Our dear friend and former staff member Virginia Walker passed away recently.
She served for a decade as Athens Family Connection’s Empowerment Project Director and Diversity Coordinator. When the executive director of the national Family Support America visited, she left saying “Everyone talks about family support; Athens is doing family support,” with Virginia‘s leadership. She was a founding board member of Parents Across America (a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation initiative to expand the family engagement work). There were more than a dozen other projects which she played a key role in establishing.
Virginia was one of the Four Matrons — the leaders of the civil rights movement in Athens. (The others were Miriam Moore, Jessie Barnett, and Evelyn Neely.)
Her leadership in Model Cities was instrumental in creating the Neighborhood Health Center, Family Counseling Service, Athens Child Development, and others. She pushed hard and successfully for the bridge from “East of Athens” to downtown, a great metaphor for her work.
She was a key leader in the response to the Edward Wright killing, including the redevelopment of the commercial area there (aka the Iron Triangle), the rec fields, establishing the Miriam Moore Community Center, creating the East Athens Development Corporation, establishing the police precinct with community-oriented policing, a community garden, etc in that neighborhood.
She didn’t have much formal education, but she was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.
John Lewis was fond of telling me that “if nobody’s mad at you, you’re probably not doing much,” and Virginia was often getting folks mad at her. There were many times when people called on me to fire her. I always met with them, listened, and their concerns almost always convinced me of the opposite. Her job included bringing to our tables, and those of others, the voice of those who were too often left out. And she did, always speaking her truth and her wisdom, to our betterment.
Hers was a unique and powerful spirit, and our community and beyond are better for her having passed this way. As Nancy Denson said, she earned her rest.
Please hold her family in your thoughts and prayers.
The funeral service was August 11 at Springfield Baptist Church. I was honored to be one of three non-family members the family asked to speak at her service.