There are achievements born of calculated conceptions, rewards we reap that come to fruition through our deliberate plotting and planting of seeds. Then there are those fruits of our labors that blossom on vines whose growth we hadn’t foreseen. The most gratifying moments in life, it seems, are those which smack of that divine synthesis, when the strategic meets the synchronistic.
This Friday, Nov. 30, retired educator and community leader Jeanne Martin Brayboy will be recognized (along with local theater professional Quentin Talley and corporate philanthropist Belk) at the Harvey B. Gantt Center’s 32nd Annual Jazzy Holiday Luncheon, an honor that the small-town Camden, S.C., native never imagined. “I never saw this for myself, and it was gradual,” Brayboy said, “but looking back I see how fitting the path has been.”
Brayboy — wife of the late Dr. Jack Brayboy and mother of grown children Joyce and Jack (a local TV personality) — moved to North Carolina as an adult, exploring her lifelong interest in the arts as a music major at Greensboro’s Bennett College. She began teaching music at CMS elementary schools in 1953 after receiving a master’s degree from Boston University. She went on to teach at CMS for 40 years, and actually helped to integrate the school system as one of the first African-American instructors. “I wanted to be as supportive of the arts as I could be,” said Brayboy. “So when, years ago, I was first asked to be a member of an arts council, I was happy to do it. But I never thought I’d get so involved.”
“Involved” is putting it mildly: Brayboy has served on the boards of a number of arts institutions over the years — from the Levine Center to the Mint Museum to the Gantt Center itself. A longtime symphony supporter, she is currently on the board of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra; her work with the Orchestra led to her being presented with the Marie R. Rowe Award by the Symphony Guild of Charlotte in 2011. She's also earned a Spirit Award from the Mint Museum and a Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Award from the United Negro College Fund, among others.
When it comes time to choose potential honorees for the Jazzy Luncheon — the Gantt’s major fundraising event — officials at the center focus on selecting individuals who they feel have made substantial contributions to Charlotte’s artistic community over a period of time. In the case of Brayboy’s nomination, CEO David Taylor calls it “easy to do. She has a long history in this community. We’re honored that she accepted.”
Her decades of patronage to the arts have allowed Brayboy — whose father John Wendell Martin was a high school football coach/teacher and mother June Singleton Martin worked as a librarian — insight into the successes and challenges that lie ahead for Charlotte’s post-recession arts scene. “What I’m really excited about is that despite financial troubles, various organizations have continued to prosper,” she says. “Some have had trouble keeping going but most institutions are prospering and have expanded their outreach programs.”
Inclusivity is also important to Brayboy. “There was a time when the arts organizations were considered to be elitist but the ones I’m familiar with have developed very interesting outreach programs in the community, reaching sections that haven’t had a change to participate in the arts scene and that to me is very exciting.”
And, as a former teacher, she is concerned for the future of arts education in CMS. “I hope the community at large will see the value of art education for all of our students. That’s part of what makes a great city. I hope we can continue to grow in that respect.”
For more information about the Jazzy Holiday Luncheon, visit the Gantt's website.
This article is part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts.