Abbott Elementary stars aim to give their flowers to black educators


Before becoming an author, before playing in “A Black Lady Sketch Show”, before touring the world with Milly-Rocking, Quinta Brunson was the daughter of a teacher.

The 31-year-old Philadelphia native recalls her mother getting her ready for school at 7 a.m. every day, only to order her own class and take care of more than 30 students afterwards. When Brunson entered high school, she certainly felt the pressure associated with being “a teacher’s kid,” but moreover, she developed an appreciation for her mother’s career.

“It’s not just about teaching them to read,” Brunson said. “What can they eat?” What can’t they eat? What’s going on at home? Who’s gonna pick you up today, who’s not picking you up today? And my mother wouldn’t go to sleep until after eight o’clock, because she had her work from seven in the morning until eight at night. It gave me such respect for what teachers do. It was shocking to me when I grew up and realized other people didn’t have that respect.

For 40 years, that was the reality for Brunson’s mother as an educator in the Philadelphia school district. The anecdotes she’s shared with her daughter over the past few decades have spawned Brunson’s latest project, “Abbott Elementary,” which premieres Tuesday and resumes its 13-episode season in January.

ABC’s workplace comedy follows a group of five West Philadelphia teachers and a principal who are determined to give their students the best and forge personal relationships despite the odds placed against them.

From dealing with flickering lights and outdated history books to “inverted toilets” and little to no funding for basic supplies, “Abbott Elementary” addresses both the mundane and systemic issues plaguing America’s public schools. Uniquely, the series highlights the impact black educators have on their students, setting itself apart from other portrayals of academia on modern television.

Brunson said Abbott Elementary isn’t inherently trying to push a message, other than that teachers should be supported more.

“The pilot was very loosely based on various things that I had seen and heard throughout my mother’s career. Her love for hard work, what we hear all the time about teachers, it’s is what inspired me,” Brunson said.

“I thought that alone presented me with some form of comedy, always liking something so absurd and hard to do sometimes. I just felt it was a world ripe for mining.

Brunson said her character, passionate young teacher Janine Teagues, encapsulates the more optimistic and cheerful parts of her mother, while seasoned, no-nonsense veteran Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) reflects her toughness. On the show, Teagues makes a point of seeking Howard’s approval, whether for mentorship or friendship, but comes to find that the two educators have very distinct approaches to running a classroom.

In “Abbott Elementary,” Brunson plays Janine Teagues (right), a young teacher seeking mentorship and validation from no-nonsense veteran Barbara Howard (left), played by Sheryl Lee Ralph.

“Our whole kind of theory with the generational description of this show was like, you need this healthy mix of jaded people and blindly optimistic people to come up with a solution. Sometimes in more modern television we try to present the perfect relationship with our black characters, because there are so many negatives. I wanted to explore the middle ground where it’s not perfect, and it’s not horrible. It’s just human, which naturally has its ups and downs.

“We love the idea of ​​perfect Black Girl Magic in the workplace and all black girls get along,” Brunson continued. “It’s just not realistic. There are so many things that create friction. But the idea is to overcome our differences and use our differences to create solutions, which I think these characters do.

Whether it’s mothering Lauryn Hill in ‘Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit’ or acting alongside Brandy Norwood in ‘Moesha’ and Tia Mowry in ‘Instant Mom’, Sheryl Lee Ralph is an iconic matriarch. black television. However, stepping into the role of overbearing “woman of God” Barbara Howard was an adjustment for her.

Ralph said: “Barbara is really a reflection of my Aunt Carolyn.  Auntie Carolyn was a tough teacher, but you knew she was tough because she loved you.  She was that teacher who was ready to do something different.
Ralph said: “Barbara is really a reflection of my Aunt Carolyn. Auntie Carolyn was a tough teacher, but you knew she was tough because she loved you. She was that teacher who was ready to do something different.

Ralph has stated that in real life, her primary inclination is to mentor black women in the industry; Brunson and Ralph had even worked together on “A Black Lady Sketch Show.” In March, Brunson reached out to Ralph to share his vision for the series.

“It’s the way she came to me with such sincerity and such a desire to have me on this project. If it all worked out for me, I knew it was something I had to do. That’s how it went for me,” Ralph said.

Like Brunson, Ralph is a teacher’s child; his father, Dr. Stanley Ralph, was a professor at Rockland Community College in New York. She drew inspiration for her character from her own parents, notably her aunt Carolyn. Ralph said she wants viewers to appreciate the importance of education and how teachers shape the minds of children on a daily basis.

“They deserve more support, they deserve more money. Overall, our communities, our government, we all need to pay attention to the importance of teachers. inside and around me and my family,” Ralph said. “Barbara is truly a reflection of my Aunt Carolyn. Auntie Carolyn was a tough teacher, but you knew she was tough because she loved you. She was that teacher who was ready to do something different.

The hard core of "Abbott Elementary School" teachers include, left to right: Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams), Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti), Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson), Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter).
The core group of “Abbott Elementary” teachers includes, left to right: Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams), Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti), Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson), Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa Schemmenti ( Lisa Anne Walter).

The superstar cast is made up of all-too-familiar archetypes: tough white liberal male ally Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti) – whom Brunson modeled after a teacher she knows – goofy, self-absorbed principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James) who slipped into the role and of course, the carefree South Philly teacher who’s seen it all, Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter).

For Brunson, she especially wanted to highlight black male teachers through the character of Gregory Eddie, played by Tyler James Williams. Black men make up just 2% of teaching staff nationwide, according to a report 2016 of the US Department of Education.

“It’s an interesting world,” Brunson said. “A teacher is something a lot of people look down on for men, almost the way they treat nurses to this day. I thought having this character here, touching these things without touching them, was interesting.

After a frustrated teacher quickly bails out, Eddie joins the staff at Abbott Elementary as a substitute teacher. Williams said what has been so important to him throughout this series is validating the experience of black males in breeding the next generation.

Brunson wanted to showcase black male teachers through the character of Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams).  Williams said what has been so important to him throughout this series is validating the experience of black males in breeding the next generation.
Brunson wanted to showcase black male teachers through the character of Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams). Williams said what has been so important to him throughout this series is validating the experience of black males in breeding the next generation.

“There are black male teachers in our school system who, every day, get up and go to work and do jobs that aren’t necessarily romanticized or in the dating world considered ideal,” Williams said. “That’s one of the things I wanted to do in there. Let’s make black men involved in teaching the next generation look sexy and attractive.

Unsure if he’ll stay, Eddie takes a liking to Teagues and begins to reconsider. Like any other fictional office romance, of course, Teagues is unaware of Eddie’s budding crush. Williams said “whether or not he can do anything about it is a whole other conversation.”

“Gregory likes Janine. She was someone who immediately saw her as the positivity in the middle, like a rose in the middle of the concrete. Somehow your heart is still there and it is intact and it is pure. There’s something beautiful about that,” Williams said. “He finds her as an ally in the battle trying to turn all these tiny humans into functioning adults. I think that’s what everyone is looking for in a partner, especially if you’re planning on starting a family.

Besides the ongoing romance, Brunson’s character and cast shines, showing how passionate black teachers are and how far they will go for their students. They are often parents away from home, lifesavers and life changers, which even Adele can attest to that.

Brunson said it was important to her to put black protagonists front and center on the show, because that’s the reality at a public school in West Philadelphia. The only sitcom she remembered centering a black educator was “Hanging with Mr. Cooper,” which focused on high school and the family unit as a whole.

At the “Abbott Elementary” red carpet on Monday, local educators in Los Angeles had the opportunity to attend a screening in two episodes. When Brunson’s mother watched the pilot, she was impressed.

Although her mother retired three years ago, Brunson will always be a teacher’s child at heart. His hope is that people will laugh at “Abbott Elementary” the way they would at “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” or “Parks & Recreation.”

“She called me afterwards and she was like, ‘Quinta, I’m so proud of you.’ My mom hasn’t told me that since I graduated from high school and I’ve done so much since,” Brunson said with a laugh.

“Good or bad, failure or whatever, I did something that not only was I already proud of, but now I can feel like I’ve tapped into my strength, so to speak. I have a long way to go, but like, I’m here. I have the impression that I am going to give birth to what I would like to give birth to.




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