Black History 365: Quinta Brunson
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‘Abbott Elementary’ creator and star Quinta Brunson on the teacher advice she still follows
Quinta Brunson knows all too well that success doesn’t happen overnight.
The Abbott Elementary creator is celebrating after having a successful Season 1 of her mockumentary-style sitcom, which documents the lives of five Philadelphia-based teachers. In its first season, the show received a 100% score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the highest-rated television shows on the site.
“The popularity of Abbott, that was surprising and I was excited that people liked the show that much. Sometimes, with sitcoms, you’re kind of waiting for a while for people to catch on to your show, but it really felt like people came to Abbott right away,” Brunson tells Yahoo Life.
While the show’s instant success shocked the actress, her meteoric rise from viral social media comedian to executive producer did not.
“This was always what I was working toward,” she says.
For years, Brunson built a comedic fanbase on Instagram, where she would post humorous skits, namely her ”Girl Who Has Never Been on a Nice Date”series. She also freelanced for Buzzfeed before joining the team as a video producer, focusing on humorous sketches illustrating the ups and downs faced by many 20-somethings. In 2019, she starred in the first season of Robin Thede’s comedy series, A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO.
Now at 32, Quinta has her own show. Abbott Elementary premiered in 2021 and focuses on the lives, careers and hijinks of the teachers of Abbott Elementary, one of the worst schools in Philadelphia. With a name inspired by Brunson’s own sixth grade teacher, Joyce Abbott, the show also illustrates the often thankless work that teachers do and was inspired by and
While plenty has changed for the actress since sixth grade, many of the lessons and practices she learned in school still play a role in her life to this day.
“I had this one teacher, Mr. Connor, who told a student who was calling another student a liar … [that] ‘when you call someone a liar, you’re making a comment about their whole character. If someone tells a lie, then that’s the thing that they did. But if you call someone a liar, then you’re naming them as a character; you’re kind of changing who they are as a person.’ That just always stuck with me, like the power of words in how we define others and how we judge others; how we can be quick to define the character of other people. It’s something I think about all the time, kind of not judging a person by a minor wrongdoing that they did, but trying to see them as a full person. I think about that a lot.”
Brunson has always been vocal about teachers’ instrumental role in students’ lives. That is why she chose to partner up with Box Tops for Education during Teacher Appreciation Month. Together they’ll be donating $20,000 to her old elementary school, Andrew Hamilton in Philadelphia, in support of real teachers making a difference every day. Shoppers can also download the Box Tops for Education app and enter code “TEACHERSMAKEUSBETTER” during registration to earn $5 for their school of choice when they scan a receipt.
“There wasn’t a part of me that felt like I shouldn’t be involved, or the show shouldn’t be involved with giving back in some way, and Box Tops has been such an important part of my education for a very long time,” she says. “For the last 25 years, they’ve really been instrumental in believing that a child’s education is the foundation to achieving their fullest potential. Teachers play such an instrumental role in that development. That’s part of why Abbott was made. So advocating for education is like a core Box Tops mission. And that’s kind of a core mission of my own, as you can tell by my show, and so it made sense to partner with them during this TeachersAppreciation Month to shine a spotlight on these teachers who changed lives.”