When talking to Belinda Sain-Cronin ’73, or “Bella” as her friends call her, it won’t take long before you find a connection. Whether it’s swapping recipes or discovering a love of the same small-town pizza place, Cronin speaks with passion and draws stories out of whomever she’s speaking to. It’s a talent she’s spent a lifetime developing - including when she was a fine arts major at UW-Platteville.
“Throughout the day, I write little notes to myself or my husband, Jon, and a recent one was ‘You’ve been the saving grace in my life…since Steve’s Pizza,’” Cronin said. “UW-Platteville played a huge part in my life and I made friends there, many of whom I am still friends with today. My relationship with the college has changed over time, but the connections stay strong.”
Cronin was active on campus, taking part in many student organizations and clubs like the Student Activity Board, Black Student Union and Campus Ministry, among others. She also worked in the art department and was engaged in Platteville, Dubuque, and surrounding communities. She kept up these relationships through alumni events and serving on committees that aligned with her desire to advance social justice initiatives, like the UW-Platteville Taskforce on the Racial Disparity in the Education & Incarceration of People of Color and the Midwest Culturally Inclusive Conference.
That passion for helping others also led to her career in teaching. She taught in several school districts, most recently in Racine, Wisconsin. In her art classes, she took a lot of pride in connecting with students that may have struggled in other course work.
“Art gave these kids a way to express themselves, feel safe, and find a connection.” Cronin said. “Art has a healing power that I think has been important to coping with COVID-19 too. Being in lockdown, I’ve found myself drawn to poetry or listening to music. I put on my favorite song and suddenly I’m transported to a country backroad and I’m taking a drive with my husband or my friends. The power of music, art or theatre can be very restorative – find the thing that awakens you and make the time for it.”
“You can start in the slow lane and pick up when you’re ready. You’ll find the things that resonate with you and if they don’t, remind yourself to enjoy the scenery along the way."
Though she is now retired, Cronin is still committed to learning, growing, and helping others along the way. This includes initiatives like the Racine Public Library Anti-Racism Book Table, of which she is a founding community member, and her local American Association of University Women book club. Harkening back to her time in Platteville, she also takes part virtually in a Book Discussion on Race event hosted by Shake Rag Alley, in Mineral Point Wisconsin. For Cronin, book clubs are a great way to connect with people and guide necessary conversations on race and social justice.
“My whole life has been a journey in racial diversity,” Cronin said. “People see me, and I am a Black Woman, as well as a person who is also of mixed multiracial heritage. People make assumptions, but the most important thing you can do if you really want to advocate for Black voices or be anti-racist is focus on people's humanity. Make those connections and radiate acceptance.”
As Cronin reflects on a lifetime of compassion and learning, she also had advice for current and incoming students who may be anxious about college, joining a new community, or other challenges they may face. “Don’t wait, jump in and find the connections. If you are curious about something, there are ways to learn and there are people who will help you along your way,” Cronin said. “You can start in the slow lane and pick up when you’re ready. You’ll find the things that resonate with you and if they don’t, remind yourself to enjoy the scenery along the way."