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Building a Legacy: Chatman's Early Learning Christian Academy

A Northside childcare center continues to serve generations. In celebration of Black History Month we're highlighting family owned businesses overcoming adversity.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Chatman's Early Learning Christian Academy on the Jacksonville's Northside has endured and overcome hardships for decades while serving generations of people in the community.

The original location on Moncrief Road West opened in 1989 with 25 students. The academy has since expanded to two locations, serving more than 300 little scholars.

"I get here at 5:50 a.m. every morning," Mary B. Chatman said. "Since 1989 yes and I stay all day long. I go over to the other school, back and forth."

Credit: Chatmans

Standing in front of a classroom filled with dozens of Chatman's youngest scholars, she wears a warm smile and declares, "Mostly everybody in here I raised their parents," she said. 

"The little fellow right over there - I raised his mother, his momma's mother."

She's molding, generations within her own family and beyond. Ericka Laidler, the youngest of the Chatman's is number six of six. 

She now leads the pack as the school's principal.

Credit: Chatmans

"11 (family) members work here," Chatman said. "It is a family affair." 

She's carrying a legacy created by her husband of 63 years.

"It was his idea to start this business," Chatman said. "It wasn't mine. It was Johnny F. Chatman Sr. he started this business." 

July 2022 marks four years since the Chatman family lost its patriarch. They say he leaves behind a foundation that continues to blossom.

 "We reminisce on the things that he taught us from the home to the pulpit to the streets," Phadra Pinckney said.

She holds her family name in high regard. Though, Pickney, says her mother is rarely called by that beloved name.

“They call me mom, they call me grandma, they call me grand momma, mother," Chatman said wearing a warm smile her children are all too familiar with. 

"Very seldom do people call me Mrs. Chatman. Hey ma, hey grandma, bye ma, I'm gone! They take me as their own."

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