This year's Journal Women of Achievement are women whose lives are living testimony to the strength and survival skills of African American people. They are examples who have made a science out of making a way out of no way. They are the pioneers on whose shoulders we all stand. They are pioneers whose lives are inspirational examples of succeeding, often against the odds. The 2012 WOA honorees are from the generation that, in some cases, can trace their roots back to slavery. Some were born in cities with all of the apparent trappings of comfort, but the remnants of slavery and discrimination were ever present. Some were born in the rural south where the remnants of slavery were clearly visible and ever present. Their parents were share croppers, tenant farmers, teachers preachers and survivors, all who passed their survival skills on to their beautiful and talented daughters of the struggle over 80 years ago. They are all alike in many ways but each is unique in her own way.
Honoree, Dr. Mae Cowan was born in rural Peachburg, Alabama where she attended a one room school with 45 students. She worked in the family business which was farming. This meant that she picked cotton, peas, corn, and vegetables, and harvested pecans. That which their family didn't eat, they sold or traded to pay the rent on the family farm. It was while picking cotton to help her family survive that she had an epiphany. She ran out of the field to proclaim that she would go to college and become a teacher. That proclamation led little Mae Rena (Cowan), the one-time cotton picker, to accomplish two Masters degrees from Tuskegee in Alabama and a Doctorate from the University of Southern California.
She travelled the world teaching in Germany, Austria, Cal State Northridge and later becoming the director of teacher education at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, California. Along the way she was told by a Pasadena Unified School District personnel officer they couldn't hire her, because if they hired her and he didn't do well, they wouldn't be able to hire another "Negro" for the next 10 or 15 years. Her dream was deferred but not lost. Not only did she become the teacher she desired, but has had a career training teachers. When asked what her greatest disappointment in life was she said the slow pace in which the country has moved toward justice and equality for all of its citizens. Her greatest joy, she says, is her family.
Honoree, Mildred Hawkins was born in Baton Rogue, Louisiana. She came to Southern California as a child. She attended High school in Los Angeles, attended LA City College and Cal State Northridge, studying Secretarial Science before the computer days. She has worked as a technical publications supervisor at some of America's largest corporations including Hughes Aircraft, Parsons, and Litton Industries. Ms. Hawkins notes that discrimination was a present element at some of the corporations and at one time, while at Parsons, she was forced to file discrimination charges. The events related to a promotion that she was denied and for which she ended up training the white male who got the promotion.
This longtime Pasadenan, between raising three daughters, has served her community well. She has volunteered and served as chair of organizations including Villa Esperanza, the Pasadena Senior Center, Parks and Recreation Commission, the Human Services and Recreation Commission, and served as commissioner on the City of Pasadena Senior Commission. She has also served as a trustee and stewardess at First AME Church Pasadena.Her community service has not gone unnoticed. She has been honored and recognized as Senior Citizen of the Year by L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, among others.
Honoree Juanita DeVaughn was born in rural Boligee, Alabama. Because there was no school for Black children, her family donated the land from the forty acres given to her family by the white former slave masters, and her cousins raised the money to build a school. Her grandfather built the furniture and the school buildings. Her mother learned to be a seamstress from a correspondence course and developed a thriving business as a dressmaker, seamstress and coat-maker. Her father was a farmer. Ms. DeVaughn can trace her family heritage back to slavery, in part because many of her ancestors were obviously the children of the slave-master. The family sent her and all four of her siblings through high school. She went on to her beloved Alabama A&M University where she studied home economics and graduated in 1947, before beginning a long career in teaching. That career commenced in rural Alabama and ended with over twenty-five years teaching in Pasadena, California at Elliot Middle School and John Muir High School where she taught home economics and social studies.
Ms. De Vaughn spent the world-changing 60's in Birmingham, Alabama where she worked as a nutritionist and dietician, by day, for the Birmingham City Schools. She participated in the Civil Rights struggle to destroy the segregation of Birmingham and the South working as a volunteer for such names as Dr Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy. She also worked with Fred Shuttlesworth and Autherine Lucy.
When her husband's Paul De Vaughn's job closed in Birmingham, Paul who had attended Morehouse, found a job out west and they moved to Southern California. For a while she worked as a dietician with the Los Angeles Headstart program. Later she applied for a teaching position in Pasadena but was offered a job as a cook instead. Ultimately she became a teacher in Pasadena and continued her community work through activities with the NAACP, her church, Altadena Baptist, and the schools and colleges including her beloved Alabama A & M.
Honoree Mildred Lewis is a true California girl. Born in Los Angeles on April 8, 1928 she celebrated her birthday on Easter Sunday, this year. She says that her parents landed in California and never left. She holds a BA degree in Social Welfare from Cal State Los Angeles and a teaching credential but never had the desire to teach, so she spent hrt career as a school office manager and administrator. Mrs. Lewis is also certified by the Los Angeles County Bar Association as a mediator for legal matters. Ms. Lewis honed her organizational skills over the years as a school office manager and today uses those skills at her church where she is in charge of the highly successful Senior Ministry. The ministry holds forth at her home church First AME Pasadena and involves seniors from across the San Gabriel Valley. Her organizational skills, combined with her consistent and faithful commitment to the mission of Christian ministry, provide the backbone for the growing Senior Ministry.
Her humble spirit keeps the focus on the needs of the seniors who she serves and not for any glory that could arise out of the work's success. The success of the program could easily provide a model for other church programs. She is also a member of the NAACP and an active member of the Altadena Senior Center and Friends of Altadena Senior Center where she has held positions from president to secretary. The mother of two daughters, two granddaughters and five great grandsons, she says she went back to school to get her degrees to shut up a Principal who identified her brilliance and hounded her about returning to school. She returned but chose to continue her role as an office manager. After all, she was bright enough to see that it paid more money and she says she was never seeking the glory of higher status. She retired from Los Angeles Unified School District after nineteen years.
Her greatest joys in life are her children and their life's successes. When asked what has been her greatest disappointment, she was at a loss and after saying that God had been so good to her that she had few regrets. She said she wishes she had finished school earlier, probably to shut the Principal up sooner.
Honoree Delano Robinson is further evidence of Pasadena's relationship with African American royalty. She is best known as Mrs. Mack Robinson, the wife of the 1936 Silver Medal winner of the 200 meter race that publicly destroyed Hitler's myth of white supremacy. African American Jesse Owens won the Gold. Delano Robinson's story is a cross country love story. Born in Thomasville, Georgia on the Pebble Hill Plantation, she met and married Pasadena, California Olympian, Mack Robinson. Mrs. Robinson, who was born in July, 1933, finished High school in 1951 at age sixteen. She attended Savannah State College for two years. A trip to New York with a cousin in 1954 turned out to be fortuitous in that she met Mack and Jackie Robinson while visiting a family member there who baby sat for Jackie and Rachel Robinson. She was smitten with New York and with Mack. He asked Delano's family to allow her to visit him in California. A year later they relented and he sent for her to visit California. They were married at Scott United Methodist Church in 1955, three days after her arrival in Pasadena. Robinson still attends Scott United Methodist where she takes great joy in singing in the Senior Choir.
Mrs. Robinson had to forego her last years at Savannah State to move to California but she later enrolled at Pasadena City College to study nursing following Mack's death in 2000. She has worked as a nurses Aid at St Luke and Huntington Hospitals and retired in 1988.
Delano is the 8th child of 15 children. She counts coming to California and joining the Robinson family as her greatest joy. The 45 year relationship gave her more joy in their 6 children, Wayne, Rose, Kathy, Betty, William and Edward. Today she spends a lot of time highlighting the life of the world famous Robinsons. She visits schools, churches and community centers wearing Jackie's famous number 42 Dodger warm-up jacket and displaying Mack's Olympic medal. She talks about the historical moments in the lives of the Robinson brothers and her car sports a license plate that says "36 Olympics".
Honoree Allie Louise Almore Randle was born in Jackson Mississippi where she attended elementary school and later attended and graduated from Tougaloo High School. In 1951, she earned a bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics from Tougaloo College. As the first of 8 children in the Almore family to graduate from college, she set the pattern which the others would follow. Two years after graduating from Tougaloo College she moved to Pasadena, California where she continued her education at Cal State University Los Angeles and the University of Southern California where she earned her M.S. in Education, in 1971. She later earned a Doctorate in Education from Nova Southeastern University, in 1997. In 1956 Dr. Randle was hired to teach at Jackson Elementary School in Altadena, California. The principal rejected her using the fact that there were no Black students at the school. She was then assigned to become a special education teacher where she excelled. She later turned down an opportunity to teach in the general population. As a Christian, she saw her teaching special education as an opportunity to fulfill the part of the scriptures that requires Christians to help the least among us.
Over the years, she has spent a lifelong career as an educator and consultant. Her commitment to education has also led her to establish educational scholarships for students at schools across the country from her beloved Tougaloo College to Pasadena's Pasadena High school. Community service has been a way of life working with organizations from the Camp Fire Girls, to AKA Sorority, the NAACP, and the AME church. She has marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Watts, California and fought discrimination battles at Pasadena City College and in the school integration campaigns of the 60's in Pasadena. She also marched with Reverend Marvin T. Robinson (Historic Friendship Baptist Church) in the campaign to integrate dining restaurants on North Lake Avenue in Pasadena, California.
The widow of Olton Randle, Dr. Randle spent 47 years teaching and educating students. She is still active working to spread the "Gospel of education" as the great equalizer. She says her greatest joy is being a member of a wonderful Christian family, and her greatest disappointment is as a race of people, African Americans are still struggling for equality!
Honoree Lois Richard is a true Pasadena Pioneer. She was born in Pasadena in 1931. Her mother was also born in Pasadena. After graduating from Pasadena High School she earned a degree in teaching from UCLA and later a masters from Azusa Pacific . With degrees in hand the sting of racism hit her when she went to apply for a teaching position in her native Pasadena. They weren't hiring African American teachers. She landed a job in the Compton / Los Angeles area at 139th Street School. This meant a long drive daily, passing schools in Pasadena, to teach because she was Black. The 139th Street School was composed of Black and Brown students. She eventually landed a job teaching in Pasadena but left to become the Executive Director of a new program called Headstart in Pasadena. Later Lois again took on the mantle of pioneer and ran for the Pasadena City Council. This bold step made her the first African American woman to run for city government. A Black man ran for the same seat. Many believe that his entry was a tactic by the white power structure to split the Black vote and keep Blacks out of the seats of power. The trick in those days was to force a winner in their district to run city wide, if they won in their district. Lois won in the district but failed to win city wide as the city was obviously not ready for a black on the city council. The city wide trick and vote splitting tactic worked until Loretta Glickman came and won a seat on the council, some years later. But Lois had opened the door. Undeterred, Ms. Richard gained a seat on the City's Commission on the Status of Women where she continued to fight discrimination. She was the only African American woman on the Commission. When one vote came up on an issue that required a women's participation, Lois was the only vote against a woman being represented. When asked why she would vote against a woman being voted to represent the woman's position, she said because they did not include women who looked like her (African American). She once attended a meeting where Blacks were not represented. When she arrived and realized that the organization had operated without Blacks up to her arrival she asked, "Did you miss me"?
Lois landed what was her dream job. This mother of one son and one daughter became the Executive Director of the Pasadena Head-start State Pre-School Program. She pioneered many changes in the Headstart program during her long tenure as head. Somewhere along the way, prior to her position at Headstart, she helped her husband, Rod, return to UCLA to study medicine and left education to manage his medical office. In 2011, the City of Pasadena held a contest for the mythical "Little Old Lady of Pasadena", she ran and was one of three finalists. She says she ran "to remind them that we were still here." This grandmother of four constantly brags about this motto to never let them forget.
Honoree Regenia Moses is African American Royalty. Her Cousin is Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History month. Her father was one of the five founders of California's all Black town, Allensworth, California. She was born in El Centro, California. Her father and mother were educators in El Centro. She attended schools started by her father for Black children there. She also attended Cal State San Diego University where she earned a B.A. degree. She earned a B.S. degree from USC and a teaching credential. She taught school in Los Angeles for 3 years and moved to Pasadena but could not go to work here because Pasasdena had a serious discrimination practice and refused to hire her until a Principal by the name of Ed. Shutman identified her talent and insisted on hiring her. Shutman was told that he could hire her, but he would have to be responsible for her. Later when Shutman was transferred to Don Benito, he again insisted on taking Moses with him, however, Regenia woke up one day and told herself that her talents were needed more by Black students and she voluntarily moved to Lincoln School. After Lincoln this pioneer went to Eliot Middle School during the school integration years. Later, Ramon Cortines assigned her to San Rafael school where she became the first Black female principal in the Pasadena Unified School District.
She says that her co-workers in the district had no idea how difficult it was for Black educators in the District. The people in the San Rafael District did not hide their objection to this Black lady serving as Principal. On the contrary, the teachers working under her loved her. Board members were opposed to her. She did what she does best. She performed and charmed some, while others tried their best to get rid of her even with threats to her safety if the District didn't move her.
Eventually she was assigned to become Principal at Willard school where life was a little calmer, however, it was not a bed of roses there because some of the parents objected to her because she did not speak Spanish. Some of the students at Willard included Claire and Bill Bogaard's children. They remain close friends today. Moses stayed at Willard for 14 years. The proud mother of two sons hung up her educators' crown, retiring in 1990. One of her joys in life is seeing the product of her works when she encounters former students who have succeeded in life and come to thank her for her work. Her major disappointment in life is seeing some people who she knew who were able to do great things, but because of discrimination was not allowed to do them. She is active in a number of organizations including AKA Sorority, her church (All Saints) the Zontas and the Salvation Army.
Honoree Versie Mae Richardson was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, March 13, 1920. To describe who she is, would be to describe a businesswoman, a crusading Realtor who opened up segregated neighborhoods to Blacks, a musical performer, a world traveler with multiple trips to Africa and Europe, Cultural Center founder (Alkebu-Lan) founder, mentor and role model to many. At the age of 13, young Versie Mae had developed her business negotiation skills to the point that she convinced her parents to allow her to come to Claremont, California to live with her brother who preceded her to California. Her Brother's family moved to Pasadena and Versie Mae attended and graduated from Pasadena High School before moving on to the University of Southern California where she earned degrees in Business and Music. Ms. Richardson is an accomplished and trained performer. Her talents have taken her across the world, performing in places as far away as Moscow, Vienna, and Zurich, and as close as Washington, D.C. where she sung for the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter at the Lincoln Memorial.
As a businesswoman and Realtor, she opened her own Real Estate firm in 1951. In 1974, Richardson Realty purchased a Century 21 Franchise and became Century 21 Richardson Realty. Her firm was one of the largest Black firms in the city and developed a reputation for opening up the city to African Americans into blocks and neighborhoods where the city fathers never intended Blacks to live. Ms. Richardson had other ideas and through her business acumen and creativity she made it happen. Her success earned her the nick name of "Block Buster" because she would bust up the segregated housing patterns of Pasadena.
At one point she joined with another Black Realtor and bought five parcels of land in the city and developed and rented the property to Blacks even though they had been warned to "don't make trouble." Another tactic used by Richardson Realty was to sometime make a quick sale over the phone, never letting the White seller see the Black buyer until it was time to turn over the keys to the property. Richardson retired from Real Estate in 1982 and became more active in community affairs. After a few trips to Africa, she joined with two friends in 1989 to develop an African American Cultural Center, ALKebu-Lan. Her friends, Dr. D. Marie Battle and Emerson Terry, opened the center with the goals of teaching African American children to be proud of their African heritage and getting a good education. Out of Alkebulan grew the very popular Alkebulan Boys Choir. The Choir, following in the foot steps of their mentor, travelled throughout America and Europe, performing. She retired from Alkeblan in 2011. Pasadena has much to thank this pioneer for from her integration efforts to her devotion to spreading African American culture.
Honoree, Mrs. Marie Foster, has been a soldier working in the "Army of God" as long as she can remember. In the African American community, the Church is the organization that has been most important in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality. The workers in the church rarely receive praise for their work. The absence of praise does not reduce the importance of their work one bit. Without those who work in the various departments the church, the Black struggle would not have succeeded as much as it has. Marie Foster is a pioneer worker in the church. She has a great testimony. She served God and God's people all of her life and He gave her a long full life. Mrs. Foster proclaims every day that God has been good to her. She tells how good God has been to her when she cites the daily evidence. She says that it is not everybody approaching 100 years of age (this November) that they can rise every day on their own. And not everybody that age that can prepare their breakfast, keep their house clean, and coordinate, maintain a sharp dress style. She says she never liked looking like a tramp.
There is nothing unique about her ability to rise daily and handle her business until you consider her age. Marie Foster will celebrate her 100th birthday, November 13, 2012. She was born in Grimes County Texas on that date in 1912. She lived in Grimes County until her father, who was a farmer, died of Typhoid fever at an early age. After her father died, the family including aunts and uncles, all pitched in to take care of young Marie and her four siblings.
She attended Navasota High School in Cameron, Texas, after moving there to live with her maternal aunt. She would spend the school year with that aunt and the balance of the year with her paternal uncle's family. She says she wanted to stay with that uncle who had a large house, until once she found a snake in the yard, and her mind was changed.
In 1941 Marie traveled to California to visit her mother's sister. She stayed and worked in Beverly Hills as a maid. She later worked for the Broadway stores for approximately 15 years. She married her first husband who later passed. Later, she met and married Bennie Foster while attending church at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Altadena, California. Bennie was a Deacon and was head of the Deacon Board at Metropolitan for years. They bought a home in Altadena within one mile of the church, in 1965. As a Deaconess and a Deacon's wife, she served the church in many ways. She has worked in nearly every department in the church, from the Sunday School, to the choir, to the chair of the Deaconess Board. She has kept her Choir robe, even today, though she hasn't sung in the past ten years.
She says that her greatest joy in life has been the service she has given to others through her work in the Church. Some of her fondest memories are related to the church. When she was seven or eight she was put up to sing, "Yes Jesus Loves Me", at her uncle's church. She opened her mouth and nothing came out. When the congregation laughed, her uncle scolded them. He then put her on his knee, encouraged her, and put her back up to sing, and she sang. She stopped working in the church only after turning ninety, but even today she wants to take care of some things she sees that needs to be done like keeping flowers on the church altar.
The stories of our honorees are compelling stories of struggle, strength, and achievement by our elders. Join us for our annual breakfast as we lift up and share their lives and their contributions to our past and to our future. Get your tickets now for this powerful and inspiring event. Entertainment will include blues entertainer, Brother Yusef and soloist Allisonne Crawford and a few other surprises. Our keynote speaker is author, publisher and motivational speaker, Dr. Rosie Milligan.
For tickets or more information contact the Journal at (626) 798-3972, or drop by the Journal Offices at, 1541 N. Lake Avenue, Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.