By Brittany Whitley
“We were always told we had to be better and therefore, we work really hard to be qualified in what we do,” expressed Morgan County African American Museum (MCAAM) Director Cheryl Bland. And with that ancestral mantra ingrained in her mind, she chased after her dreams but not without aiming for the stars.
The Gray, Ga. native began serving her community as a teen at the Harriet Tubman Museum as a docent, a shadow of her current reality.
“I got to know a lot of the people who were movers and shakers in Macon and I used to say ‘I want to be like them,’” Bland commented about her earlier days.
Bland went on to Georgia Southern University where she obtained her Bachelor’s in Counseling, Fort Valley State University for her Master’s in Special Education, and a Specialist in School Administration from Troy University. She even attempted her doctorate, but postponed it to serve needs within her family.
To the young, ambitious ladies of Morgan County she encouraged, “Follow your dreams, plan. Have a little fun, but don’t get yourself in such a manner that you can’t enjoy life. Do things before you settle down, have fun and figure out what’s out there. There are a lot of professions that are readily available…There are so many opportunities that weren’t available to me when I finished school like there are now…”
What she is preaching, she practiced. The woman of many hats worked as a school administrator in Dublin and Milledgeville, a middle Special Education Teacher in Macon, and explored work outside of her field in Texas and New York. Confident. Compassionate. Unapologetic. Bland spreads her education and experience through her service in Madison, where she has now resided for 15 years, to empower the youth and be a voice for African Americans in the community.
Aside from her position as director at the MCAAM, Bland is a member of Union Springs Baptist Church, and a board member of the Steffen Thomas Museum of Art, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Board of Education.
“I think it is important especially for places like the boys and girls club where most of the kids there are black to see black leadership there,” Bland stated.
“Steffen Thomas is a wonderful organization that I wanted to know more about and wanted to be involved in,” Bland continued.
“I want to be a part of what happens [in the community] because I want to make sure that our kids are getting what they need.”
With her history as a former educator, the physical and emotional efforts of teachers never go unnoticed when it comes to her decision-making on the BOE.
“I am the only democrat and the only woman on the BOE,” Bland noted. “We have different beliefs. Everyone has things that are important to them. The businessmen look at the business aspect of it; I look at the business aspect, personnel aspect, and I also look at the kids. And I know everybody has the same needs, but they have them in different orders…”
As for her role at the MCAAM, Bland says that her “biggest joy is sharing our story.”
As MCAAM Director, Bland uses the platform to reach beyond Madison to bring the museum’s treasurable history to light throughout and outside of the country. Yet, her desire to enrich the Madison community with African American history is not lessened.
“I want to see the MCAAM on the same footing as STMA and the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center,” Bland said confidently. “I want our clientele to be more educated and I want people to know that we are there for a reason. I want us to be able to highlight that we come from a proud people and we never need to forget that.”
Despite her large communal footprint, Bland finds joy and motivation at home behind the scenes where she wears another set of hats, softer than what the public sees – the thoughtful cap of a writer, the peaceful bonnet of an avid reader, the sleek fedora of a pianist, and the shading panama of a devoted mother.