Las Vegas Sun

July 17, 2024

Hannah Brown’s ‘beautiful legacy of compassion and giving’ honored with school in her name

First Day of School at New School

Yasmina Chavez

Education activist Hannah Marie Brown speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new elementary school that bears her name in Henderson on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.

First Day of School at New School

Charlie Gonzalez, 7 years old, holds up a sign during the first day of school at the new Hannah Marie Brown Elementary School in Henderson, NV Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. Launch slideshow »

A brand-new school opened Monday in Henderson, with brand-new desks and brand-new chairs and brand-new library books on the inside, and views of the Strip and mountains in the distance on the outside.

This is Ms. Hannah Brown’s house. 

As she stood outside welcoming students on the first day of school, she dabbed her eyes and said she would keep her opening ceremony remarks brief “before I fall to pieces.”

“In my wildest dreams, I never would have believed this would ever happen for me,” she said.

The Clark County School District opened two new schools today at start the 2021-22 school year — Barry and June Gunderson Middle School in the far southwest valley, and Hannah Marie Brown Elementary School in Henderson, not far from Green Valley High School. 

Her daughter Kay said her mother’s bottomless well of passion and love for youth earned her the honor of a building with her name on it in large letters. The family is still absorbing the distinction, even though Brown comes to campus sometimes as often as three times a week. 

“How many people do you know who have a school named after them?” Kay Brown said.

Hannah Brown, 82, was never a teacher, but wearing the same T-shirt as school staff — one bearing the school’s mascot, a bear, on the front and “Original Brown Bear” on the back — and with her energy around the children, she could have been mistaken for one.

Brown grew up on Monroe Avenue in the Historic Westside of Las Vegas and attended the segregated Westside Grammar School. She had Kay, her only child, not long after graduating from high school and worked so Kay could have a good life — and a good education. As a single mom in the 1960s, Brown started with Western Airlines as a reservation agent, and stayed after Western merged with Delta in the 1980s. 

She rose in the ranks and retired in 1995 from a regional manager position based at Delta’s Atlanta headquarters. Only in her 50s, she had plenty of time to devote to community service. Working with Las Vegas’ Urban Chamber of Commerce, she connected with education leaders.

Through a nonprofit also bearing her name, Brown has raised nearly $400,000 for college and trade school scholarship funds for local students. She secured a grant from the Las Vegas Centennial Committee to refurbish Westside Grammar School as a historical cultural center.  

She created the Saturday School Tutorial Program at Matt Kelly Elementary School, also in the Westside, to improve low test scores with one-on-one instruction. 

She served for two decades on various advisory committees for CCSD. And on the Public Education Foundation’s board of directors, the Nevada State College Foundation board, the UNLV Diversity Committee, and the College of Southern Nevada Foundation.

A case in Brown Elementary’s lobby holds trophies and mementos from her civic service, along with glimpses of her personality: a sweater she knitted for Kay as a child, photos with celebrities, and a clip from Ebony magazine, which in 1991 named her one of the “100 Most Promising Black Women in Corporate America.”

School board trustee Lisa Guzman said the 27,000-square-foot campus is a welcoming place for children and she expected great things from the inaugural Bears.

“The school board, by naming the school after her, honored Hannah’s beautiful legacy of compassion and giving,” Guzman said.

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., who made a career in local education nonprofits, said her own background working with children led her to Congress.

“It’s not just about education, it’s about making sure our students have the resources they need to be successful in school. I’ve had a partner in Hannah Brown in that fight for over 25 years,” Lee said. “I don’t think you have a better namesake than her.”

CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara said he was told early on in his tenure in Las Vegas that he had to meet Brown. He found a champion for equity and access to education, and a personal cheerleader, too.

“Times have been challenging throughout this pandemic, and suddenly you get a text: ‘Continue the good fight, superintendent,’” a pick-me-up from Brown, he said.

Brown Principal Michele Wooldridge, hugging pupils she had just met, has been with CCSD for more than 20 years. She told her staff to not take this first day for granted, though.

New schools and the first day of school are new beginnings.

“We all need this little bit of happiness and joy and excitement,” Wooldridge said.

As for Brown, she said the school naming has her on a high cloud she might never come down from, “especially every time I pass by or go to the school.”