Long time Riverside resident and former Riverside Unified School District educator, Dr. Hazel Hawkins-Russell recently celebrated her 95th birthday. Dr. Hawkins-Russell was the first African American teacher at Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) beginning her teaching career at Casa Blanca Elementary School. She later went on to work as a tenured professor at California State University, Fullerton in the Department of Sociology & Human Relations and later as an Adjunct Professor at Riverside Community College teaching Black History and Sociology.
Representative Ken Calvert honored Dr. Hazel Hawkins-Russell for her commitment to education and the children of Riverside County in 1997. During a tribute to her on the house floor, Congressman Calvert read the following statement:
I take the floor of the House today to honor and praise a magnificent educator and leader. I am proud to have her working in my district, continuing the tradition of educational excellence in our community. She is an outstanding advocate for increasing educational opportunities for minorities and those with special needs. The woman of whom I speak so highly and hold in such high esteem is Dr. Hazel Hawkins-Russell, who has persisted tirelessly with her work in education for 50 years. Dr. Hawkins-Russell has been a tremendous influence and positive role model for the youth of Riverside, CA.
Back in 1947, Dr. Hawkins-Russell made history as the first African- American schoolteacher to be hired in what was then known as the Riverside city schools. For the next 23 years, she taught both elementary and junior high schools where she touched the lives of all of her students. Her enthusiasm and positive spirit served as an inspiration, and every student left Dr. Hawkins-Russell’s class with a little piece of her in their hearts.
In 1970, after her career as a teacher, Dr. Hawkins-Russell became a consultant for the Pupil Services Department of the Riverside Unified School District. It was her responsibility to have an extensive knowledge of all California laws relating to minors. She provided technical assistance to schools in all discipline cases, prepared each case for hearing panels, and worked extensively with youth groups and services. Dr. Hawkins-Russell’s mission was to help children who were having problems and prevent them from slipping through the cracks unnoticed or ignored.
From 1974 to 1982, Dr. Hawkins-Russell was the coordinator of the Emergency School Aid Act, a federally funded program that provided aid in remedial math and reading, as well as programs in multi-cultural awareness, human relations, tutorial assistance, staff development, parent effectiveness training, and conflict resolution. She was selected three times to assist in evaluation of ESAA proposals on a national level here in Washington, DC, and once on a regional level in San Francisco.
Aside from her job, Dr. Hawkins-Russell was actively involved with several organizations that are devoted to improving education. She was president of the Association of California Intergroup Relations Educators, worked as interim co-director at Riverside NAACP Child Development Centers, and was a member of the Western Riverside County Mental Health Association and the Attorney General’s Commission on Racial, Religious and Minority Violence. She also served on the State library steering committee as a representative of San Bernardino, Orange, Inyo, and Riverside Counties and was elected as a delegate for the State of California to the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services.
Let me add to this amazing list of achievements by mentioning a few honors she has received. She has been recognized with the ACIRE Presidents Award, the YWCA Award for Outstanding Community Leadership, a certificate for outstanding service at the First National Human Relations Conference, the Derby Club Outstanding Black Woman Inland Area Trophy, and most recently, the Ida Louise Jackson Graduate Achievement Award presented by Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Dr. Hawkins-Russell continues to work in education as an adjunct faculty member at Riverside Community College. Dr. Hawkins-Russell’s drive for excellence is a rare commodity, and she has touched the lives of many during her 50-year career as an educator. I am extremely privileged to have such an exceptional person serving the youth in my district. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Hawkins-Russell for her 50 years of hard work and the accomplishments she has made for education in my district, as well as the Nation. She has set a standard for community service and leadership that will remain for years to come. I hope that Dr. Hawkins-Russell will continue to be an advocate for children and quality education. I wish her happiness and good luck in her future endeavors.