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Minnie Forte-Brown - Speech instructor plays critical role in Durham public schools

By David Fitts, Echo Online Editor
On September 27, 2010

  • Minnie Forte in her office on the 3rd floor of the Farrison-Newton Communications Building. David Fitts/Echo Staff Photographer

When students and faculty at N.C. Central University hear about one of their professors taking a big stand for education both on campus and in Durham, one person comes to mind: Minnie Forte-Brown, chair of the Durham Public School Board and coordinator of speech communication in the English and mass communications department at NCCU.

Forte-Brown, a Durham native, knew she wanted to be a teacher like her mother, Minnie T. Forte, who received a Ph.D. in education from N.C. College at Durham in 1960, one of the first people to do so.

Forte taught elementary education at Saint Augustine's College and Fayetteville State University.

"She was my first teacher and the best teacher I ever had," said Forte-Brown. "The best person to learn from was in front of me, I didn't have to go far."

Forte-Brown said her mother changed the lives of the children she interacted with.

"I wanted to model her and be like her, which included being impactful in changing the lives of so many children like she did," said Forte-Brown.

"I have people that my mother taught tell me how they were impacted by her skill and sensitivity as a teacher. I had to be like my mother ... I had to be the best."

Forte-Brown went to Morgan State College in the fall of 1967 majoring in speech and English.

After two years, she transferred to Saint Augustine's College and graduated in 1972 magna cum-laude.

She taught at Walbrook Senior High School, a communications high school in Baltimore. Then earned her master's degree in education, specializing in speech pathology and audiology, from NCCU and began teaching at the University in 1975.

Forte-Brown said she wants to make sure that her students are learning but at the same time are comfortable with her and their classmates.

"My theory on teaching is that you have to always make lessons relevant, which means that students have to know what it means to their lives," she said.

"If it's meaningful, if it's something that's useable then they will be attentive."

This is something that her grandson Michael Johnson, sports management junior, said she does well.

"Her teaching style is unique. She finds ways to relate to her students in order to get inside their minds so she can relate to them on their level," he said.

"My Nana listens to the music and watches the shows that her students watch so she can relate to them."

Forte-Brown's students agree with her grandson.

"I never found myself becoming bored in Mrs. Forte's classes ... her level of energy made me excited to come to class," said Tamara Edwards, English senior.

Forte-Brown has earned the admiration of faculty members as well.

"Minnie is very expressive, innovative and fun," said English instructor Alfredia Collins.

"She's able to reach the students taking them from where they are to where they need to be."

Forte-Brown said that younger faculty need to learn not to distance themselves from students, adding that understanding and compassion are critical to the teaching mission.

Forte-Brown's teaching mission is not just limited to her work at NCCU. She was first elected to the Durham Public School Board in 2004, re-elected in 2008, and now serves as its chair.

"I got involved because I'm a product of Durham Public Schools," she said.        She said one of her important tasks at the board was to improve communication between the board and Durham's citizens.

"I thought that I could bring some communication strategies that would allow them to be more effective and focus on the purpose of the school board which is writing governance designed to improve student achievement," she said.

According to her grandson Forte-Brown "hates it when a young person does not get an education ... this is one of the reasons why she is involved."

Forte-Brown said she plans on teaching "until they kick me out" or until she feels that she's staying past her effectiveness.

"I want my students to always learn from me," she said. "There's passion in what I do."

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