Cindy Henry-Young has lived an exciting life that has taken her from Jamaica to New York City to Washington, and through all those changes she’s kept one constant in her life: an abiding love for learning.
The district’s newest School Board Director cultivated that love at an early age. Henry-Young grew up in Jamaica, West Indies and Brooklyn, New York, and it was in the Big Apple that she first nurtured her passion for books.
“As a child I remember loving to read,” she said. “I read anything and everything.”
Her mom and her aunt were also avid readers and neither limited what Henry-Young had access to. Even as a kid they often shared books, which Henry-Young credits with helping to open up her worldview.
After graduation she headed off to college, but something didn’t feel quite right. Deep down she knew it wasn’t her time to be in school, and she was curious to see what else the world had to offer.
More importantly, she knew she wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself. She loved meeting new people and she had a deep respect for the Army, so she decided to serve her country.
“I was always excited by the concept of team, a group of people working collectively,” she said. “I just like seeing people work together towards an end.”
She joined the Army as an interrogator and immediately headed off to language school to learn Spanish. She didn’t know it at the time, but her Army career would eventually take her around the world, from Panama to Puerto Rico, with stops in California, Virginia, Arizona, New Jersey, and even a deployment to Iraq.
Bouncing around like that can be a bit jarring at times, but Henry-Young credits the Army with instilling in her the skills to thrive in any environment.
“I try to look at every moment where I don’t feel comfortable as a teaching moment,” she said. “That’s what the military allowed me to do: it gave me the ability to feel comfortable enough to voice an opinion or voice a concern or let me fight in a way that was a little more level headed”
Henry-Young met her husband when they were both temporarily assigned in Virginia. By that time her career had shifted from interrogation to victim advocacy, and it was once again a role in which she felt comfortable. In 2014 they were both able to transfer to nearby Joint-Base Lewis McChord.
At JBLM she took on yet another role — Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, a position she held until her retirement in 2018.
During all of these moves and adventures, Henry-Young and her husband welcomed three children into the world. Their daughter, now 10, and their two sons, ages five and three, completed their team.
Her children also reignited her passion for education, so she began substitute teaching in Bethel. She’d already been volunteering in schools, but this new role showed her how critical it was to have people like herself — strong, intelligent black women — working in schools.
“If a student is telling me that seeing me in the hallway means something, that’s special,” she said. “It made me realize how important my presence was and to be aware of how I carried myself.”
It was around this time that Henry-Young learned about an opening on the School Board. She thought her life experience, her optimism, and her devotion to children could help the district continue to grow. She was especially interested in working directly with students.
“The teachers have a voice, the administration has a voice, and the staff has a voice, but the kiddos don’t know they have a voice,” she said.
Henry-Young was excited and ready to get to work when she was sworn in this past March, but as we all know things took a turn for the worse soon after. By the end of the month our schools had transitioned to distance learning to help protect students and staff from the COVID-19 pandemic.
To say her first six months on the board have been challenging would be an understatement. She and the rest of the board have been faced with unprecedented problems, and they’ve had to get creative with their solutions.
Despite all that’s going on right now, Henry-Young wants the Bethel community to know that she and her colleagues are doing everything in their power to keep the district running smoothly and safely.
“I want people to understand that all hands are on deck to come up with solutions,” she said. “I really just want to be an approachable person and for every member of the Bethel family — our staff, teachers, administration, volunteers, every person that contributes to this community — to know they will be heard and know that their point isn’t stupid.”
Like every other parent in the district, Henry-Young is also helping her own children navigate this new world of online school. She can certainly empathize with parents who are struggling, but her almost pathological optimism won’t allow her to get down about this — or any other — situation.
“Am I going to fail? Of course! Every day, and I’m totally okay with that, because we’re all going to be learning this together.”