Sylvia Martin James 1933-2016

Sylvia Naomi Martin

   The Riverside community lost a great friend and advocate this week in Sylvia Martin James, a champion of access to higher education, human rights and causes important to the African-American community.  She always enjoyed meeting new people and loved conversing on a wide range of topics -- embodying the phrase, "never met a stranger."

   I personally met Sylvia Martin James as a newcomer to Riverside. Shortly after, finding out my experience in education and video, Sylvia put me to work on a series of profiles of historic civil rights leaders for her beloved Grier Pavilion atop the Mayor's Office in the City of Riverside.  Sylvia had a way of making you feel like a very important person, a necessary contributor to positive change.  She stood in the gap for me many times through political challenges I did not often anticipate.  Her advice was always wise, warm and encouraging.  Her frequent phone calls were upbeat, yet urgent inviting me to a community meeting early the next morning.

   Sylvia Martin was extremely active in the Riverside community.  She was the first woman and African-American to serve as the University of California Riverside Alumni President and also served on the University Task Force as well as UCR Concerned Citizen's Committee. Undoubtedly, one of her proudest achievements was spearheading the building of the Grier Pavilion in 2008.  She led the effort from conception to execution, raising over $150,000.

   Over the course of her forty-five year career, Sylvia Martin became one of the most respected and revered public figures in Riverside -- unmistakably recognized by her patented "double-braided" up-do hairstyle. Sylvia had a keen interest in politics and activism.  She served on the statewide California Commission on Access to Justice, the League of Women Voters and the Riverside Women's Democratic Club.

   Sylvia's extraordinary community and civic efforts led to her receiving numerous awards, but it was her generous spirit, engaging personality and commitment to service that will best be remembered.  She was beloved by many and her influence will forever remain in the lives of all who knew her.

   Her father served as the Director of Human Relations for Goodyear of Akron OH for 40 years, instilling in Sylvia a strong work ethic and appreciation of life-long learning.  After receiving her Bachelor's degree in political science from Kent State in 1955, she became a military wife to Braxton Martin and lived in a variety of locations including Okinawa Japan and later Riverside, CA.

Sylvia N. Martin James, September 26, 1933 - March 22, 2016