MARIN WOMEN'S
HALL OF FAME HONOREES

Florence Williams
Florence Williams

Florence was born and raised in Mansfield, Louisiana. She grew up in a loving extended family. Her mother Myrtis, a nurse, and her father Willie, who worked for the railroad and a roofing company, worked hard and provided a comfortable and loving home for seven children. Florence grew up with three brothers (one died as a teen) and two sisters with whom she has kept a close relationship with over the years. Florence’s eight maternal aunts, her paternal grandmother Emmaline and her father’s only sister, Aunt Emma Lee were also a big part of her upbringing. Mansfield was a small town where everyone looked out for the children and valued education – it was a loving and spiritual community! Florence started singing in the community and her church when she was five years old, and music continues to be an important part of her life.

Florence was one of the first in her maternal family to graduate college. After completing her BA degree at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, Florence moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the late sixties to attend UC Berkeley Graduate School and complete the California Teaching Credential requirements. Florence also received a Master’s Degree in Community Development and Public Service from University of San Francisco/Lone Mountain and has taken several enrichment courses from San Francisco State University. In the meantime she became a wife and mother, and was blessed with two sons; Reginald and Jahmanz. She is also very proud to have three grandchildren and several Godchildren.

Florence lived in San Francisco for a while before moving to Marin City. She had aunts and uncles living in the area who had migrated to California and worked in the Sausalito shipyards during World War II, so she felt right at home. The small town values and spiritual fabric she grew up with were mirrored in Marin City.

In the course of getting to know the community she met Bettie Hodges, a kindred spirit and community leader and activist. Bettie served on the Board of the Marin City Community Services District. A vacancy opened on the Board and Florence was asked to fill the spot. This was the beginning of more than thirty years of leadership and dedication to youth, education and community. It was the beginning of an enduring calling and legacy to make a difference, to teach and impart wisdom and guidance, and to set the highest bar for love of one’s community.

Florence has held multiple Board positions in the areas of Education and Youth mentorship, and Community Development and Leadership. Additionally, Florence has served as an educator for most of her life, and her experience includes teaching middle and high school in the San Francisco Unified School District (thirty-three years), ROP (Adult Vocational Ed) courses for the Marin County Office of Education in the evening and during the summer (five years, 2004-2009) via the Women Helping all People Program, and at the Technology Center in San Rafael. Florence has also taught Computer Application classes to seniors at the Margarita Johnson Senior Center.

As a teacher, Florence felt inspired by the young people she taught. She believed in the potential of all of her students and made mentoring and leadership development a part of her legacy. Teaching in San Francisco was a unique experience because there were students from many different cultures, and Florence learned as much from them as they did from her. She taught history, journalism and various business courses. She was known for being strict but approachable and kind. Florence went above and beyond the typical teaching responsibilities, always making herself available to students. She involved herself in extra-curricular activities, including acting as the yearbook teacher for twelve years. This work allowed her to work with her students outside the classroom and not only develop their creativity further, but also befriend them. She is still in touch with some of her yearbook editors today, and one who lives in Australia tells Florence she always has a room waiting for her.

Florence considered teaching a calling, and when appropriate would set the academic lesson aside and teach her students about life and how to use the skills they were being taught. Students loved her classes, especially journalism and business, because they were learning skills that tapped into their creativity and had practical applications. She received Teacher of the Year from the City and County of San Francisco in the late eighties and a second time from the Alliance of African American Educators. In addition, she was selected as one of the students’ favorite teachers for many years.

Florence helped Pastor Fred Small, Bob Hunter and Denni Locke-Brusseau launch Bridge the Gap College Prep in 1995 through The People’s Inter-Cities Fellowship Church. The mission of Bridge the Gap College Prep is to provide comprehensive educational support for Marin City youth with the goal that every Marin City child completes high school and graduates from college. Bridge the Gap started as a small, one-on-one tutoring and mentoring program in the church sanctuary two nights each week for the school year.

Denni Brusseau stated, “Florence’s guidance and involvement as a Board member helped BTGCP become a trusted source of mentorship and academic support in the Marin City community. Her stature as a leader helped pave the way for BTGCP’s expansion in January 2010 to an After School and Evening Extended Learning Day serving students in first-through-twelfth grades.” Today BTGCP has a 4,000-square-foot Academic Center in the heart of Golden Gate Village, open five days and four evenings each week, and serving over 150 students annually. Florence continues to serve as a Board member.

The Hannah Project was founded in 2006 by Bettie Hodges with the support of Cornerstone Community Church of God in Christ in Marin City. The mission of the Hannah Project Partnership is to promote education, service and cultural heritage and ensure that African-American and other low-income students of color in Marin graduate college and reach their full potential. As a founding Board member with Hannah, Florence has worked with the students in “Homework After Dark”, helped with guidance and academic support, and serves as a lead person for another Hannah Project program, the Gospel Cafe.

Florence was on the ground floor and helped ‘burn the midnight oil’ in the founding of the Marin City Community Development Corporation. The mission of the MCCDC centers on Workforce Development (adults and youth), Affordable Housing referrals, Development and Job Training, and Economic Development. Florence has served on the MCCDC Board for over twenty-five years. She was President for ten years (2004-2014), and currently serves on the following committees of the board: Finance, Personnel, Community Relations; and she is Chairperson of the Program Committee. Florence served on the MCCDC board during the redevelopment project Marin City USA (1995), when the agency (along with a development company) built the Gateway Shopping Center and the Ridgeway Apartments in Marin City.

In 2009, during Florence’s tenure as Board President, the 225 unit Ridgeway Apartments complex was sold in a ground lease deal to Sacramento-based St. Anton Partners, and was converted from forty percent affordable housing to 100 percent affordable housing, adding 153 affordable units to the mix. The MCCDC retained ownership of the land and receives a consistent revenue stream from the Ridgeway Apartments to this day.

Another example of Florence’s leadership is the Summer Youth Program that the Community Development Corp has sponsored for over fifteen years. Twenty-five- to thirty youth ages fourteen-to twenty-one participate in the program. The Summer Youth Program consists of three components: Orientation, On the Job Internships (placed in offices and different businesses throughout Marin County) and Educational Enrichment. Youth are required to attend life skill and academic enrichment classes twice a week and receive a stipend from the MCCDC for full participation in the program. Corporate internships have included Microsoft, Autodesk and Firemen’s Fund Insurance.

Denni Brusseau said the following about Florence as a community leader: “I have known Florence for twenty years as a colleague and friend. Florence is above the politics that sometimes appear in small communities like Marin City. She handles her multiple affiliations responsibly and with grace and humor. She is straightforward and honest in all of her communications. She is passionate about and committed to community health and welfare with special attention to youth and their futures. She is a loving person who is strong and clear headed. She is insightful and perceptive and follows through on her commitments. She is guided by the spirit of God and shares this in a way that is always appropriate and welcoming.” Ellie Bloch also said, “To me she is the very real community leader with a capital “L”, a prayer warrior and friend who does not a have one unkind bone in her body. She has done so much to lift up and care for residents of Marin City and make sure people of all ages have a chance to have a decent life. She has taken her teaching skills and used them to help in her community as well as fight for and raise funds to get the work done.”

Florence did not stop there. She is very proud of another project that she helped to start from inception, called FOOD FOR LIFE, aimed to set up a mini-farmer’s market once a week in Marin City. It lasted for two years, and one of the most rewarding aspects of this program was the inter-generational component. Selected youth were trained to deliver leftover produce door-to-door to a list of elderly clients. Part of the training involved the youth spending an extra fifteen minutes talking with the elderly. This was a very successful exchange between the old and young.

She has also taught singing lessons to children in the Marin City Head Start Program through the Performing Stars Program. For the last several years, she has taught caroling to the youth group of the Marin City Network, in which they sang in two convalescent homes in San Rafael during the Christmas season.

Florence considers her church work at the People’s Inter-Cities Fellowship church for over thirty-three years as her most important role. She is thankful to God for the legacy of the late Rev. Fred Small, who pastored for fifty-six years, and the current leadership of his son, Pastor Marcus Small, for being an integral part of her Christian growth. She served as youth Sunday school teacher for many years, and currently serves on the following Church Auxiliaries: Women of Zion Choir, Church Board of Directors, Praise Team, Intercessory prayer team and president of the Women’s Ministry. The PICF Women’s Ministry is involved in a special mentorship project in which the older women mentor and teach the youth and young-adult women Christian and life values. Florence has also been invited several times over the years to speak at different Women’s Ministries events throughout the Bay Area. She prides herself in the work of the Lord and, “letting her light shine” so that others may be encouraged.

Florence has been singing gospel music since she was five years old and has written several songs. She had the privilege of singing for Nobel Prize-winner Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa at the Marin Civic Center, and with the famous Staples Singers in Marshall, Texas. Florence has ministered through singing throughout the Bay Area, and most importantly in Marin City, for many events as a soloist and as director of the Marin City Community Choir (Joyful Praise). The choir was invited to perform in December 2014 for the Marin County Board of Supervisor’s board meeting (a new initiative adopted by the board to invite different artists).

Florence has received the following awards for her work in the community, San Francisco and the County of Marin:

• TEACHER OF THE YEAR FOR SAN FRANCISCO – 1987
• AFRICAN-AMERICAN TEACHER OF THE YEAR -BLACK ALLIANCE OF EDUCATOR
• WHO’S WHO  AMERICAN TEACHER (TWICE)
• MARTIN LUTHER KING COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP AWARD
• MARIN CITY COMMUNITY LEGACY AWARD
• MARIN CITY SENIOR CENTER VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR AWARD
• MOTHER OF THE YEAR 2015 (HATS OFF TO MOTHERS AWARD), SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP TO WOMEN AND FAMILIES

Florence became a Christian and gave her life to the Lord at the age of twelve. She has kept the faith and has much hope for the future. Florence says, “I ain’t tired yet — I will keep pushing to make a difference, for I have been blessed!”