Ballenger Highway

The art and exploration of Early Childhood Education with Billie Dantzler

FLINT, Michigan — Billie Dantzler, a Flint native, exudes confidence and wisdom as she stands inside Totem Books in downtown Flint. Her cocoa-colored skin glows in the soft light of the store, and her tan sweater and blue jeans complement her natural beauty. As we photograph her around the store, she shares her story of growing up on the city’s north end and working as an Early Childhood educator, citing, “I have to say this on the record. I would never teach elementary or secondary education.”

Initially unsure, she poses for the photoshoot, remarking that she's never done an official one. However, as time passes, her head is held high, her shoulders gradually fall back, and a sense of power radiates from her eyes. Her boldness extends into her words as we laugh at her comedic humor when getting the opportunity to express her love of vinyl records and her displeasure with the happenings across the city.

As our conversation begins, Dantzler speaks with a sense of refinement and intention, ensuring that she means what she says and that there is little to no misunderstanding, both on and off the record. "Success is what you define it as," Dantzler says, dropping many nuggets of wisdom and illustrating that she carries herself confidently and purposefully.

Flintside caught up with Dantzler to talk about her work in the Ballenger Highway area, her tenure as a Children’s Learning Specialist at the Gloria Coles Flint Public Library, and her expectations for being a Flintside Community Correspondent.

"Sometimes, you have to let it go and let it flow. Now you gotta remember you still have to put the work into it, and success is what you define it as," explains Dantzler inside Totem Books on Nov. 20, 2023. (Anthony Summers | You mentioned that you are active in the Ballenger Highway neighborhood. What kind of things are you a part of?

Billie Dantzler: “I am a part of the Ballenger Square Neighborhood Association. I also was a participant with the Ballenger Park Coalition. Myself and a couple of my neighbors and several organizations work together to create a safer and cleaner space in the Ballenger Park area. We worked on that for several years. We wrote grants and then also got that park improved. You ride by now, look at the park, and you’ll be like, wow, it looks a lot different. That’s because we worked with Habitat for Humanity, Huntington Bank, and different organizations.”

Flintside: In addition to that, you also have experience working in education. What have you done in Flint in that capacity?  

B. Dantzler: “[I taught] in the Early Childhood programs that the Flint Community Schools were responsible for. I was at Summerfield as a Pre-Kindergarten educator or GSRP teacher [where] I taught for many years. I was at Summerfield. I was at Job Corps. The last school I was at was [the International Academy of Flint] before I went to New Standard and taught in their Pre-K program.”

Flintside: Having gotten my degree in Elementary Education, the experiences are different. Can you talk about your time working with Pre-K students?

B. Dantzler: “Pre-K is a whole other world. It’s lively. It’s fun. I was teaching with GISD during the height of the [Flint Water Crisis]. In 2018, I [did] work at the [Gloria Coles Flint Public Library] for summer outreach. In 2020, during the pandemic, the library asked if I would be interested in being a full-time staff member, and I accepted.”

Inside Totem Books on Nov. 20, 2023, Dantzler explains how she's hands-on at her job at the Gloria Coles Flint Public Library as the host of the Little Explorers and soon-to-be Time Travelers Club. (Anthony Summers | So, what do you do at the library?

B. Dantzler: “Once a month, every Saturday, I host the Little Explorers space. That’s for ages 1 to 4. That program was handed down to me by a retired co-worker who started the program during the water crisis. My undergraduate degree is in Early Childhood Education, and I could not see that program falling to pieces. In Early Childhood, we have no rhyme or reason. We focus on helping our children develop according to their age. One thing that I would like to improve is making sure that children from all areas of the city participate.”

Flintside: I love the name, the Little Explorers. What else do you have going on at the library? 

B. Dantzler: “I have another program that I’m creating called the Time Travelers Club. Whether they’re children or adults with different abilities, we’re going to focus on artifacts and stories that may have happened 10 or 20 years ago and see how things have transformed over the years. [For example] what a cell phone looks like to my daughter compared to what I remember. I’m thinking of the Nino Brown 'New Jack City' cellphone! Hopefully, that’ll be a success. The goal for the club is for everyone to have a good time and bring generations together.”

Dantzler carries her notepad everywhere, jotting down notes as she shares why she decided to join Flintside's Community Correspondent Course at Totem Books on November 20, 2023. (Anthony Summers | Transitioning a bit, you’ve gone from in schools to the library. But now you’re preparing to embark on a writing path through Flintside’s Community Correspondent Course. What was the catalyst for you to do this?

B. Dantzler: “I’m part of a local author group, and I thought, ‘what is my purpose’ because I don’t write. I signed up because several of my colleagues when I was in graduate school were writers and authors and were into journalism. I said well, I don’t have a problem writing. So, like with Ballenger Park, if nobody tells the story, nobody will know the legwork that went into making that park what it is now. That’s one thing where I was like, hey, I’ll do it to share some of those hidden stories.”

Flintside: Do you have any reservations about stepping out into the community in this capacity?

B. Dantzler: “When I finished my degrees, we talked a lot about jumping out there and failure. I was like, I don’t wanna waste my momma’s money, so let’s try it and see where it goes. If it doesn’t go anywhere, that’s okay. If it goes somewhere, it’s okay. Sometimes, you have to let it go and let it flow. Now you gotta remember you still have to put the work into it, and success is what you define it as. So if I write an article and get the words down to a tee and don’t bust a sweat, I’m moving up in life!”

Flintside: When people read this article, what do you want them to get from you and your experiences?

B. Dantzler: “I want them to stop and say, ‘Do I have a library card?’ I’m not here advertising the library, but I want to encourage the City of Flint residents to get a library card. We offer plenty of great events and nice classes and programs people can participate in. So, when you see me, I want you to be like, ‘Where's my library card?’”
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.