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Remembering a Living Legend: Waudieur “Woodie” Rucker Hughes

Waudieur Rucker-Hughes

I would not say or allude to being a close friend of this powerhouse servant and woman, Waudieur “Woodie” Rucker-Hughes, but we shared friendship and being sisters in The Lord. On the rare occasion we were able to share moments, I always left her presence better than when I entered. She exuded the love of Christ and others with an uncomparable boldness and was not shy about sharing her beliefs.

In November 2017, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of having dinner with her, a time I will forever cherish. Our conversations on the way to the restaurant, during dinner and upon our return have left an indelible mark in my soul. Of particular impact, is her statement to ‘never be afraid to speak truth to power and be a voice to those who have no voice.”

Included in this post is a story I wrote, with Woodie’s permission, as part of my Journalism coursework while attending California Baptist University. The word limitation on this assignment kept me from sharing more, yet I hope you get a glimpse of how fearfully and wonderfully God made this one who has now returned to Him. . .and how she has impacted my world! *   *   *

A HAND UP,

NOT A HAND OUT

Woodie Rucker-Hughes, blazing a path for disadvantaged students and their parents.

By Karen J. Sykes, March 3, 2013

     This morning I had the pleasure of interviewing Waudieur “Woodie” Rucker-Hughes, an advocate for children and youth who are homeless or living in foster care or group homes. She performs this role as part of her duties within the Riverside Unified School District as the Child Welfare and Attendance Manager.  Over the course of her career, she has held various positions within the school district, and for the past ten years has also served as President to the Riverside Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Woodie is active within many other organizations focused on social change, especially for the disadvantaged.

“As a younger woman, I was deeply moved and influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Hubert Humphrey, and the Kennedy’s. I was very aware of the Civil Rights Movement – I grew up in that era. Then when the March on Washington was held I heard Dr. King give his speech and was inspired even more. At the march, a sign was given to me by Wilt Chamberlain, which read “jobs and justice for all.” Little did she know that sign would shape the direction of her future.

After the march on Washington, she went to Philadelphia to attend a manpower training program through the Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC) of America. She would later learn that this training was one of the planks taken from the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.”  While in Philadelphia, she had opportunity to hear the late Rev. Leon Howard Sullivan speak on a program that would take individuals ‘with little hope and few prospects and offer them job training and instruction in life skills and then helped place them into jobs.’ He had attended the March on Washington and was tasked with developing a national coalition for jobs and justice for all that crossed into many states. During the visit, Ms. Hughes discovered that Rev. Sullivan had founded the OIC and her exposure to his vision sparked a desire in Ms. Hughes to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Woodie decided to leave Philadelphia and travel to California to put her teaching skills to work. Shortly after arriving in California, she opened a Riverside Chapter of the OIC of America. The OIC program provided manpower training and she worked directly with employers to put an incubator type program in place that permitted those individuals to then be hired. It was during that time she came to understand the things the NAACP was doing; however, her interest at that time was peripheral.

Since 1969, Woodie Rucker-Hughes has held multiple positions within the Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) including teacher, principal, and ultimately child advocate.  One of her passions is making sure every child receives a quality education and access to a secure future. While Ms. Hughes honors positions of authority, she has no reservations in speaking her mind and standing up to those whose priority is not the welfare of those children and their families.

Ms. Hughes’ current role at the RUSD is that of Child Welfare and Attendance Manager. She spends most of her time working with homeless students, foster group students and their parents. She stated that the most rewarding aspect of her position is identifying those students, ensuring they remain in school and all barriers are removed so they can excel. Since she began, the program has grown from the identification of about 100 students to over 2500. This determined woman figures out how to assist these students and their families through donations, and working with friends – people she can reach out to and doing whatever it takes to make sure these children are ‘given tools to succeed and that the parents get a hand up, not a hand out.’

Simultaneously, she serves on the board of Parkview Community Hospital, liaison to The Group, and President of the NAACP. When asked what caused her to pursue an office within the local chapter of the NAACP, she said, “I didn’t pursue it. I was sitting in a meeting where a discussion was being held about replacing the former President and my pastor was sitting behind me. When time came for nominations to be made, he tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘I’m about to do something, and I want you to just go along with it,’” stated Woodie. The next thing she knew, the pastor had nominated her to replace the former president. The nomination was between her and another woman who had served as president some years before. Without notice, she was asked to explain what she would do to make a difference if voted into this role. Woodie had to give an impromptu speech, which resulted in her being selected for the role of President. The morning after the nomination and acceptance of the office, she recalls standing in front of the mirror and saying to herself, “’Since I’m here, I’m going to do the very best job I can and I’m going to help the most people I can’, and that’s how I got started.” Ms. Hughes has served as President of the Riverside Chapter of the NAACP for the past ten years.

When asked how she balances her professional and private life, Ms. Hughes clearly stated that the support of family, specifically her daughter, and her faith in God are what keep her rooted. Her words of wisdom and encouragement contain practical and useful tools for success in any endeavor. Three of those expressions shared with me are: 1) “never be afraid to speak truth to power; be the voice for the people and let God be your guide; 2) Do not burn bridges because you never know when you need to cross back over one, and, 3) develop the ability to keep your ear to the ground and develop programs around the needs of the people.”

Woodie Rucker-Hughes, a modern-day warrior and trailblazer for future generations. She is building a legacy that many will be blessed by and speak of in years to come.

About Author

Karen is the Associate Pastor, Administration at CrossWord Christian Church in Moreno Valley, CA. She is also the dynamic leader of the Winsome Women's Ministry there. In addition to walking in her purpose as an encourager, she is the proud wife of Bishop L. Kirk Sykes, and a beloved mother of 5 and "Mim" to four grandchildren.

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