Assistant Dean and Associate Professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Tracey Brame on Creating Joy

by Shannon Cohen

Tracey Brame is an Assistant Dean and Associate Professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. Brame was recently elected Vice President of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and also serves as the Vice President of the Grand Rapids chapter of Jack and Jill of America.  Tracey is the quintessential #RockstarWoman — she uses her gifts to lead, love, and serve in her home, marketplace, and community. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated; serves on the Board of Directors for Linc UP, a nonprofit community development organization; and is the head of the parent organization at Crestwood Middle School in Kentwood. She is the proud wife of Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees, Kenyatta Brame, and mother of two: Kamau, age 12 and Kimani, age 10.  

Some would think Tracey’s powerful dossier and impressive professional acumen would make her standoffish and aloof.   However, the exact opposite is true. Tracey has a natural warmth that draws you in to sit a spell and to be your authentic self.   Over a cup of coffee at Rising Grinds Cafe, we discussed recent successes in her public life and the #ToughSkinSoftHeart truths she has mastered in her personal life to sustain living well from the inside-out!  

Shannon: Tracey, you move at the speed of light and wear so many hats!  You are Assistant Dean and Associate Professor at WMU-Cooley Law School, Den Mother for Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts, Coach for Odyssey of the Mind and Girls on the Run Discovery Elementary School in Kentwood, and that’s just a snippet!  As busy women, we are often consumed with activities that place a premium on outside expectations. Much of our time is dedicated to addressing what others need, want, and expect from us. How do you create joy in your personal life?

Tracey: When students start law school, I tell them at the onset: law school is strenuous and stressful, so hold on to the things that bring you joy.  The same is true for #RockstarWomen that love, lead, and serve. We must fight to not lose sight ourselves in the midst of supporting others. Reading and music bring me joy.  I keep a mix of R&B, hip hop, and gospel music playing in my car and through my headphones. I also love curling up with a good book after everyone else has gone to bed. Recently, I started a tradition of passing on books of interest to my son.  I am finishing up The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and my son will read it when I’m done.  Sometimes, it’s those little acts of self-care that re-energize you the most.

Shannon: As a leader, how do you co-create a culture of wellness throughout your organization?

Tracey:  In general, I have a “sunny side of life” personality.  The ability to be a peacemaker and to maintain a positive attitude even in the midst of change and crisis has been an asset to my leadership.  I’ve learned to carry my own joy with me into intense environments. I also create a culture of joy by authentically checking in on the people around me.  I take time to walk around the building and connect with members on my team about nothing in particular — not just problems.  I ask about partners, remember the names of their children and the activities each member of my team enjoys.  We need to connect as human beings — that is cathartic! Asking about someone and remembering what they share is an easy way to say, “I see you and appreciate you!”

Shannon: Is there a difference between ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’? How do you define joy?

Tracey:  Yes, there is a difference.  You will not always be happy.  We have a range of emotions for a reason and there are some things in life you should not be happy about — injustice in the world, the unexpected loss of a loved one, etc.   So, unhappiness is part of life and normal. Joy is deeper than happiness. Last year, my grandmother passed away at 97 years of age. While I was unhappy about losing her, there was a joy that stemmed from her legacy in our family and in my life. Even in the midst of sadness, there can be joy.

Shannon: Joy is not the absence of challenges.  What #ToughSkinSoftHeart advice would you share with the #RockstarWoman reading this article that is battling challenges or in a space of ‘leading in the midst of a valley’?

Tracey: Find your network of support and lean on them.  Depending on where you are positioned in your workplace, you can’t vent to just anyone. That’s why affinity spaces are so important.  Avoid the trap of thinking you are the only one battling your situation. Talk to others that have had the same experience and can share what they did to overcome.  Draw on the network around you and be a network for other people. Give yourself the liberty to be vulnerable…you don’t have to be strong all of the time. I also believe in therapy.  Mental health matters.

Shannon: What are some ‘living well’ activities that you enjoy even in the winter months?  What do you do to avoid the ‘winter blah’s’?

Tracey: Leave and find some sunshine! Every year, as a family, we spend Christmas in Honduras.  My husband worked at an orphanage there for a year back in the 90s.  He has gone back every year to serve and now we all do. It has actually become a family reunion for us.  Many of the kids we have served over the years are now grown with children of their own. The fellowship and time away feeds our spirits.    


Shannon is a self-described bicoastal Michigander with roots that began in her beloved Detroit, and an entrepreneur, wife and mother with a family.  Shannon is an award-winning strategist, motivational speaker, and community mobilizer. View more about Shannon and her work in community at: shannoncohen.com. 

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