Photography

Constance Wylene Van Brunt

July 29, 1949 ~ September 22, 2022 (age 73)

Obituary

Matthews, North Carolina

July 29, 1949 - September 22, 2022

Constance Van Brunt, 73, passed away Thursday, September 22, 2022.

Constance Wylene Van Brunt was born on July 29, 1949 in Los Angeles, California. Lovingly known as Connie to her family and friends, she was a lifelong advocate for children and young adults through multicultural education and empowerment. A cherished member of her family and community, Connie was called home to eternal life on September 22, 2022 in Matthews, North Carolina at age 73. She was surrounded in love.

A Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Connie Van Brunt is open to all and will take place on October 13, 2022 at 11 AM at Advent Lutheran Church in Charlotte, NC.

 

LIFELONG PASSION FOR LEARNING

Growing up in Los Angeles, Connie excelled in her academics and extracurricular activities throughout her adolescence, a trait that would become emblematic of her life’s work. Her early accolades include being an honor student, Delta Sigma Theta scholarship recipient, competitive swimmer, award-winning concert pianist, party planner, dressmaker, and debutante in The Links Los Angeles Chapter - all before the age of 18. 

Connie’s mother, Vida Lois Van Brunt, was a multicultural education expert who earned double master’s degrees in biology and physical education at New York University. Vida also completed work toward two doctorates from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Connie’s father, Godwin Augustus Van Brunt, Jr., was a WWII veteran and Presbyterian church elder who was an employee of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. for 29 years. Mrs. And Mr. Van Brunt were adoring parents to Nell Kathleen, who passed away as a child, Connie, and youngest sibling Peter.

When it came time for Connie’s undergraduate studies, Connie fearlessly trekked across the country from Los Angeles to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Child Development, Economics, and Writing for Children from Sarah Lawrence College (SLC) in 1971.

While at SLC, Connie was at the forefront of the Black sit-in demonstration demanding for Black professors and culturally relevant courses at SLC in 1969 - a cause that would later help shape the focus of her professional career. While an undergraduate, she worked as the West Coast Coordinator for the Cooperative for Educational Opportunities, sponsored by Yale University.

In 1972, Connie then earned her Master of Arts and Teaching Degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. While attending Harvard, she was a John Hay Whitney Fellow and received a Dwight D. Eisenhower Fellowship. She then joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority graduate chapter in the footsteps of her mother Vida, who was a Golden Soror with the organization.

After a brief stint as an elementary school teacher in Boston, Connie landed an internship as a Program Assistant for the African American Institute in New York. Being fluent in French, she served as a translator for French-speaking African delegations that came to the United Nations. Connie wanted the delegates to experience Harlem, so she enlisted the help of her younger brother, Peter (who was attending nearby Columbia University) to coordinate tours for them. One delegate was so enamored with the experience and sounds of Harlem that Connie, Peter, and the delegate stayed out until 2 am trying to purchase each James Brown record they heard playing in the Harlem streets.

 

ADVOCACY AND FAMILY

After graduating from Harvard, Connie quickly made a name for herself as a tireless champion for Black children. Connie was named Managing Editor of EBONY JR! magazine, which launched in 1973. She was hired directly by John H. Johnson, president and publisher of Johnson Publishing Company. Johnson Publishing was at the time the largest African-American-owned publishing firm in the United States. EBONY JR! magazine was Connie’s graduate study conception come to life -- a fun and educational magazine for Black children ages 6-12.      

Connie married Robert F. McMillan, Jr. in 1976, and in subsequent years they celebrated the births of daughter Ayisha and daughter Marcy. Connie was a devoted and loving mother to Ayisha and Marcy, supporting them fully to pursue their own passions. Connie and Robert raised their girls in Oak Park, Illinois until their divorce in the early 1990s. 

A true pioneer in the field of evidence-based education research, Connie’s work has had a lasting impact in the communities she served. Throughout her career, she was a fierce advocate of fostering academic achievement and learning enthusiasm among PK-12 and college level students through participatory action research methods. 

She used her platform as President and Executive Director of Community Youth Creative Learning Experience (CYCLE) in the Cabrini Green neighborhood of Chicago from 1996 to 2005 to shine a light on the limitless brilliance of young, gifted Black minds.

While leading CYCLE, Connie created the WIZ Factory of Learning, which offered afterschool and summer instruction in biochemistry, astrophysics, martial arts, French language, conceptual mathematics, and dance. Connie conceived the call and response anthem, “How smart are you,” “VERY VERY SMART!”

Connie met Michael Samachson in 1995. The two soon became partners in life and championed causes for youth together. Michael applied his passions and expertise in literary and film arts to help provide books and educational adventures for Connie’s growing community of students.

She was recognized for her advocacy by Loyola University who awarded her the Concern for the Child Award in 1997. Connie continued her life’s work championing children and students through volunteerism and positions at Chicago International Charter School, Portland Schools Foundation and Johnson C. Smith University in executive leadership roles.

Connie is survived in adoring memory through her husband, Michael Samachson, her brother Peter Van Brunt and sister-in-law Gwendolyn Hornsby Van Brunt, her daughter Ayisha McMillan Cravotta and son-in-law Jeff Cravotta, daughter Marcy McMillan Bee and daughter-in-law Julie Bee, and grandson Luca Cravotta. She is also survived by nine cherished nieces and nephews, a grand niece, and a grand nephew. Connie leaves behind a strong and supportive community of students, colleagues, friends and neighbors.

The Van Brunt Family have entrusted arrangements to Roseboro's Mortuary & Crematory.

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