As a collaborative body, MBK Philly is driven by the energy and expertise of its network. Local and regional stakeholders often provide guiding insights for our work. Their contributions enrich our thinking and show a way forward.
Case in point is Betty Jean Thompson Nobles, retired Philadelphia school teacher, artist, and an inspiration for our Mentoring Art Project with the Philadelphia 76ers! When Betty Jean reached out and shared her desire to get involved, we tapped our network to create an opportunity to lift up youth voices.
Continue below to read Betty Jean’s heartfelt, first-person account of her life. If you’re interested in being a part of MBK Philly, contact us!
Once upon a time, Betty Jean was a teenage mother, on welfare, and living in a Philadelphia Housing Project. She was poor and abused, with no voice. She proudly says that, “Caring Mentors, Education and Prayer was the Blueprint that helped her find her voice, and cope with horrifying and difficult times.
“Knowledge is a powerful tool. It’s not just about academics, it is also about rebuilding character, having Faith, feeling good about yourself, and helping others.”
Betty Jean was born in Augusta, Georgia into a big family at a time when “Jim Crow Laws” ruled the South. During this time, Black children were supposed to feel stupid and ugly. Somebody forgot to give Betty Jean’s family that memo. One day her oldest brother came down from the north for a visit. After a few days of talking, he and her mother decided that The Deep South was not ready for this bright-eyed little chocolate girl. So, Betty Jean took a train ride to Philadelphia, excited about her future.
Within days, when her brother went off to work, her daily life became a “Chamber of Horrors.” The only thing that kept her soul alive was the memories of her father telling great stories about their African ancestors, while the music of Dizzy Gillespie or Lena Horne played in the background. Her father supervised family art contests and the storytelling. When it was really terrible, Betty Jean would close her eyes, and pretend that her mother was singing one of Mahalia Jackson’s songs, and playing guitar like B. B. King.
Fortunately, this nightmare was short lived, but it had a tremendous impact on her life. She was lucky enough to have a few teachers that recognized her pain and her talents.
One teacher pulled her aside and gave her a book written by Claude Brown. This teacher continued with a steady flow of books by Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Lorraine Hansberry, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Ralph Ellison. This changed her perception about life.
Betty Jean was divorced and raising her children, when she earned a degree from Community College of Philadelphia and a degree in Early Childhood Education from Temple University. Betty Jean will be the first to admit that she is no Superwoman. Raising children, working and going to school was hard on the whole family. Her only son was smart, handsome and charming. He was also young and impressionable. Events in his life paint a vivid picture of how social, emotional and physical events in our communities can cause miscalculations in shaping a young person’s view of their own mortality. He had plans to represent the United States in the Olympics in track or the light-weight boxing division, until being poor and the lure of Philly Streets pulled him into another world. This cost Betty Jean and her son years of their lives.
When her son was in prison, Betty Jean never gave up him. She forged her own educational, spiritual, physical plan for surviving prison.This program embraced personal responsibility, self-forgiveness and redemption. It reaffirmed his self-worth and reminded him of his humanity.
He used his time in prison wisely. This was the beginning of his natural progressive transformation. Today, Betty Jean’s son is an accomplished local actor, author, speaker, community activist, and a member of her Kandlelight Production Inc. Team. He found his voice. This difficult experience lead Betty Jean to write a novel, “A Small Candlelight,” which is based primarily on their lives. Betty Jean found her purpose through her healing, and created her own voice. Don’t be afraid to “Take A Leap in a positive direction, that promotes self-reflection, connections and realistic problem-solving.”