Longtime pillar of Merritt community remembered by colleagues

February 27, 2021

By Leticia Luna, Social Media Editor

“Anita meant so much to so many. She touched the lives of so many colleagues, and especially her students, leaving her fingerprints of love, encouragement, hope and strength.” said Dr. Herbert Kitchen, former director of student activities and campus life at Merritt College, expressed during a virtual celebration to honor Black’s legacy.

Long time educator Anita Maria Black died due to health issues on January 3, 2021. Her funeral was on February 3, 2021 at Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland. Attended in-person by family members and few friends that shared their memories of Black, the funeral was also live streamed via Zoom. The Peralta Association of African American Affairs (PAAAA) and Merritt College hosted a “virtual celebration to honor the legacy of Anita Black” on February 19, 2021, where colleagues, administrators and friends demonstrated their appreciation for Black and her impact in the community college education field. 

“Anita Black was a fighter for equity and social justice for African American students, faculty and staff for her entire career,” said Dr. Tammy Robinson, vice president of development for the Western Regional Council on Black American Affairs (WRCBAA). Robinson was president of the WRCBAA in 2014 when the council recognized Anita Black for “her many contributions to the Peralta Association of African American Affairs,” according to the WCRBAA website.

“[Anita Black] was like no one else I have ever met in my life. That tall being, strong Black woman; who walked into a room and commanded it, at the same time had the most gentle spirit than anyone I have ever known,” Stacy Thompson, current WRCBAA president, said. 

Anita Black was born on November 17, 1948 in Rockford, Illinois. She had her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business education from Northern Illinois University. In the 1970’s Black moved to the Bay Area where she continued her work in education up to her very last days.

“Anita was a phenomenal educator in power who literally spent her whole life giving back to the community — especially to the Peralta Community College District,” said Dr. Lawrence VanHook, PAAAA president and Oakland pastor. 

“Anita was a leader, committed to youth education and focused on doing everything with excellence,” wrote Jim Cates, co-founder of Merritt College Cybersecurity Program, in the Zoom chat during Anita Black’s funeral. 

Black started her long-lasting career in the Peralta Community College District as a professor at Laney College in 1977. Since then she held many different titles in the district and at Merritt College, where she has spent most of her time. At Merritt College she continued to contribute dedicated work long after her retirement in December 2013. 

“Merritt College owes her a great debt of gratitude,” said David Johnson, President of Merritt College at Black’s funeral. “Ms. Anita was a driving force behind the ascendancy of the cybersecurity program.” 

One of Black’s achievements at Merritt College was founding and co-creating the first two-year AA degrees in cybersecurity in California, an award-winning program that gives community college students opportunities to acquire entry level skills for a career in the technology field. 

“She came out of retirement to help develop Merritt’s cybersecurity program, now one of the best in the nation,” said Courtney Brown, co-chair of the business and technology department at Merritt.

“We were blessed to have her help on this program and will continue our work in her memory,” Mark Egan, computer information systems (CIS) faculty, wrote on an online Kudoboard made to commemorate Anita Black.  

Black is remembered by her leadership and dedication to the community at the Peralta Community College District.  

“She was a visionary leader, she was a passionate advocate for the issues that were important to her, and she caused her faculty peers and administrative peers to do the right thing for the right reason,” Dr. Evelyn Wesley, former Merritt president, said at the Zoom celebration.  

“I will always remember Anita as a beautiful, brilliant, vibrant leader of integrity, with a quick wit and a luscious laugh,” Evelyn Lord, head librarian at Laney College, wrote in the funeral Zoom stream chat. “She was not afraid. She made a difference. I cannot imagine our district without her.” 

Ms. Anita’s leadership went beyond Peralta Community College District. She was a powerful influence in regional and national education committees. She has served the Peralta Association of African Americans Affairs (PAAAA), the Western Regional Council of Black Americans Affairs (WRCBAA) and the National Council of Black Americans Affairs (NCBAA) for many years during her career. She was also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority for more than 50 years. 

“Anita Black thrived as a tireless and outspoken advocate for African American students in education, with a proven record of dedication and participation, commitment, leadership and many contributions to the broader community,” Thompson read from a proclamation written as president of the WRCBAA and vice president of programs for the NCBAA. 

A computer and information science and engineering (CISE) scholarship of $5,000 in Black’s name has been dedicated to the Cybersecurity program at Merritt.  “We’re going to help to get other money donated to it because we still have a ways to go to help achieve our vision. Mark (Egan, co-founder of Merritt College Cybersecurity Program) and I … feel duty-bound to try to carry this on even though she’s no longer here with this.”

During the celebration event, Dr. Thompson announced the creation of the Anita Black Excellence and Technology Award to be presented yearly by the WRCBAA.

“The Western Regional Council of Black American Affairs, by virtue of admiration and appreciation of Ms. Anita Black, do hereby recognize her role in education, and pay honor,” Thompson announced. 

The Black family was present at both ceremonial events and have expressed admiration, love and pride for what Anita Black has created for herself so far away from her home state of Illinois. 

“Words cannot fully articulate how much she will be missed,” said Anita’s sister, Babette Black with their mother, Barbara Black, at her side from their home in Chicago in the Zoom memorial ceremony.