REFLECTIONS/Jonathan Gramling

Jonathan Gramling

Make It Darlene Hancock High

Darlene Hancock was and still is a powerful force in Madison’s Black community and beyond. Although Darlene died in 2012, her legacy continues on. There is a movement to rename Madison Memorial High School after Darlene. I think that would be a wise move.

Darlene and her husband moved to Madison back in 1974 and during her career with the Madison Metropolitan School District, Darlene was a trailblazer for African Americans in the upper echelons of school leadership. She was appointed grade level principal of Memorial High School. She later became assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School, followed by 10th grade principal at East High School. In 1983, she became principal at Glenn W. Stephens Elementary School. I saw close up before she retired that the staff and students at Stephens Elementary loved them some Darlene Hancock.

Darlene was a mover and a shaker. She and her husband led the way in establishing S.S. Morris AME Community Church, lending the church the down payment it needed to purchase its present-day location. Later on Darlene funded an education center in the basement of S.S. Morris that was named after her and her husband. The photo that accompanies this column captures Darlene cutting the ribbon while Pastor Greg Armstrong looks on.

Darlene also was a founding member of the Kappa Psi Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the Madison Metropolitan Chapter of The Links, Inc. Are you getting the sense that Darlene was an institution builder in Madison’s Black community?

And one Sunday in May during the 1980s, Darlene organized a program that honored the achievements of several African American graduating seniors. This simple program grew into the Madison Metropolitan Links African American Student Recognition where hundreds of students were recognized in the Madison College-Truax gym in two sessions every year before the pandemic hit.

And I know this honor was important to the students. Every year when I publish the Hues Row of Excellence honoring students of color with a 3.0 GPA or greater, many of the African American students list this recognition as one of their accomplishments. That is Darlene Hancock’s legacy.

I wrote a couple of articles on Darlene over the years. She could be deadly serious. I saw that focused eye that probably made students stop in their tracks if they were running down the hall at Glenn Stephens. She just had that look that let you know she was intensely serious about what she was trying to convey and it was almost like the recipient was locked in a tractor beam until Darlene was done communicating her message.

And yet I had seen that Darlene was full of love for the children under her charge and for the children in the community. She was in education until her husband grew ill and for his sake, Darlene retired and they moved to Las Vegas. When Allen died in 2006, Darlene moved back to Madison and got involved with children and their education once again.

I really liked Darlene Hancock as a person. She was a woman of high integrity. I never heard a disparaging word about her. And she was direct and told you exactly what was on her mind. There was no humming and hawing from her. You might not like what she had to sat, but you know that she meant it. And on the other hand, she did have a refined sense of humor. She had a beautiful smile.

If I sit here and think long enough, I could probably come up with many other reasons why Memorial High should be named after Darlene. Hancock. Darlene was committed to children and their education. If something didn’t exist that the community needed, she didn’t sit around and complain. She helped create the organization or the program that would fill the need. She was a person of high integrity and her moral compass was dead on. While she kept a disciplined ship at Glenn Stephens Elementary, the students and the staff loved her for it.

I know that Darlene has some fierce competition in Vel Phillips and Bruce Dahman, who both would be deserving of the honor. Vel Phillips has a UW-Madison dormitory named after her and a statue in her likeness will soon be installed on the State Capitol grounds. Vel was a political figure and not an educator.

Bruce Dahman, whom I met on many occasions as I worked on The Hues Row of Excellence at Memorial was a long-time Memorial fixture and died while he was principal of the school. In isolation, Bruce is a fine example of commitment to students and education. But as the demographics of the school district change, we need more school buildings named after educators and people of color. The future students should attend the Darlene Hancock High School. I hope the Madison Metropolitan School Board is listening.