The ‘Phenominal Dr. Newell’ has educated 5 generations

October 26
06:30 2017

By Busta Brown
The Chronicle

When Oprah Winfrey asks you how to better serve our youth, that’s a big deal! If you know, or have met The Phenomenal Dr. Virginia Newell; she is a big deal. Dr. Newell educated generations for five decades, and at 100 years old, she’s still as sharp and detailed as ever.

When I sat down with the beautiful mathematician, she took me back to the ’60s and was very detailed about her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. She shared how regularly engaged she was with the college students protesting and marching up and down Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, and going door-to-door to register voters, with her daughters in support of social justice.

Newell’s daughters, Dr. Glenda Newell-Harris and Dr. Virginia D. Banks, are now successful physicians. As she continued taking me back down memory lane in the ’60s, during a time when the best education wasn’t rapidly available to black youth, Dr. Newell was chosen from many teachers in the United States to teach mathematics at the Yale Summer High School in New Haven, Connecticut. She taught there for two summers, influencing many young students from underprivileged backgrounds. Many of these students went on to Ivy League schools.
She served as a city alderman for 16 years in Winston-Salem, she was a professor at Winston-Salem State University for 20 years and served as chairman of the mathematics department for five years.

She was the brain trust and a major fundraiser behind the Math and Science Academy of Excellence at Winston-Salem State University, a summer program for young students, to help them get ahead, and served as a teacher in this program for several summers.
I read all of the titles she’s held: mathematician, author, civil rights activist, elected official, mother, grandmother, aunt, mentor and friend, and then I asked which of these titles are her top three, “Mother … Absolutely. I think if a woman misses being a mother, if you have a chance, you miss all of it. I’m proud of my kids.”

The other two were grandmother and one I didn’t mention: wife. Her husband George Fisher Newell passed away in 1989. He was a professor of science and dean of men at Winston-Salem State University.

She began to blush as she talked about him, “My husband was a great guy. He was such a great guy. I always admired him. I admired him Number One as a teacher, and Number Two as my husband. He looked after me and he looked after the girls.”

After we talked about some fun and intimate stories about her personal life, we talked about education. There was no way I could sit down with this Phenomenal Woman, with all of this wealth of knowledge, and not pick her brain on tips for our youth.

Dr. Newell shared the importance of empowering students and encourages them to think. “I would tell my students, I know a tablespoon full, and they probably knew a teaspoon full. But what I taught in math, I knew. I always wanted my students to challenge me. If I tell you something that is not true, just challenge me.”

She expressed the importance of why teachers and parents should go the extra mile for students that are having difficult time learning.
“Keep their brain on something that matters. I paid money to get standardized tests for my students, so they would be the top students when the time came for them to perform.”
Check out the rest of my interview at the Winstonsalem Chronicle channel on

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