MERIDEN — Working with young people is a life-long passion for Rose Crooms-Green.
And the desire to serve her community is a trait that runs in her family. That trait has been passed down through generations, over several decades — going back to Eatonville, Florida. Eatonville was one of the first municipalities in the United States to be incorporated as an all Black town and Crooms-Green’s family has a prominent legacy in the town.
Crooms-Green’s grandfather, the late Columbus Hall Crooms, was Eatonville’s mayor and a long-time public servant.
In Meriden, Crooms-Green has worked with students at John Barry and Nathan Hale elementary schools, Washington Middle School and now works at Platt High School — the school she graduated from.
Crooms-Green has been employed as a behavior technician for the Meriden Public Schools for more than a decade, working one on one with students, helping them navigate behavioral challenges. Students fondly refer to her as “Miss Rose.”
Crooms-Green’s current job comes after years having worked with young people and adults through agencies including the state Department of Children and Families and the North American Family Institute, or NAFI, which serves youth and adults with mental health and other challenges.
Crooms-Green, now 72, was born in Meriden. She spent her early elementary school years in Eatonville, and then returned to central Connecticut.‘Always turning back’
Crooms-Green is proud of her family’s legacy.
Her father Isaac Crooms Sr. worked for International Silver Company in Factory E. At the time, he was the company’s first Black employee, Crooms-Green said. The civil rights leader and labor activist Albert Owens helped him get that job.
That was in the late 1960s, not long after the civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. Crooms-Green worried the same could happen to her father.
Crooms-Green recalled her father describing the struggles early on with racial tensions. He had to prove himself and would stay with the company for years, eventually retiring.
“He ended up being a good employee,” Crooms-Green said. “I remember thinking how did he have to go through that, just to prove himself?”
Education is important to her family. It was something instilled in her. She passed that lesson onto her own son, Edward Green III.
Having experienced childhood in two very different locations, Crooms-Green also experienced segregation and racial tension firsthand. She recalled having to sit in the backs of buses and drink from separate water fountains.
In Meriden, Crooms-Green was often one of the few black students in her schools. She learned to become a vocal advocate.
Crooms-Green estimated she’s worked with hundreds of children over the years. She’s stayed in touch with many of them, attending graduations and maintaining contact when they’ve grown up to start their own families.
And she has not slowed down.
“People always say ‘Rose, how come you work so much? You’re always working,’” Crooms-Green said. She’s had to balance multiple jobs at points, sacrificing to provide her son, Edward Green III, with an education that would enable him to be successful.
Edward Green III is proprietor of a successful information technology business in West Virginia, not far from where he went to college. He attributes his drive to become an entrepreneur to his family, from whom he learned the power of understanding leadership and being devoted to one’s own community.
“Always turning back to where you come from, where you are. Improving your community,” he said, adding the biggest thing he learned is to be selfless. “If you grow your community, you can grow yourself.”
Edward Green III said his mother exemplifies those traits. She’s unafraid to address the most challenging of cases. She endeavored to bring normalcy for children experiencing the most difficult of circumstances.
“I’ve seen her make countless differences in young people’s lives,” he said.Building relationships
Crooms-Green, asked what motivates her, responded, it’s “the satisfaction of knowing that I’m helping somebody and I know that they appreciate it.”
She’s enjoyed building relationships with the students, clients and families she’s worked with over the years.
Eatonville plays an important role in Crooms-Green’s life. She speaks fondly of some of Eatonville’s most prominent residents, including the late author Zora Neale Hurston and Deacon Jones, an extended family member, who played defensive end in the National Football League and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A biography of Columbus Crooms published in an Eatonville newsletter on its 130th anniversary outlined the many roles he held in town. He wasn’t just mayor, he was also a former councilman, a chief of the town’s volunteer fire department, and at one point its police chief. His administration oversaw the construction of Eatonville’s entire water system. Columbus Crooms owned hundreds of acres he donated to support his town.
“He felt it was important to build a community. That was a great sacrifice for him,” Crooms-Green said. “That’s a trait in our family. We’re always going to be there helping somebody in need.”
Crooms-Green’s brother-in-law is Donald Green, now a family court magistrate in the Connecticut state judicial system. He grew up humbly, in public housing in downtown Meriden, “pretty much with all the odds stacked against me.”
Donald Green’s parents, like Crooms-Green’s, were advocates of education. They similarly urged him to focus on academics. Donald Green, who also excelled in athletics, would go on to complete law school at the University of Connecticut. He also served on the Meriden Board of Education.
Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni described Crooms-Green as a “great mentor” for children.
“Rose is someone whose approach with all our students is appreciated and valued,” he said, adding the family overall has “made a mark on the city of Meriden.”
In her present work, Crooms-Green is focused on building relationships.
“It’s all about relationships,” Crooms-Green said. The young people she’s worked with often regard her as a mother figure. She strives to be nurturing and at the same time hold students accountable.
“I try to build relationships where they can trust and talk to me, feel comfortable around me. I think that’s the key to building a healthy relationship,” Crooms-Green said.
Oftentimes Crooms-Green’s conversations with students focus on relationships with peers and parents. She tries to get them to think about preparing for life after they graduate.
So she asks questions about what students want in life.
“They talk about getting a car, wanting to buy a car,” Crooms-Green said. “Well you need a job. You have to practice. That’s why you’re coming to school.”
So she talks to students about managing distractions, like cell phones, and holding them accountable for showing up to school on-time and being respectful.
“I tell them, ‘If you’re late to work, are you able to keep a job?’ It’s not going to happen. If you can’t follow directions, you need to practice following directions…. You need to learn how to take feedback,” Crooms-Green said.
Employers won’t tolerate being cussed out when critical of a person’s job performance, for example. So Crooms-Green asks, “What’s the difference between that and a teacher giving you feedback? Let’s practice how we’re going to take that feedback. It’s just life lessons.”
She emphasizes the importance of education.
Crooms-Green’s present role as a behavior technician is a job she loves.
“Are some days tough? Yes. Some days are tough because some days, kids have their days. But we can’t give up. You’ve got to keep reeling them in. There’s no giving up in here. You don’t give up,” Crooms-Green said.
Reporter Michael Gagne can be reached at email@example.com.