Born in Ansonia, Connecticut, Mary Cole Watson was the second of eleven children. She has a strong connection to her African ancestors since her father is from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Her world was often marred in chaos and confusion. Her mother suffered from an undiagnosed bout of mental illness, while her father suffered from alcoholism, like many men of color during the 1950’s.
Before Mary was whisked off to spend some of her most formative years in foster care, she had already made it up in her mind that she wanted to be a teacher. As early as the age of six, she found herself challenging the minds of her younger siblings with math, reading, and language writing in their makeshift classroom. Lined up on the floor in front of their beds, she would firmly articulate the correct spelling of the word for the day to her younger brother Gerard.
“I loved learning,” explains Watson. Having earned the privilege to attend a catholic school not far from her home, Mary was very aware of how her learning experience was different than her white counterparts. Yet, this experience did nothing but inspire her to rise above the bar of low expectations the Nuns set for her and the other children of color. Upon graduating from SUNY College at Brockport with a degree in African and African American Studies, this brave young soldier grew from being a “self-loathing burden” of the state of New York to an award winning teacher who instilled cultural pride in her African American students.
Mary has made it her life goal to ensure the next generation of learners understood their designated place in African American heritage. Her drive resulted in graduating Magna Cum Laude, and later the recipient of The Mary McLeod Bethune Award and a full Graduate Assistantship to the University of Toledo, with a Masters in Early Childhood Education and Reading.
Mary was an educator in the Cleveland Heights University Heights School District for thirty-three years serving as elementary school teacher, high school reading teacher, Race Relations Facilitator, Title 1 Reading Director, and Reading Assessor. She was awarded a Harlem Renaissance Fellowship and coached distance/ cross country track & field while at the high school. Mary taught her final years in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
Mary is a current member of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Board and a member of the Board Racial Equity Committee.