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Brinkley wins the Bessie Bruington Burke Award

Ava Langford
Mr. Brinkley featured in his classroom.

Hamilton educators are full of prowess and pride in what they do. Recently, Hamilton’s own Mr. Brinkley, an English and African-American literature teacher, was awarded by Mount St. Mary’s University the Bessie Bruington Burke award for Excellence in Black Teaching. Bessie Bruington Burke was the first Black teacher and principal admitted into the Los Angeles public school system. 


Mr. Brinkley said that Bessie Bruington Burke holds a special place in his teachings and how he carries on her legacy, even before he won the award. 


He said, “I think Bessie Bruington Burke is important to education. Her reputation in itself is important. That’s a legacy, somebody had to be first for others to see it can be done. I teach school, my mom taught school, I got a bunch of aunts who taught school, my sister. We all taught public school. Her legacy– I’m here teaching in school, that’s her legacy.”


Mr. Brinkley was nominated by a former student, which was heartwarming for him. He explained that the student studied African American literature with him at Hamilton and that she found his teachings important outside of the classroom. 


“I was really honored that I had that much of an impact on a student who’s not even at Hamilton anymore, she’s off at college,” he said.


Mr. Brinkley explained how the nomination began as a letter of appreciation from the student.


 “She sent me a pretty long email just saying all the things she enjoyed about the class, she’s seen it come to reality being in a college campus and through the things they’re studying,” he said. That email became the basis for how the student nominated Mr. Brinkley for the award. “She submitted it to the committee and they were just floored.”


Mr. Brinkley also understands firsthand how teachers can have a strong influence on their students. “My favorite teacher was my sixth grade teacher,” he said. “I guess I never really consciously think about it but subconsciously it’s always like, I remember being in that class and her being patient with the students and seeing us all as individuals. If there’s anybody that I get inspiration from when it comes to teaching, it’s her.”

The impact of his teaching is felt by many of Mr. Brinkley’s students. 

He said, “I’ve had students in the past tell me how much the class meant to them. Whether it was teaching African American literature or just English in general. I guess what I’m doing is making sense.”


Along with the honor Mr. Brinkley holds for his teaching and the teaching of others, he also honors how African American literature impacts himself and how that extends to his classes and curriculum. 


A student of Mr. Brinkley’s, AMPA Senior Henna Lopez-Spears, shared what the curriculum Mr. Brinkley utilizes means to her. 


“I feel like in the regular English classes we learn more about the white history, white authors, and we don’t really get to learn about how much African Americans have achieved in their lives,” she said. “We’re book writers, too. In Mr. Brinkley’s class he kinda dives into that aspect of ourselves and creates an environment for us to feel welcome and safe to talk about our own people and the achievements that we’ve had.”


Angeline Ayala, Humanities senior, added. “It’s a learning experience learning things that I haven’t really been introduced to throughout my school years. It’s impactful seeing it from a different view from Black students and hearing their opinions on things. It’s great that I’m in that class because I get to learn things more on a one-on-one basis, I guess you could say from first-hand experiences.”


Brinkley shared more on what Black literature means in his classes. “I think the things we study in African-American literature, they’re not doing in any other classes. I think that’s a shame though. I think it’s kind of sad when students come to my class and they haven’t read Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, or Angie Thomas. I wish the other classes would expose students to more African-American authors.” 


Mr. Brinkley’s appreciation for Black authors is what brought him to winning the Bessie Bruington Burke Award because his work in Black literature and teaching extended to students. He expressed how teaching black literature to students is an opportunity to diversify the content that Hamilton students consume in classes. “You can only care about people once you understand people. I don’t think teaching black literature can hurt, it can’t hurt.”


“I don’t think it covers enough content, repeatedly getting the same kind of authors and stories told from the same perspectives. So I think that when we get these Black authors, it gives us a deeper understanding of our world as a whole.” said Shiraz Lawrence, an AMPA senior.


Jordan Velasco, Humanities senior, shared his view on how Black teachings impacted his time on Hamilton campus. “It’s helped me connect more on my Black side, especially with being mixed. It’s eye-opening,” he said. “It’s engaging more in my culture and it’s definitely a huge change in my environment.”


“It’s important to learn about all races,” BIT senior Emily Magnusson said, expressing the significance of Black literature and culture on Hamilton’s campus.  “You need to learn the struggle, other people’s struggles. Our society is built off of Black people’s struggles and it’s important to learn that.”


Mr. Brinkley expressed this lesson is what he wishes to achieve with his teaching. 


“Receiving that award, getting emails from students… What I want to leave, when I decide to retire, is just the fact that they got it,” he said. “It may not have kicked in during class but once they got in the world they can think, ‘Oh wow, the things we learned, the things we discussed, they are in the world, not just at Hamilton.’ I want that. That’s all I want.”

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About the Contributors
Julie Vasquez, Staff Writer
Julie Vasquez is the assistant editor for the student life section of The Federalist. She is a junior in AMPA at Alexander Hamilton Senior High. Julie covers culture and trends. She is interested in drawing along with creative writing! You can share feedback and story ideas with Julie through email at [email protected] or on Instagram @federalistathami.
Ava Langford, Photographer
Ava Langford is a photographer for The Federalist. She is a Junior in BITA at Alexander Hamilton Senior High. Ava covers not just interesting topics, but also things that aren't talked about or noticed enough around Hamilton. She is interested in multiple things such as: fashion, writing, and culture. You can share feedback and story ideas with Ava through email at [email protected] or on Instagram @federalistathami.

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