March 2023

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Where it all started: Former Roughrider basketball player returns to command police academy

Thirty years separate Gareth Braxton-Johnson’s first Yavapai College journey as a 17-year-old  Roughrider basketball player enjoying his first taste of freedom and the “quintessential college experience, ” and his current one as the commander of the Prescott Campus-based Northern Arizona Regional Training Academy.

The proud YC and Apollo High School (Glendale) alumnus, who has enjoyed a long tenure with the Cottonwood Police Department, currently as its patrol commander, can’t help but marvel at his return to the community college where he says he spent two of the best years of his life.

“It’s pretty special to come back to Yavapai College,” Braxton-Johnson said of his two-year appointment   as commander of NARTA, which trains recruits for law-enforcement agencies statewide. “I have really fond memories of the campus. Obviously it has changed a lot.”

The former Roughrider small forward and first-generation college student reminisced about Sunday breakfasts at the Waffle Iron, the thunder-and-rain sound effects in the “Storm Center-- ” as Walraven Gym was nicknamed at the time -- and standing-room-only crowds that supported what was a hugely successful basketball program. “It was a great atmosphere. It really was neat seeing the community backing we had then. It didn’t matter if we were doing a community outreach event in area elementary schools or doing clinics, there was always tremendous support.”

Braxton-Johnson still owns a piece of personal Roughrider history in the form of a page from a program that features game-face photographs of the team that made a playoff run his first year (1993) and was ranked as high as No. 22 in the nation his second year. He remains close friends with many of his former teammates, coaches and training staff and regularly returned to YC to play in alumni exhibitions.

Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, was Braxton-Johnson’s next stop, for two more years of basketball, for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and internships with a local prosecutors office and juvenile detention center. “Law enforcement had always been a fallback plan of mine,” he said, explaining, “I’ve always had a belief in right and wrong and I believed I could do a pretty good job at it (policing).”

Braxton-Johnson attributes his strong moral compass to his parents. As early as elementary school, he said, he couldn’t abide bullying or other forms of mistreatment. “It just wasn’t a good feeling. I couldn’t sit idly by. I would typically find myself looking out for people, trying to intervene, provide comfort or just be a friend.”

After college and a stint as a semi-pro baller, Braxton-Johnson joined the Scottsdale Police Department. He served six years there, mostly in patrol, before landing a school resource officer position with the Cottonwood Police Department. “I’ve always had a fondness for education. I consider myself a lifelong learner so it was just a natural draw for me.”

Since joining the Cottonwood PD, Braxton-Johnson has been in and out of school as a public servant, a student and a teacher. He earned a master’s degree in educational leadership at Northern Arizona University, taught in NAU’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, earned a graduate certificate in criminal justice education from the University of Virginia and graduated from the FBI National Academy. He recently was accepted to the Harvard Kennedy School of Executive Leadership. “In some form or fashion I always seem to find myself around education, particularly higher education,” he said.

As NARTA Commander, Braxton-Johnson will oversee at least four classes of cadets. He relishes the leadership role, which he is fulfilling concurrently with his commander position with Cottonwood Police.

“Just like coming back to Yavapai College, it’s a homecoming of sorts. This is where I started, in a police academy setting before I was a sworn police officer. It really does reinvigorate you after a period of time to see the academy’s success and have input in shaping future law enforcement officers and eventual agency leaders. It’s a way to give back to law enforcement at the latter stages of my career.”

After commanding NARTA and attending the Harvard Kennedy School, Braxton-Johnson intends to take the next step on his career ladder – become a police chief. Until then, the father of two is content to inspire a new generation of police officers, serve and protect Cottonwood residents and wax nostalgic every now and then about where it all started.

“If you would have told me 30 years ago I’d be back at Yavapai College and be in this position, I couldn’t have imagined it. It’s pretty amazing where life will take you and ultimately bring you back.”


Chamber CEO Marnie Uhl receives Accredited Chamber Executive                      


Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO was recognized for renewing her Accredited Chamber Executive (ACE) status with the Western Association of Chamber Executives (WACE) at their annual conference in Sacramento, California.

The ACE designation if awarded to those chamber executives who meet criteria set by the association’s board of directors.  To continue to hold the ACE designation, recipeints must re-apply every five years and continue to meet professional development and educational requirements.

Uhl originally received the ACE designation in 2008 and was awarded her 15 year re-accredition this year.

The accreditation program was first awarded in 1992 to encourage chamber executives to continually upgrade and expand their skills through continuing education and training programs in the chamber management and business fields.  There are currently 22 ACE recipients who are active in chambers of commerce in the West.

WACE is an association of over 900 chamber executives and staff professionals with members in nineteen western states and Canada.  The association’s mission is to enhance and promote the professional growth and competence of Chamber of Commerce Executives.


YC volleyball coach, police chief pay it forward with MLK celebration for student athletes; African American Leadership Association launching this semester

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a big deal where Chelsey Lucas grew up -- Houma, Louisiana. “It was a huge celebration with choirs, preaching, eating and kids playing games. It was a whole day of festivities,” she recalled.

Nothing as festive was planned at Yavapai College, where Chelsey is serving her first year as Roughrider Volleyball Coach. So, in collaboration with YC Police Chief Tyran Payne and the YC Athletics Department she made MLK Day a big deal on campus.

Chelsey and Ty brought YC student athletes together to watch a video produced by Teaching and E-Learning Manager Thatcher Borhman and featuring Dr. King’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech, clips of King leading civil rights marches and photos of YC student athletes. The athletes’ photos mirrored the diversity of the dream speech audience and the throngs of marchers.

“As you look around campus, honestly speaking, you see our athletics teams evolving to be more of a melting pot of all different cultures and races,” Chelsey said, explaining that the message implicit in the video is that if Dr. King embraced all races and colors in his quest for racial equality and justice, students can do the same in athletic competition and in life.

“To win on the field you have to get to know each other and respect each other,” Ty said.

Chelsey and Ty could see in the faces of the student athletes that the video and a unity march that followed were meaningful. “It was very powerful and huge for our students. It was a day of hope, a day of recognizing that we can all come together as one,” Ty said.

Because, as Chesley put it, “you never want anyone to feel uncomfortable in their own skin,” more “coming together” is on the horizon at YC. The college’s latest strategic plan heralds belonging and equity and delineates specific actions to advance both values. An example is the launch this semester of the African American Leadership Association. Spearheaded by YC Vice President of Community Relations and Student Development Rodney Jenkins and other YC faculty and staff of color, the AALA aims to advance the academic and personal success of students of color with mentorships and leadership, growth and community service opportunities. The AALA kickoff is a free, all-student dance party on the Prescott campus on March 3.

 “Under the leadership of YC President Dr. Lisa Rhine, we are committed to assuring the college experience is one that highlights, supports and celebrates our diversity,” Jenkins said. Referring to the MLK celebration that Chelsey and Ty organized, Jenkins said celebrating diversity “includes helping students of all races and ethnicities learn about the tragedies and triumphs of people of color. After all black history is part of American history and culture.” 

YC is making great strides in creating an environment where everyone feels welcome and valued, Chelsey and Ty believe. “We have one of the most diverse environments within the entire county. We have got to ensure we provide representation for all of our students,” Ty said.

Helping students commemorate black history and thrive in college is part of paying MLK’s legacy forward and remind all of us how to keep Dr. King’s dream alive, Ty and Chelsey said.

“They help to remind me I have to continue to push forward. As an African-American woman I get discriminated against all the time… but like MLK I’m pushing forward with the understanding that you’re not fighting with your fists, you’re not fighting with violence. You’re fighting with words. Understanding that is a huge part of my life,” Chelsey said.



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