by Laura Savage
It is with great sadness that I write about the passing of one of San Francisco’s daughters. Milan Rose Ardoin, 28 – and her mother, Valinda Rose Scott, 55 – was fatally shot at her home in Antioch, Calif., at 4:20 a.m. on the morning of July 5, 2018. Milan leaves behind a 4-year-old son, Mason Rome, who she often referred to as “the love of my life,” her beloved grandmother, numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, former students, mentees, friends and coworkers.
Ardoin was raised here in San Francisco, mostly by her mother and later her grandparents and extended family. As a product and graduate of San Francisco’s Leadership High School, Milan was a bright student with leadership qualities from a young age.
After graduating Leadership in 2008, she went on to UCLA in Los Angeles, where she received her B.A. and a Masters in Public Health. She did a year at John Hopkins University (Southern California) working on a Ph.D. but took a break to focus on motherhood. It was during this time that she moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Most recently, Milan worked for San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) in its Community Partnerships department helping community organizations that worked with students in SFUSD. Although not part of her work duties, Ardoin also mentored a group of elementary African American students at Hillcrest Elementary School in SFUSD developing the Black Student Union, and she was a mentor to high school girls considered at-risk.
Ardoin worked with many community organizations in San Francisco, including 100% College Prep, The LARC Access Project (3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic) and SFUSD’s Mentoring for Success, to name a few.
In the start of 2018 she decided to continue her quest for her doctorate, this time being accepted into Arizona State University’s doctoral program for an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership with a focus in Early Childhood Development. Her research focused on curriculum that helped create a sense of inclusion and belonging for African American/Black students.
She believed that instilling a sense of belonging, resiliency and pride of self into young Black students was a key to success throughout their lives. In the long-term, she dreamed of opening a school for marginalized students.
Her love for youth was mirrored in her dedication as a mother. Her son, Mason, was her pride and joy. She was a loving young mother who valued education and sought to provide a firm foundation for Mason, as she worked tirelessly for months applying and interviewing at schools for Mason as he transitioned from preschool to transitional kindergarten. Even at this tender age, she knew the importance of starting him on the right foot. She kept him active taking dance, swim and art lessons.
Outside of work, Milan was an entrepreneur owning two businesses: a clothing line (Bella Venus) and Black hair care and beauty products store (Glam Girl). When she wasn’t doing homework or getting her son to activities, she was often busy with fashion shows on the weekends for her businesses. Her talents and interests were wide ranging.
It was an honor to be her mentor, friend and colleague. I will cherish memories of her wisdom, grace and strength, as she navigated life determined to make a difference in her community. She was an impressive young lady whose time was cut far too short.
Without question she was on her way to impacting the lives of many others, especially young people. Her beautiful smile, incredible wit that showcased her sense of humor and intelligence, her giving nature, strength, resiliency and beautiful spirit, creativity and problem-solving abilities coupled with her commitment to “get it right” will be missed forever.
Ms. Milan Ardoin will be honored at a memorial at Leadership High School, 350 Seneca Ave., San Francisco, 94112 at 6 p.m. on July 10, 2018. If you know Milan, join us in celebrating her short but impactful life. A GoFundMe page has been set up to create a college fund for her son, Mason.
Those who knew her shared the following:
“She was all about giving back and helping young people overcome adversities and succeeding in life. She loved and adored her son, Mason – a sweet boy – and always stood by her friends.” – Joi Jackson-Morgan, 3rd Street Youth Center & Clinic
“I met Milan during her time within SFUSD. Only to find out our non-profit work in the past was within the same organization, 100% College Prep. Milan was a phenomenal Black Woman. She held her position with esteem and performed like a veteran, in my experience. Extremely intelligent. I found inspiration in her work effort and was motivated to achieve her poise as a professional. However, above all of that, she demonstrated a motherly bond with her son that invoked great understanding within me as a new father. She will now join our ancestors and be a guiding spirit for my work going forward.” – Anthony Amaro, SFUSD African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI)
“Milan was a bright, hard working single Mom on her way to earning a PhD.” – Diane Gray, 100% College Prep
“I had the pleasure of working with Milan at the San Francisco Unified School District. In her first few weeks on the job, I asked Milan if she’d be interested in working with one of our elementary schools to coach them in developing a Black Student Union for their students. I thought she may be hesitant to agree since she was new to her role but she enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity to work with young African American students and create a safe space for them within their school. Milan had a warm smile and positive, calming energy, which was always on display but shone particularly strongly when she was around her son Mason. She will be deeply missed.” – Landon Dickey, Special Assistant to the Superintendent/African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative
“My name is Stefanie Eldred and I met Milan during her interview to work with Ruth Grabowski and I in SFUSD’s office of Community Partnerships. Milan was the first person (of many!) that we interviewed for her position and after the first 5 minutes I knew she was the one. I felt bad for everyone else who was going to waste their time coming in, since she was so clearly meant for the job. Milan had the most beautiful energy – confidence, warmth, humility and humor, all rolled up into this gorgeous and stylish young woman. She had a deep and personal belief in the power of community organizations to support our SFUSD students and families, and had the analytic, facilitative and organizational skills to move the work forward. Milan was an instinctual leader who possessed the rare combination of being both a visionary, as well as someone who was very detail oriented.
“And above all, her number one priority was, always, always, always, her son Mason. We often discussed parenting joys and quandaries. She was amazingly self-reflective. Always thinking about how her actions and choices would be seen through Mason’s eyes. She was pure love, brilliance and potential and I’m going to miss her horribly. Our work and mission will not be the same without her.” – Stefanie Eldred
“There’s a way that we as Black people show respect and acknowledgement of one another. It’s sometimes shown in the meeting of eyes, passing head nods or a gentle smile. It is our way of saying “I see you”. Those simple gestures mean, that I acknowledge your presence, I see your dignity or you have worth here. Milan, took that practice and amplified it. She never missed an opportunity to let you know that she ‘saw’ you. Not only your presence, but your value too.
“Since her passing, I have replayed our conversations in the halls of SFUSD or our quiet ‘sista girl’ check ins in her office and with each memory I can recall her calling out the brilliance she saw in me, other co-workers and the students she taught or mentored along the way. She repeatedly told me that I inspired her. Following a presentation I gave at a SFUSD Community Partner’s Meeting last September, Milan approached me with tears in her eyes and said that I had moved her with my story and my style. A few months later, it was my turn to sit in the audience at one of those meetings and watch her present. This time, it was me that was inspired. Milan exemplified Black girl brilliance. When I told her so, she smiled that shy but big bright smile of hers and humbly said, ‘Thank youuu’ and offered a hug. For her, me saying ‘I see you’ meant so much.
“Well Milan, I saw you girl! I still see you. As I read the comments under your social media pages posted prior to your death and those posted after, I can see the impact you made on the world. From housing homeless youth in college and mentoring young girls through their adolescence to inspiring up and coming business women and encouraging higher education for your students … I see you. You have left an imprint on the hearts of many and because of you, they/we can see our potential.
“Mason will hear these stories and hold dear to the ways you made him feel treasured. Those memories will keep you alive in his mind and forever in his heart. You will be deeply missed. May you rest peacefully.” – Laticia Erving, African American Parents Advisory Council/African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative
Laura Savage is Ombudsperson for Special Education at SFUSD and a Bay Area-based freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.