“Black Women in American Culture and History,” according to the Washington, D.C.-based Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the founders of Black History Month. Rosalind Esteen Summers is the last local African-American woman to be featured this month in keeping with the theme.
Rosalind Esteen Summers has touched generations of children in the Imperial Valley through what was often behind-the-scenes work coordinating and facilitating youth events and activities.
“I just like to see them go the right way and do well in life, especially when things are so negative in the world,” she said.
The New Orleans native moved to El Centro with her husband in 1976, and since then, seems to have been involved in everything from Girl Scouts to fundraisers to school organizations to volunteer work.
The mother of four gradually became involved with all sorts of activities and programs as her children went through school in the Valley.
She took children on tours of numerous local businesses “to expose them to how things were done.”
A sampling of other activities include working with youths on a radio program that brought in guests for informational programs, teaching catechism classes at a local church and volunteering with library literacy programs.
Summers also worked with the Central Union High School’s band boosters and was the district advisory committee chairwoman at Kennedy Middle School as well as the school site council chairwoman at McKinley Elementary School at one point.
Beyond that, Summers worked for 25 years at Imperial Valley College and, along with Zula Hartfield, was the first black women to retire from the college in 2009.
“I really enjoyed being in touch with the students, because I’m always wanting to help, especially young people,” she said. “Any information I could get to help students out I did.”
Hartfield fondly recalls walking across campus and hearing Summers calling out pleasantries. She said Summers regularly went out of her way to connect students with resources.
“That’s the way she is. She’s always willing to help,” Hartfield said. “She’s very hard working. She’s a very personable person. She got along with everyone. She’s a people person. The students really loved her when she worked out there.”
Also a humble person, one wouldn’t readily know of Summers’ brushes with history.
When she was 6-years-old, Summers was one of six first-graders chosen to be invited to attend an all-white school as part of desegregation in New Orleans.
The historical event later inspired the movie “Ruby Bridges.” While her father didn’t want her to be a “guinea pig” and didn’t allow her to switch schools, the reality of her front-row seat to history remains with her.
“When I saw the movie, I thought, ‘I could have been in there with that girl,’” she said with amazement.
While she was growing up, her mother Margaret Esteen marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in both California and Louisiana.
She described to Summers the influence King had over people, encouraging them not to react as they were spit upon or hit while walking in peaceful protest.
“Anywhere she knew Dr. King would be, she’d be right there,” Summers said.
Shortly after King’s assassination, her mother wrote a poem to his widow Coretta Scott King, and received a response Aug. 7, 1968.
“The support and sharing from people like yourself give me courage and strength to try and continue my husband’s work. I welcome your continued participation in our common endeavor as we strive towards peace, justice and brotherhood,” Coretta Scott King wrote.
When the Kings’ daughter Yolanda King visited the Valley years later, Summers was able to have the poem autographed by her.
Now retired, Summers enjoys her days helping take care of grandchildren and traveling the world with her husband.
However, the couple is still regularly recognized by people from around the Valley that knew them as children and call out, “Hi Mr. Summers, Mrs. Summers,” she said.
“We were taught to get along and love everybody,” she added. “It’s good to let people see women are involved in things that make a difference. … That way you can learn things you might not have known. There’s a lot of history people don’t know, never hear about.”
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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