the eighth grade I was bused to Little Neck, Long Island
Did it make me more resilient? Quite honestly, I took things day by day. I was fortunate in that my grandmother was a big influence in my life. She believed in getting an education and doing the right thing. She had my back.
My grandmother is from Jamaica and had my mother in New York City. In fact, my grandmother came through Ellis Island in the early 1900s. She earned a living house cleaning and sewing. From time to time, the families my grandmother worked for would give her newspapers, and she would bring them home and say to me: ‘This is The New York Times. This is what they are reading, so you should read this paper, too.’
After completing the eighth grade, the next step was high school. At the time, I said to one of my friends: ‘We have to get out of here. I play the piano, and you do too. I sing a bit, and you do as well.’ Then my friend Valerie said, ‘Let’s apply to one of the specialized high schools in the city.’
If it wasn’t for standardized testing, I wouldn’t be sitting here. Teachers would give us Fs, but those tests became our equalizers. I scored high on the tests! When I told my guidance counselor that we were applying to a specialized school, the reply was: ‘You don’t have a prayer.’
We applied to the High School of Music and Art. Most people know of it because of the movie, Fame. Of course, we had to go to
Looking back, most students didn’t have mentors. You just had to navigate on your own and survive. My experiences made me strong, and not afraid to dive in. I still say, ‘I can do this.’ And today, it’s that spirit that I try to share with my students.”