Guest opinion: A tribute to Mrs. Gertrude Dyer Wilks | February 27, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - February 27, 2019

Guest opinion: A tribute to Mrs. Gertrude Dyer Wilks

by Henry Organ

February is Black History Month, and a tribute is being made to Mrs. Gertrude Dyer Wilks, a graceful African-American woman from East Palo Alto, who passed last month. She died on Jan. 20, the same date Barack Obama was sworn in as the first African-American president of the United States of America 10 years ago.

Mrs. Wilks was a staunch supporter of Mr. Obama beginning with his first presidential campaign. Politically, she reminded me in many ways of Fannie Lou Hamer, co-founder of the Freedom Democratic Party in Mississippi in 1964. Both were gifted in song, spirituality, determination, and evangelism.

Mrs. Wilks came to the public's attention in the southern part of San Mateo County when she realized that her son, Otis Jr., was not being properly educated in the public schools as she thought he should. The education and motivation of black youth, not just her own, became her mission in life.

Because of her genuineness and personal magnetism, she was able to gather together an ever-growing number of men and women of diverse backgrounds to share in this mission. She was instrumental in getting me appointed to the Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees in 1968, on which I served for a short period, the first African-American on this body.

Mrs. Wilks's autobiography is entitled "Gathering Together: Born to Lead." It is a moving testimony of joy and struggle of an African-American child that began on a sharecropper's farm in Louisiana. Hence, to become a wife, mother, inspirer, counselor, gentle provocateur and builder of young men and women in California.

Though not learned and bestowed with formal educational credentials, she was endowed invaluably with sincerity, perceptiveness and — most of all — wisdom.

Mrs. Wilks has left a legacy of dedicated grandchildren, and many whose lives she has touched with a commitment to the education of and community service by youth of color. Thank you, Mrs. Wilks. Many a voice has been and will be lifted to sing your praises.

Retired Stanford Development Officer Henry Organ has lived in Menlo Park for more than 40 years. He was a member of the San Mateo County 2010 Charter Committee.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill Shilstone
a resident of Woodside High School
on Feb 26, 2019 at 5:51 pm

This is one community-builder's tribute to another. Obama practiced "Yes, we can" on the national stage, Mrs. Wilks on the local.

Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 27, 2019 at 9:40 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

I remember Gertrude very well. I met with her in 1979 to obtain her support for what was then known as the Hickey-Canfield Performance Voucher Initiative. She was twelve years into her private, Nairobi Schools system, an alternative to government schools. My visit with her was memorable.

Her efforts were highlighted in the "Blue Brochure" I created to promote the Performance Voucher. Web Link

"Nearly twelve years ago one parent began a school, Wednesday nights and Saturdays, for children in her predominantly black East Palo Alto ghetto community. Today, the Nairobi Schools system corporation offers one of the best K-12 educational programs for black students in the country."

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