BRYAN, Texas — Growing up half Sicilian, half black in Bryan, Fabi Payton explained how she felt as though she never had a place.
“Sometimes when you're biracial, you can feel like if you're in a black space, you can almost feel like you have half as much right to be there,” Payton said.
While the Bryan native loves her community, she realized the discrepancy that can come with being biracial.
“I'm saying words like our history, and our this, but I look Hispanic,” Payton said.
“That can come off as a little off-putting.”
Hoping to learn more about her African-American heritage, she was determined to get right to the roots of her generations-long family tree.
What better place to do that than the Brazos Valley African American Museum?
So, she set off and walked through the two symmetrical glass doors in the front of the old ‘Bryan Public School for Coloreds'.
“I just remember his smile,” Payton said while tears began to glaze her eyes.
The Bryan ISD teacher talked about the first time seeing Mr. Oliver Wayne Sadberry Jr., the museum's curator since 2006 who recently passed away, on her spring break in 2021.
“I started to ask him [about my African American culture] and he didn't even question my ethnicity or my involvement and why I wanted to know,” Payton said with a sense of relief.
“He just was like, that's wonderful. I wish more young people cared and wanted to know.”
Delighted, she walked in with a pocket full of questions, and an aura of nerves, those soon to be settled.
Payton quickly learned that Sadberry’s roots in their community were deeper than some of the oldest trees planted in the Brazos Valley.
“I get the best of both worlds, not half of both worlds,” Payton explained. “That's exactly how I felt with Mr. Sadberry. I felt home, I felt I could just be myself.”
Whether you knew him as Mr. Sadberry, Oliver or Wayne, his middle name, he had a way of touching the lives of everyone, no matter the circumstances.
“When we understand that, we're all connected, I think that we're able to…build relationships with each other,” Crystal Carter, a former colleague and friend said. “Wayne really helped us build relationships with each other by sharing our history.”
Just as important, he showed folks how important and special they are, something they may not have seen in the first place.
“I would say thank you,” Payton said as she wiped tears falling off of her cheeks.
“Thank you for planting a seed in me that would give me the courage to do everything I did today.”
If you’d like to support the family, they ask you to make a direct donation to the museum.