In their youth, they found each other and a lasting appreciation for the value of community, mentoring and service.
Now, after 21 years of marriage, two now-adult children and recently renewing their wedding vows, Sedric Morris and Yolanda Shelton-Morris also remain devoted to making Madison a better place. He’s the Madison School District’s new director of safety and security in the first school year after the district ended the Madison Police Department’s school resource officer (SRO) program. She’s the community resources manager in the city’s Community Development Division.
Yolanda, a Madison native, and Sedric, who moved here from Coahoma, Mississippi, with his family when he was 3 years old, met while in middle school at an after-school program called Bootstrap. She graduated from Memorial, and he from West high schools.
Then, she earned a bachelor of science degree in human services and criminal justice from Upper Iowa University and a master’s of science in social work with a concentration in child, youth and family welfare from UW-Madison. She’s worked in state and local government for almost 20 years in areas focusing on child welfare, human services, education and community services, and been a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority since 2013 and is a current member of the Madison Alumnae Chapter.
He earned a bachelor of science in criminal justice from Upper Iowa University and then a master’s of science in criminal justice with a concentration in corrections and offender rehabilitation from the University of Cincinnati. He has 20-plus years of work experience in criminal justice, human services and community services.
Their daughter, Naiya, works for the Department of Children Services in Nashville, Tennessee, and son Sedric Jr. is a senior at UW-Whitewater. The couple renewed their wedding vows surrounded by close family and friends in Jamaica this summer.
Were there experiences in your youth that influenced the sort of work you’re doing now?
Yolanda: Watching my mother and other influential women who played a huge role in my upbringing showed me what it meant to have a servant’s heart. I knew that I wanted to work in a field such as social work, a field that values service and elevates the needs of others.
Sedric: I was fortunate to participate in a number of different youth programs growing up, one being the Dane County Neighborhood Intervention Program. This program helped me stay out of trouble and helped me find my love for basketball and eventually coaching. It also helped me realize the importance of mentorship and the impact it can have on a young person’s life.
When did you know you this would be your life’s work?
Yolanda: Confirmation really came in 2011 when I started working at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. I was really inspired by the work of the agency and the division I worked in, but was also saddened by the fact that there were no social workers that looked like me. It was then that I realized that I wanted to go back to school and get my masters in social work. My returning to school also helped me realize my passion for teaching others so I now work to create and foster learning experiences for students as a lecturer at the UW-Madison Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work.
Who do you work with now?
Yolanda: All programs and services focus on lower-income individuals, those who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and immigrants.
What are their greatest unmet needs?
Yolanda: At this time, our focus is to support needs arising from the social and economic fallout from the pandemic. This includes initiatives that help populations affected by COVID-19 connect to basic needs and support service gaps in the areas of youth employment and engagement activities, crisis intervention and prevention services, connections to basic needs for individuals and families, and services to residents who are undocumented.
What should the community know about our at-risk youth?
Sedric: They are young leaders who need positive supports and programs to help them thrive and achieve their goals and dreams. I feel like kids today have a lot more to deal with than what I did growing up, so having mentors and support networks in place to help guide them through life is critical.
What do they need?
Sedric: I think the greatest need of our students is support, which is a critical piece of the work within the newly created Office of School Safety combining student safety and emotional health, ensuring we have services and resources in place that meet the social, emotional and psychological needs of our students.
What are the special challenges in the first year without SROs?
Sedric: I think the main challenge right now is adjusting to our new normal as the effects of the pandemic have impacted our students and our schools. For me, this first year is about focusing on bringing all of the systems and key partners together to ensure we are creating a safe and secure atmosphere for our students and families.
What will success look like?
Sedric: Success is keeping our schools safe, providing our students with the emotional health and wellness support they may need, and infusing more restorative practices in schools to address problem behavior or school offenses.
How can we make Madison a more welcoming place where all can flourish?
Yolanda: Although Madison is home for us, we are not naïve to the fact that it is often not a welcoming place to people of color. If we are truly wanting Madison to be a place where all can flourish, it needs to be more than just a conversation. It requires authentic action, connecting what we as a city say we want with actually doing what we say we want.