Lois Carson Legacy Celebrated Near and Far
By Dianne Anderson
Almost by definition, the name Lois Carson is synonymous with boundless energy from a lifetime of community service, and she was widely admired for finesse in dealing with hard to sway politicians all the way to Capitol Hill.
They always came around to her vision.
Wilmer Amina Carter said Ms. Carson was very pointed about getting resources for the community. She seldom, met resistance from those seated in power. She lobbied legislators and those at the top never had to guess what was needed.
She is remembered for always keeping steady on her mission and she came prepared. She neatly laid out the issues in presentations and knew exactly how to fix them. Ms. Carson passed away last Wednesday. She was 90.
“She was the head of so many organizations that had needs, so she was always well versed. She was a teacher and educator so she could present the problem and came with solutions,” said Carter, former California Assemblymember.
In the late 1960s, Ms. Carter became close with Ms. Carson as the co-founder of the local section NCNW. Rushing from one meeting to the next, Carter took notes, and said she had a front-row seat and learned what is required of a true leader.
Among her many endeavors, Ms. Carson taught at the University of Riverside Upward Bound program, and in venues as far away as Africa.
At Ms. Carson’s recommendation, Carter became the first director of the local Section NCNW. Ms. Carson, along with National NCNW President Dorothy Height, led the IE-NCNW to establish new sections in at least a half dozen countries in Africa.
It was an exciting and productive time.
“She was very active and that’s where I cut my teeth,” Carter said. “ I followed her around everywhere she set up organizations. I followed her all over Africa. She knew how to organize. She knew how to do things. She knew how to encourage you.”
A role model of the highest caliber, Carson urged Ms. Carter to run for Rialto school board and urged her again on to the Assembly. She said that she is still in awe at how Ms. Carson effortlessly started so many important programs, all while raising six successful children.
“Whatever she did, I would try to do,” Carter said. “She taught and learned at the same time. She would always say we only have so many years so a lot of times we have to double up,” she said.
An outpouring of love from the community is more than words can express for Beverly Powell. So far, she has received dozens of texts from friends and family who have benefited from her guidance.
She said Ms. Carson was always a giver all the way up to her recent 90th birthday. Instead of gifts, she requested friends send money to support the San Bernardino Valley College Foundation, which supports local students and scholarships.
“She was so giving. One friend sent me a text that she was the golden globe of making a difference in people’s lives. On everybody, she had an impact. She cleared the path for everything,” said Powell, Vice President of SBVC Foundation.
Growing up, she said Ms. Carson was a mainstay in her family. Carson and her mother, Laura Goodly, were close friends, part of the charter founders of the NCNW-IE Section.
Powell’s nephew also went through the Carson’s Black Future Leaders program, founded over 30 years ago, and he earned his doctorate and is a USC graduate. Through that kind of encouragement, she said so many others have excelled.
Ms. Powell also attended St. Anthony’s Catholic School along with Ms. Carson’s children.
Through her personal journey, Powell said it meant the world to her to receive Carson’s blessing to pursue her seat when she was elected to the San Bernardino Community College District Board of Trustees.
“I still have the card that she sent me many years ago. She said she was very proud of me and saw me as an upcoming leader. When she retired, I ran with her support,” Powell said.
Carson served 24 years as a San Bernardino Community College District Trustee until 2010, while garnering countless awards from various programs and efforts, including Lyndon Baines Johnson Human Services Award, and Trustee of the Year from the American Association of Community College Trustees.
In her spare time over the years, Carson stayed active supporting St. Anthony Catholic School. She also served as a community board member with Cal State University, San Bernardino Philanthropic Foundation.
Patricia Nickols-Butler, CEO of San Bernardino Community Action Partnership, said Ms. Carson was a catalyst in the local and national community action movement launched with the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964.
Ms. Nickols Butler said that the community and thousands of community action agencies across America benefited from her many legacies.
She said her hope for the San Bernardino agency is to strive to meet the example that Ms. Carson set.
“We lost a dear friend who dedicated her life to community service and to making the lives of those less fortunate better. She believed that education was the best path out of poverty and dedicated her life to transforming the lives of others and ensuring access to education. Community Action was her heart,” she said.
During the 1960s, Ms. Carson was teaching English when Lyndon Johnson declared War on Poverty. At the time, she was establishing the local NCNW section, and the organization was later tapped to outreach for Headstart. Members worked hard to get Westside and Muscoy low-income students enrolled.
Carolyn Tillman, a lifetime member and past president of NCNW-IE Section, said Ms. Carson had a deep impact on her own life and introduced her to the local section.
Back in the day, Tillman said women who took charge were considered a negative trait, but she recalled meeting Ms. Carson’s siblings, and learned how she showed leadership from an early age.
“I was going on and on about how much I adored Lois. Her brother said when she was a kid, she was always bossy,” Ms. Tillman laughs. “Lois seemed to be on a mission even as a child.”
So much stands out about her level of dedication, Tillman said. She was always on the move, and working with women and people in poverty was a labor of love and passion. She was tireless, pushed the boundaries to do more.
“She had a very helicopter view, she knew the nuts and bolts of the issues,” she said. “She’s known for her work throughout the state and around the country, even international efforts related to women in poverty. She just had a love for her people, and her culture.”
Carson is recognized in the San Bernardino Valley College Alumni Hall of Fame. She earned her Bachelor’s degree and two Master’s degrees, one in English and Education, from UCR.
Long-time poverty advocate Connie Jones described Carson as an amazing woman, committed to bringing people up out of poverty.
Jones, retired director of the Southwest Community Center in Santa Ana, said Ms. Carson was naturally gifted at developing and administrating programs, specifically in cutting through bureaucracy.
“She didn’t have to go through all that red tape. It was green tape to her,” Jones said. “Things got done, she had a way of proving to them that this can work and it will work, and it worked.”
She helped others understand and get knowledgeable on the issues impacting the community, and learn the legislative process.
“If you didn’t know how, she brought you along with her [like] hold on to my coattails, I’ll show you how to walk these halls and that we’re a force to be reckoned with,” she said.
Ms. Carson helped tens of thousands with energy assistance, food and rental assistance, jobs and skills training, and advocacy for the homeless.
She retired after 30 years as executive director of Riverside Community Action Partnership.
Riverside CAP Division Manager Vince Wrzalinski began with the agency just five years ago, and said although he never met Ms. Carson, her legacy is everywhere he goes. Everyone is proud of what she’s accomplished since 1980 when she set the foundation for a successful Riverside CAP agency.
One highlight for their agency is when she received the first public sector Community Action Agency award for excellence in 2005. Today, even as he visits other states, there is instant name recognition of how much she helped people.
“She is a community action icon, even on the national level, very well known. Literally, when I go to conferences nationally and I say I’m from Riverside, they say, Oh Lois Carson. She’s been retired for several years. She’s an incredible woman,” he said.
In recent years, her Blood of Martyrs campaign kicked off Dr. King’s birthday at many Inland locations where she drew attention to the need for blood and bone marrow donations, especially as the Black community is so impacted by Sickle Cell and other health issues. It was an awareness that grew out of adversity within her own family. Her youngest brother died at 21 years old.
In past interviews with the Precinct Reporter (and noting that she was a former columnist for the paper), Ms. Carson talked about growing up in a family of seven siblings in Memphis, Tennessee. Although money was tight, her mother worked overtime to pay tuition for the entire family. Being from the south, she said many Black families sent their kids to Catholic school, but her experiences all helped mold her vision of social justice.
She recalled Selma, Alabama on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965 when hundreds of Blacks were beaten with clubs and teargassed crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge in the civil rights march around the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson.
Back then, the only area hospital that would take the wounded was the local Catholic Hospital.
Ms. Carson talked about how she and a nun went around to the Parishes to help raise money to cover medical care costs for those injured in the march.
One priest told them they couldn’t do that, but she said every once in a while, it was necessary to make that independent call.
“But Sister and I decided we were going to do it anyway, and we did,” Ms. Carson had said. “You have to think about the people who are in need.”