There is a great deal of sadness across the Greater Houston area at the news that the esteemed Elder Jean Wilkins-Dember, who was a long time organizer, tireless activist, and founding member of the National Black United Front (NBUF) passed away this past Sunday, February 10, at the age of 89.
Elder Jean Wilkins-Dember, commonly referred to by many as “Mother Dember,” was born to William H. and Marie (Benson) Wilkins on January 29, 1930 in Brooklyn, New York. She married Clarence R. Dember on April 15, 1950, and from that union, 6 children were born – Clarence, Judith, Regina, Lila, Theresa and Zelie. “Mother Dember” began her college career at Lincoln School of Nursing, but decided to place her education on hold to focus on her family. She did, however, continue her educational pursuits, having received a Master’s in Human Services from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
After becoming involved in police brutality work and racial equality efforts in New York City, she left there and moved to Houston’s historic Third Ward community. Continuing her efforts of dealing with racial injustice, “Mother Dember” would regularly speak about her involvement in multicultural organizing and addressing the psychological effects of racial oppression. She would speak about how she used confrontational therapy to address police brutality and mass incarceration. She was also an educator, having served as Adjunct Professor at Nassau Community College and providing training to various groups surrounding mental health.
“Mother Dember” was mostly known for her feisty personality and tenacious spirit, as well as a cap that she regularly wore with different buttons that focused on the issues she was most passionate about. She was the founder and executive director for Africans United for Sanity Now!, to address racism and White Supremacy, and for many years, “Mother Dember” participated as an active part of NBUF and as part of the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center’s Elder Institute of Wisdom. She was a vegetarian and Wholistic health advocate.
The Forward Times honored “Mother Dember” on December 26, 2017, at the start of Kwanzaa as part of a special ceremony at the historic S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, to honor her and six other elders who best exemplified the seven principles of Kwanzaa. “Mother Dember” was recognized with best representing the Kwanzaa principle of Self-Determination (Kujichagulia).
A Liberation Formations and Freedom Fighters Memorial will be held for Elder Jean Wilkins Dember on Saturday, February 16, 2019 at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural and Event Center, located at 5309 Martin Luther King Blvd. in Houston, Texas. The family hour will take place at 10 am and the service will be held at 11 am.
Per the request of “Mother Dember” and her family, in lieu of flowers, please make donations to S.H.A.P.E. Community Center at www.shape.org.
The Forward Times wishes to honor Elder Jean Wilkins-Dember aka “Mother Dember” for her endless passion and undying commitment to all people of African descent.