Breanna Reeves |
On Monday, January 17, 2022, Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely, a pillar of the Inland Empire community, passed away. She was 73 years old.
While Vaughn-Blakely was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1964 at the age of 16, she made her way to San Bernardino to live with her uncle and planted roots in the community. From a young age, she was encouraged by her family to value education because of the opportunities education could provide.
Vaughn-Blakely graduated from San Bernardino High School and attended San Bernardino Valley College before transferring to California State University, San Bernardino where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis in counseling. She described teaching as her niche.
“I can teach people how to be their own advocates. Groups and folks who have advocates do better, but if you don’t know you need an advocate and you don’t know how to be an advocate, you’re not even a voice in the wilderness. So, that’s my career in a nutshell,” Vaughn-Blakely said in a 2016 interview for an oral history project titled “The Bridges that Carried Us Over.”
Vaughn-Blakely worked as the assistant city manager of Fontana for approximately 10 years before working as the assistant city manager of Riverside. According to Cheryl Brown, former assemblymember, Vaughn-Blakely was the first African-American person to be the city manager of Fontana. Brown explained that working with Vaughn-Blakely meant growing and moving the community forward.
“She was a brilliant mind and she helped people to be better,” said Brown.
Vaughn-Blakely made an impression on those she worked with, including Rose Mayes, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, Inc. Mayes knew Vaughn-Blakely for more than 30 years. They first met when Vaughn-Blakely was working for the city of Fontana.
“She interviewed me for a CDBG Contract and she said to me, ‘Whatever you do, please do not let us down,’” Mayes recalled in an email to Black Voice News/ IE Voice. “She was firm and professional.”
Mayes said she admired Vaughn-Blakely’s great leadership skills, negotiating skills and strong work ethic.
“Her leadership made the difference. We must preserve her legacy, celebrate her accomplishments and remember the great contributions she leaves for future generations,” Mayes said.
Vaughn-Blakely was the chair of The Group, a grassroots public policy organization dedicated to addressing community issues that impact Riverside’s African-American community. She started this organization so that members of the African-American community could have input about city decisions and have discussions with city officials.
“When I look back on my career, practically all of the jobs I had in government were jobs that it was the first time they created it. So, I am not afraid of trying something new,” Vaughn-Blakely said in the oral histories interview.
After working in local government, Vaughn-Blakely went into business for herself as a consultant and became a managing partner of the Sundance Company, a management consulting firm that provides a variety of services to community-based, faith-based and public organizations in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
She opened doors
Vaughn-Blakely’s contributions to local nonprofits led to Jalani Bakari working alongside her. Bakari worked with Vaughn-Blakely through the Riverside African American Historical Society where they handled issues of ethics within the city.
“She was a constant supporter of that small guy. She really believed in everyone having the opportunity to speak and have a voice,” Bakari said. “She opened up doors, enabling those individuals to speak.”
She was also instrumental in the Eleanor Jean Grier Leadership Academy, a program created through a partnership between the Riverside African-American Historical Society and The Group. The program was developed to address the need for more diverse and representative leadership roles for women, people of color, and underrepresented individuals.
Vaughn-Blakely married Anthony “Tony” Blakely in 1973, whose family is rooted in the city of San Bernardino. Vaughn-Blakely was the oldest of eight children, including a cousin who she referred to as a “cousin-sister.”
Vaughn-Blakely is survived by her husband Anthony “Tony” Blakely and her son, Anthony II.