Woolfolk and Whitt Selected Berea College’s 2017 Service Award Winners

Lynda Whitt Headshot

Lynda Whitt, recipient of one of the 2017 Berea College Service Awards.

The annual Berea College Service Convocation and presentation of the 2017 Berea College Service Awards will take place this Thursday, March 23 at 3:00 p.m. in Phelps Stokes Chapel. Following the presentation of the 2017 Berea College Service Awards to Ms. Lynda Whitt and Ms. Odessa Woolfolk, three Berea College graduates will engage in a panel discussion, titled, “Careers in Defending Human Rights in Kentucky: Perspectives of three Berea College graduates.” The panelists include Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, Christian Motley, and Cara Stewart.

Rashaad Abdur-Rahman ’03 is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and serves as Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s Director of the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods. He received his master’s degree in Science and Social Work from the University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work and has worked in the field of child and family mental health services since 2004. Christian Motley ’09 is a political strategist and education advocate based in Lexington, Kentucky. Called one of emPower Magazine’s Rising Young Political Leaders in 2014, he previously served as the Deputy Executive Director of the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and was a presidential appointee in the Office of the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, in Washington, D.C., which took a leadership role in building President Obama’s national initiative to expand opportunity for young men of color – My Brother’s Keeper. Cara Stewart ’03 is a Health Law Fellow with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center (KEJC), a non-profit advocacy and research center focused on poverty law. Previously, Stewart worked with Legal Aid of the Bluegrass representing low-income Kentuckians in a wide-variety of civil matters in Northern Kentucky. Cara is appointed to the Kentucky Healthcare Improvement Authority Board to represent consumers through Sept 2017, and the Kentucky Bar Association appointed Cara to serve on their Committee on Child Protection & Domestic Violence until 2018.

Odessa Woolfolk and Lynda Whitt, both of whom hail from Birmingham, Alabama, will be presented with the 2017 Berea College Service Award during the annual Service Convocation. Established in 1979, the Service Award is an opportunity for the College to recognize individuals who their daily lives have provided outstanding service to our society in achieving the ideals of Berea’s Great Commitments. This award honors practical service by persons in all walks of life. The convocation is sponsored by Berea College’s Center for Excellence in Learning through Service.

Lynda Whitt is a diligent educator who is passionate about making sure that her students move beyond accepting a life of mere existence. She refuses to allow students to become trapped in dysfunctional environments. Ms. Whitt is thorough in finding post-secondary educational opportunities for students who, as she says, “deserve more than what they have been offered by a broken system.” Many of her students have no financial resources or family support to attend college. But she does not allow these obstacles to stand in the way of her students obtaining a college education.

Ms. Whitt rebuilds broken communities throughout the city of Birmingham by helping one student at a time achieve a college education. She takes asset-poor students, makes an investment in their lives by providing higher education opportunities, and ultimately creates social capital within their communities.

Ms. Whitt has worked for many years as a guidance counselor in high schools located in some of the poorest communities in Birmingham. Yet she has not allowed these challenges to prevent her from helping students move beyond their environment. Currently, Ms. Whitt serves as the guidance counselor at George Washington Carver High School. For many of her students, Ms. Whitt serves as a parent figure, mentor, and supporter—whatever it takes to get her students to believe in themselves and to believe that they can be successful. Ms. Whitt believes that if the younger children in a community see the older children succeed, they too will believe that they can succeed in accomplishing their dreams. Ms. Whitt demonstrates an unwavering commitment to serve as a catalyst for creating this belief in the students not only at Carver, but also throughout the Birmingham school system.

She has led several students to Berea College over the past decade, a large percentage of whom have graduated from Berea and have gone on to achieve successful careers or pursue graduate studies. In 2010, Ms. Whitt sent Carver’s valedictorian and salutatorian to Berea, both of whom graduated on time with their entering class.

Ms. Whitt is unparalleled in her service and commitment to the Birmingham community and school system and deserves recognition for the way in which she has quietly changed the lives of so many deserving students.

Odessa Woolfolk serves as a beacon of the community for her native Birmingham, Alabama. For years, Woolfolk has been an educator and civic activist, working against racism and inequality that has wreaked havoc and destruction in Birmingham. Woolfolk has done her best to overcome racial and socioeconomic barriers and prejudices in the areas of housing, community development, public welfare, and education. Her long list of achievements and professional positions simply hint at all her great work, and include:

  • Founding member of Leadership Birmingham;
  • Administrative work with the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity, YMCA
  • of Utica, NY, and the Urban Reinvestment Task Force of Washington, D.C.;
  • Birmingham High School teacher during the Civil Rights movement;
  • State chair of the National Conference of Christians and Jews;
  • First African American President of Operation New Birmingham’s Board of Directors.

For twenty-one years, Woolfolk also served the University of Alabama at Birmingham as director of the Center for Urban Affairs; lecturer in political science and public affairs; staff associate, Center for International Programs; and Assistant to the President for Community Relations. Upon retiring in 1993, her service to UAB was recognized with the establishment of the Odessa Woolfolk Presidential Community Service Award.

Throughout her life, Woolfolk has promoted and improved community leadership, race relations, and civic engagement in Birmingham and beyond.  Woolfolk is the former President and Board Chair of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. She has been described as the force behind the founding of the institute. This cultural and educational research center is committed to preserving and telling the story of Birmingham, and championing civil and human rights by facilitating an atmosphere of dialogue and understanding. Since opening its doors in 1992, BCRI has been visited by more than 2 million people from all 50 states and countries around the world. Each year, BCRI reaches more than 140,000 individuals through a variety of programming. Visitors include adults, school children and students, families, teachers, researchers, and scholars who learn about important―and often ignored―historical events and gain a better understanding of the past to shape a better future.

The convocation events, which are provided to both the campus and public communities, are a significant part of a student’s educational experience at Berea College. See https://www.berea.edu/convocations/ for the schedule of all convocations this academic year.