Influential UC Riverside Alumna Dies

Sylvia Martin was a vocal advocate for the African-American community, and for the importance of education

Sylvia Martin, a longtime advocate for civil rights, died March 22, 2016

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Sylvia N. Martin, a champion of education and an effective advocate for the African-American community, died this week after a stroke. She was 82. A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Friday, April 1, at CrossWord Christian Church, 21401 Box Springs Rd., Moreno Valley.

A native of Akron, Ohio, she attended Kent State University before earning her master’s degree, two teaching credentials and a pupil/personnel credential from UC Riverside’s Graduate School of Education, all in the early 1970s.

Her teaching career included many years working with high school students in the Riverside Unified School District, providing instruction, mentors and support, especially to teen moms and other students who were on an alternative academic track. She pursued her career while raising her own three children, Kevin, Leslie and Lester. One of her proudest accomplishments was spearheading the effort to establish the Grier Pavilion, on the top floor of the Riverside City Hall, as a statement of inclusivity, acceptance, and respect in memory of Riverside civil rights champions Dr. Barnett Grier and his wife Eleanor Jean.

“Sylvia was a great friend to the university and a close personal friend as well,” said UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox. “The entire UCR community will miss Sylvia. Her leadership has been a constant at UC Riverside for nearly 40 years, and her decades of service have left a lasting mark on our university.”

David Fisher, left, Sylvia Martin, center and Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, right, pose at an event at the Alumni and Visitors Center

David Fisher, left, Sylvia Martin, center and Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, right, pose at an event at the Alumni and Visitors Center

Her perseverance and contributions earned her widespread respect and many special honors, including in 2002 the University Service Award from the UCR Alumni Association. Martin was one of 40 UCR “Alumni Who Make a Difference” and was the recipient of the “Rosemary S.J. Schraer Woman of Achievement Award,” sponsored by the “Black Voice” newspaper,  as well as the ATHENA award.

Martin chaired alumni scholarship committees and served as alumni treasurer, alumni vice-president and president. She was the first woman to serve as president of the UCR Alumni Association. Martin served on the committee planning the Alumni and Visitors Center, the campus’s long-range development plan, and the city-university task force. She is a long-time advocate for the university, including making regular trips to the annual UC Day in Sacramento to discuss higher education issues with legislators.

She chaired the Citizens University Committee from 2003 to 2005 and during that time served as an ex-officio member of the UCR Foundation Board of Trustees. She was a longtime chair of the Concerned Citizens Advisory Committee, which advised the campus on African-American issues. She also was a member of the community advisory boards for the UCR School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Education Dean.

“UC Riverside mourns the loss of this powerful voice for equality and justice,” said UCR Assistant  Vice Chancellor Jorge Ancona. “If she saw something out of line, she spoke up. And she backed her words up by digging in and working at the issue,” he said. “She served as President of the UCR Alumni Association, served on numerous scholarship committees, fundraising events, and advisory boards.”

In the larger community, she served on the statewide California Commission on Access to Justice; the Riverside Public Library Foundation; the Community Foundation; the League of Women Voters; the World Affairs Council; the African American Historical Society; the California Retired Teachers Association; and The Group, which is important in social advocacy in the region. She was active in local politics and advocacy and commented on civil rights issues of the day, including the Black Lives Matter movement. Martin told The Black Voice News that she longed to see younger and older African-Americans leaning upon each other to understand how voting directly impacts their lives. She continued to advocate for the power of the ballot box, right up until her death. “Anywhere I have to be, whether coming or going from a grocery store, wherever someone calls on Sylvia, I start right there.”

 

One of her proudest accomplishments was spearheading the effort to establish the Grier Pavilion, on the top floor of the Riverside City Hall, as a statement of inclusivity, acceptance, and respect in memory of Riverside civil rights champions Dr. Barnett Grier and his wife Eleanor Jean. Sylvia Martin is standing next to Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge.

One of her proudest accomplishments was spearheading the effort to establish the Grier Pavilion, on the top floor of the Riverside City Hall, as a statement of inclusivity, acceptance, and respect in memory of Riverside civil rights champions Dr. Barnett Grier and his wife Eleanor Jean. Sylvia Martin is standing next to Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge. On the far right, Lester Martin, Sylvia’s son.

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