LOADING

Type to search

Our Black Leaders

Share

From left: Deborah Wilson of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, Michelle Taylor of the United Way, Tony Allen of the Wilmington HOPE Commission, educator Maurice Pritchett of Pritchett Associates, and Raye Jones Avery of Christina Cultural Arts Center and Kuumba Academy. Photograph by Jared CastaldiThough many of the people here consider themselves black leaders, most simply consider themselves leaders. “We got where we are today with leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, but now our influence has to expand to a broader and more economically driven community,” says State Senator Margaret Rose Henry. So the work toward true civil rights has shifted from winning voting rights and equal housing to economic justice. Reverend Lawrence Livingston refers to effective leadership as being “black enough.” “If you can understand the nature of oppression, whether you are white, Hispanic or any other ethnicity, then you are black enough.” That means black leadership today extends beyond color and ethnicity.
 

Tony Allen

As chair of the Wilmington HOPE Commission, Tony Allen oversaw an increase of resources for troubled Southbridge: a family crisis therapist at its elementary school, a juvenile probation officer for Southbridge only and an outreach worker. Says Allen, founding president of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, former special assistant to U.S. Senator Joe Biden, co-chair of Governor Jack Markell’s transition team, and chair of Bank of America’s United Way campaign, “While my mother and stepfather wanted me to have more than they did, they instilled in me a sense of never getting heady over my accomplishments and always finding ways to give back.”
 

Sylvia Banks and Harold Stafford

Sylvia Banks of Wilmington, Harold Stafford of Camden and Bernice Edwards of Milton (below) direct the African American Empowerment Fund of Delaware through Delaware Community Foundation. “From the beginning, I wanted to be part of an initiative that focused on causes important to the education, social and economic empowerment of African-American Delawareans,” says Banks. Stafford, the fund’s new chairman and a past secretary of labor, hopes the commitment “will help leave Delaware’s African-American communities in better condition than they might have been when I moved here 35 years ago.”
 

Don Blakey and Reuben Salters

Currently working with Delaware State University to develop a theater program, Don Blakey has followed 20 years as a Caesar Rodney School District administrator by serving as a state representative and writing and directing a theatrical exposé of the Harlem Renaissance, which became a five-day festival at Delaware State. To find actors, Blakey turned to an old friend, Dover Councilman Reuben Salters, who founded the Inner City Cultural League in 1991 to use the arts “to raise academic standards and make better citizens.” Salters founded the Sankofa African Dance Company in 1994, which performs throughout the region and at the annual African American Festival in Dover.
 

Page 2: Our Black Leaders, continues…

 

From left: Dover Councilman Reuben Salters, mentor Gerald Rocha and Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery. Photograph by Jared CastaldiRev. Christopher Bullock

Under Pastor Christopher Bullock, Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle has instituted a computer training program for prisoners re-entering the community. Bullock also helped found the Delaware Prison Reform and Justice Coalition, which tracks civil rights violations in jails. Bullock’s big focus now is economic development. “The challenge for today’s black leaders is to help pull people out of poverty with a livable wage and a solid career, that simple American Dream for all,” he says. Canaan is developing job training in banking and culinary arts and establishing covenants with businesses to provide employment.
 

Bernice Edwards

Director of First State Community Action Agency, Bernice Edwards knows what to do with federal money. “We recently received $5 million in stimulus funds and distributed all but $800,000 of it to some 38 non-profits directing their energies toward job development, neighborhood stabilization and youth programs.” Edwards began a life of community service as a Head Start mother of two. Her guide: “How can I help someone else in this world?” One recent First State initiative is Now We’re Cooking, for special-needs students in Sussex. “Teaching food service skills also improves students’ performance in such core curricula as math and geography.”
 

 Kia Evans and Monty Hayman

Monty Hayman and Kia Evans are December graduates of the first Leadership Delaware class, an intense, yearlong program to groom leaders in business, philanthropy and politics. Hayman, a mortgage consultant in Wilmington, plans to “bone up on public policy skills and continue to work with folks from this class whom I know will be running for political office. I hope to develop a network, because there will be great opportunities for me to help others.” Evans, a past spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is weighing options. “When you complete a program of this magnitude, the sky’s the limit,” she says. “I’m exploring various areas of leadership, but will likely choose a corporate path.”
 

Mark Harmon

Pastor Mark Harmon was looking for something besides team sports to get at-risk teen boys to redirect their behavior. “I decided to focus on the arts,” says Harmon, director of the Aid in Dover community action organization. With some recording equipment, Harmon set out last summer to let the boys record their own music. “I thought I would be busy helping them redirect some of the thoughts they had put down, but it turned out they began redirecting themselves.” Aid in Dover also supports a runaway shelter, a transition program for youth leaving foster care and a parallel to Boys’ Council, Girls’ Circle, to “build a sense of sisterhood among female youth and reduce the level of violence that tends to exist among that age group.”
 

Page 3: Our Black Leaders, continues…

 

State Representative Don Blakey and Sheridan Quarless Kingsberry of the YWCA. Photograph by Jared CastaldiMargaret Rose Henry

The only black woman in the state senate, Margaret Rose Henry continues a legislative focus on problems in poor communities. She has sponsored bills that have identified health discrepancies in neighborhoods affected by industrial pollution, and she has established an Office of Women’s Health. She has sponsored bills that restored voting rights to felons who have made restitution, as well as a needle exchange bill to combat drug addiction and the spread of disease. Her kinship care bill provides help for families who care for family members in need.
 

 Raye Jones Avery

Raye Jones Avery founded Christina Cultural Arts Center and the charter school Kuumba Academy in Wilmington partly to stress the cultural contributions of African-Americans. “We teach a brand of activism through the study of people like [Paul] Robeson, [Shirley] Chisholm and [Cesar] Chavez within the prism of drama and other art forms,” she says. At CCAC Avery has instituted a program aimed at producing black teachers to serve their community. And CCAC has joined the HOPE Commission in developing community researchers, who will interview Wilmington residents about violence in their neighborhoods. That information will be turned into plans for safer communities, in part through music, video and drama.
 

 Rev. Lawrence Livingston

The Reverend Dr. Lawrence Livingston wants people to understand and appreciate their history, so his Mother African Union Church memorializes the black experience through its interactive Spencer Heritage Hallway. Stations such as “Out of Africa” depict conditions on slave ships and “Middle Passage” demonstrates the harsh life of slaves. The hall is followed by reminisces of Wilmington’s August Quarterly, the oldest African-American religious festival in the country, and the church’s own history.
 

 Lillian Lowery

Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery’s roots in segregated Gastonia, North Carolina, informed her vision for Delaware’s schools. “We were basically a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood that nevertheless understood the importance of a good education,” she says. “We were expected to do well, and considering school as anything other than cool was not a negotiable option.” Such values guide Lowery today. “We have to educate everyone, not just children, but parents and community leaders, too, if we are to be successful. We have to accept that not all parents are in a position to actively participate. Yet we must rely on those parents to at least instill and reinforce the importance of education for their children at home, regardless of economic status. We’ll teach the math and English when they get to class.”
 

Page 4: Our Black Leaders, continues…

 

 Norman Oliver

Black leaders need to shift from social and charitable causes to economic development, or so Norman Oliver tells the 200 kids who make up Our Youth Inc., his non-profit network of programs designed to transform at-risk students into successful young adults. Oliver’s résumé includes a seat on Wilmington City Council from 1992 to 2000 and he sat on the Delaware State University Board of Trustees. His Thanksgiving turkey drive grew from 10 turkeys in 1983 to 2,500 turkeys for needy families last year, and his first toy drive, begun last Christmas, was a resounding success. His crowning achievement? Zanthia Way, a 15-unit project of affordable houses for low-income families in Wilmington. Named for Oliver’s mother, Zanthia Way tugs constantly on his heartstrings. “I remember coming home from school in the eighth grade and seeing our furniture outside,” he says. “This is definitely needed in this part of town.”
 

 Maurice Pritchett

Maurice Pritchett recently ended a 40-year career as an educator and director for Family and Community Involvement for Christina School District, the culmination of decades of believing academic achievement was not possible without the sustained involvement of parents and guardians, along with clergy, business, non-profit agencies and school administrators. He has since formed Pritchett Associates, a group of retired educators who want to improve student and school performance. “We provide support services and share educational practices based on first-hand knowledge.” A member of the Vision 2015 initiative to make Delaware’s public schools world class, Pritchett focuses on parental involvement. “You simply cannot educate without the parents,” he says.
 

 Sheridan Quarless Kingsberry

Sheridan Quarless Kingsberry applies the principles and structure of the YWCA’s-esteemed Study Circles program to instill a stronger sense of community in her students at Delaware State University. “The aim of Study Circles is to break down the barriers to understanding and tolerance among the races,” she says. Kingsberry is now researching how the Study Circles experience has affected former students as they take their places in the world. In seven years with the YWCA, Kingsberry has used her role as chair of the Fund Development Committee to shift fundraising from corporations and foundations to individual donors. Since the model has been in place, donors and potential donors have swelled from about 60 in 2003 to more than 500 in 2009.
 

Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery’s roots in segregated Gastonia, North Carolina, informed her vision for Delaware’s schools. “We were basically a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood that nevertheless understood the importance of a good education,” she says. “We were expected to do well, and considering school as anything other than cool was not a negotiable option.” Such values guide Lowery today. “We have to educate everyone, not just children, but parents and community leaders, too, if we are to be successful. We have to accept that not all parents are in a position to actively participate. Yet we must rely on those parents to at least instill and reinforce the importance of education for their children at home, regardless of economic status. We’ll teach the math and English when they get to class.”
 

Page 5: Our Black Leaders, continues…

 

 Gerald Rocha

After Gerald Rocha accompanied his son to a basketball program at F. Niel Postlethwait Middle School in Camden, he began a six-year stint with Creative Mentoring, then co-founded the Delaware Youth Leadership Academy. Today he is working both with Big Brothers Big Sisters Delaware and Creative Mentoring to instill the leadership skills he helped develop through his Youth Leadership Academy. “I’m an advocate to anyone wishing to better the lives and futures of today’s youth,” says Rocha, who officially retired from a 20-year Air Force career this month. Rocha estimates that he has mentored more than 100 Dover-area youth, and now envisions mentees better equipped with the leadership skills necessary to live successful adult lives.
 

 S. Renee Smith

By the time she was 18, “I already knew I’d be doing what I am now doing,” Smith says. What the model, TV talk show host, producer and entrepreneur does is “help people find their voice, image and confidence to get what they want out of life.” The author of “There is More Inside,” Smith works with multinational corporations, national organizations and entrepreneurs. Her latest initiative is the Value Proposition, “taking people to their place of pain,” which is key to understanding why they are where they are and what they need to do to transform their lives. “You have to understand the process before you can maximize your learning experience.”
 

 Michelle Taylor

Since joining the United Way of Delaware, Michelle Taylor sought to transform the agency from its traditional fundraising role to one having a more direct community impact. “Current economic forces have shifted our focus for the time being to a narrower one of simply working to provide food, shelters and help with basics like utility bills for the clients of our partner agencies,” Taylor says. Still, she is keeping United Way committed to its long-range goals in the areas of early childhood education, helping families save for and buy a home, developing a college-educated, entrepreneurial workforce, and increasing access to affordable health care. “With the help of our corporate partners, we’ve managed to connect more than 14,000 residents to health services,” she says.
 

Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery’s roots in segregated Gastonia, North Carolina, informed her vision for Delaware’s schools. “We were basically a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood that nevertheless understood the importance of a good education,” she says. “We were expected to do well, and considering school as anything other than cool was not a negotiable option.” Such values guide Lowery today. “We have to educate everyone, not just children, but parents and community leaders, too, if we are to be successful. We have to accept that not all parents are in a position to actively participate. Yet we must rely on those parents to at least instill and reinforce the importance of education for their children at home, regardless of economic status. We’ll teach the math and English when they get to class.”
 

Page 6: Our Black Leaders, continues…

 

Deborah Wilson

Deborah Wilson, the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League’s new president and CEO, says the league remains an advocacy and policy research agency aimed at addressing inequities in systems of education and employment. Hence the league’s current initiatives. “Achievement Matters advocates systemic changes to improve the quality of our educational outcomes,” Wilson says. “That includes intervention programs for families, more after-school programs, and developing a strong cultural competence among teachers and staff that eliminates the barriers that exist among African-American and Hispanic children.” Wilson views the effort as especially important now, since the white educational workforce is retiring at a faster rate than minorities. “Minority opportunities are growing, so we have to make sure they are ready to take those places as they develop,” she says.
 

 George Wright

The first black mayor in Delaware, George Wright (since retired) ran for office “to help take Smyrna in a new direction. But the 35-year federal employee (Wright is a past chief of civilian staff at Dover Air Force Base) was not done with government service after 12 years in the mayor’s office. He is executive director of the Delaware League of Local Governments, which he has been associated with since 1991. His current efforts are devoted toward steering federal stimulus dollars to Delaware’s cities and towns. “Delaware has done OK as far as getting federal support for police, for example,” Wright says. “But given the state’s economy, we’re not getting our share of federal dollars for road and bridge projects. [Vice President] Joe Biden as vice president and controlling the stimulus purse strings should benefit the state. “Joe stays in touch, and we’re hopeful for greater success in that regard,” Wright says.
 

 Justen Wright

The successful Wilmington funeral director turned down requests to run for Wilmington City Council until he first learned more about his community and what it needed. Elected in November 2008, Wright has devoted his initial efforts to seeing that Delaware’s disadvantaged black enterprises (known as DBEs) get their fair share of city contracts. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have achieved goals at an early age, and now I want to help Wilmington help its citizens to better achieve theirs.” His latest effort is to establish a center for seniors living in the first district of Wilmington. “That area is currently underserving its senior citizens,” Wright says.

Previous Article
Next Article

You Might also Like