2002 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll
Sumner High School — Class of 1946
The Sumner High School track was where Dr. Jesse Milan found inspiration to believe in the power of possibility. He was just one of two sophomores to make the track team in 1944, and it was his coach, Jim Thatcher, who gave him reasons to believe he could succeed in school and in life. The lesson: recognize your talent and work with diligence.
Jesse took that lesson and has applied it with persistent grace throughout his career as a soldier, educator, advocate, and pioneer. Following a two-year tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force and a year of service in the Korean War, Jesse earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas, and an educational specialist degree from Emporia State. Jesse began teaching in 1954 and was the first African-American teacher employed by the Lawrence, Kansas Board of Education, following the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education public school desegregation decision. In 1970, he joined Baker University’s faculty as its first African-American member.
While at Baker, Jesse established Project Reachback, a program that allowed fifth-graders from the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools to spend a day at a college campus. In Jesse’s words, he wanted to “show the students they needed to be preparing for college now, not just after graduation.” In 2001, Baker University awarded him an honorary doctor of education degree.
Jesse entered government service in 1971, and worked for several agencies including the Regional Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s Office for Civil Rights.
In addition to teaching and public service, Jesse has served on numerous community boards and continues to offer his time as a volunteer within the district for the Mother-to-Mother Ministry and Wyandotte County Jail. He is president of the Kansas State Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and is past governor of the Kansas district of Optimist International, where he currently serves as development chair for Kansas. In 1996 and in 2002, he was selected as one of this area’s community heroes to carry the Olympic Torch as it passed through Kansas City.
Jesse and his wife, Alversa, reside in Kansas City, Kan. He completed his elementary and secondary education in the Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, and graduated from Sumner High School in 1946. He has four children, Jesse Jr., John Edward, Julie Ann, and Joy Lynn.