It means a great deal to me to have been at the helm of this community, pushing back on injustice and holding systems accountable for evolving laws and practices that exclude or punish people who do not fit neatly into oppressive societal molds.
As we at United Church Funds (UCF) commemorate Black History Month, we are reflecting on the life and legacy of trailblazers like Sylvia Ferrell-Jones. Sylvia, a UCC laywoman, served on UCF’s Board of Directors from 2005 to 2017. Recently, she was among two dozen distinguished African-Americans honored by the Black History Project of Lexington (Massachusetts).
With a professional background in real estate and finance, Sylvia served as President and CEO of YW Boston – the nation’s first YWCA – for over a decade, before retiring in 2017. Under her leadership, YW Boston offered vital programs to advance racial justice and gender equity.
Prior to that, Sylvia worked as Director of Agency Development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. In that role, she “helped bridge divides that split racial and ethnic populations…and did so through the power of her own presence and through programs such as YW Boston’s Stand Against Racism campaign,” according to The Boston Globe.
In 2014, Sylvia spoke to a group of Boston-area fundraising professionals about the importance and challenges of creating a diverse workforce. “If you want to find people with backgrounds that are not currently represented in your organization, you need to go to places where those people can be found,” she said. “And those people are not likely found among your set of friends and acquaintances. So, it’s really not that hard, but it takes a little effort, and it takes authenticity and genuine interest.”
Sylvia was also an active member of Pilgrim Congregational Church in Lexington and held several volunteer leadership positions in the United Church of Christ (UCC). She served the Massachusetts Conference UCC Board as its Chair, was a member of the Governance Task Force of the UCC, and guided Andover Newton Theological Seminary on the Board of Trustees.
In 2015, Sylvia was awarded the Race Amity Medal of Honor by the National Center for Race Amity. The award honors individuals who have catalyzed progress towards racial justice and creating equity for all.
Sadly, Sylvia passed away at 60 after a courageous battle with cancer that ended on November 29, 2018, just weeks after she stepped down from her role at YW Boston. The organization subsequently set up the Sylvia Ferrell-Jones Fund to honor her extraordinary dedication, contributions and legacy of promoting racial justice. The funds support YW Boston’s work to eliminate racism and empower women as well as to promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
In a letter Sylvia posted shortly before her death, reflecting on her time at YW Boston, Sylvia wrote: “Looking back at everything we have done together, I can see how far we have come and I rejoice at all of the progress made in our struggle to bring peace, justice and freedom for all. It means a great deal to me to have been at the helm of this community, pushing back on injustice and holding systems accountable for evolving laws and practices that exclude or punish people who do not fit neatly into oppressive societal molds.”
It is our hope that Sylvia’s shining example will continue to inspire all of us who seek racial equity and a more just world.