LANSING, Mich. — Lansing resident Barbara Roberts Mason is full of encouragement when she visits Building Child and Family Initiatives (BCFI), a program she started decades ago.
Roberts Mason makes regular visits to BCFI and says it’s all part of her mission to make the world a better place.
“I tell young people, keep your eyes open and your mind open because you don't know where you'll end up," Roberts Mason said.
Hilary Waddles helps out at BCFI and says Barbara inspires her.
“She is always thinking about how she can help other people and help the community, and that’s the driving focus of her life," Waddles said.
Roberts Mason is an internationally known voice for education, equality and justice. She was the first African American woman in Michigan elected to statewide office, serving 24 years on Michigan’s State Board of Education. She says she advocated for eliminating inequities among school districts.
“There was always a disparity between Blacks and whites. Black kids didn't do as well as white kids in school. I've been in Black schools, so I understood why. The schools weren't as good, and then there was health care. Black families didn’t do as well in terms of health as white families. And of course, you know, if you're poor, you will have differences in what you eat and water sources," Roberts Mason said.
She says, instead of complaining about it, she moved forward to help make a change by encouraging the state to study the data.
One recommendation from the study was to establish an institute to look at services to support children and their families.
So, in 1986, Roberts Mason founded the Black Child and Family Institute, which is now known as Building Child and Family Initiatives, but the focus remains the same.
Eleven-year-old Amelia is a student at BCFI and says she is glad Roberts Mason started the program years ago.
“I’m very glad she did because I wouldn’t be here right now without her," Amelia said.
Roberts Mason says she is very proud of what she has accomplished but couldn't do it alone.
“I am also happy that I’ve had so many supporters over the years. And I am happy for all the community members telling me they were a BCFI kid," she said. "My hairdresser tells me that her mother used to march her to BCFI daily and that she gained so much from our program.”
Roberts Mason was also instrumental in establishing the Office of Minority Affairs at the Michigan Education Association.
She has spoken at four Democratic National Conventions and was the senior policy adviser for Geraldine Ferraro when she was running as a vice presidential candidate.
Roberts Mason was also a trailblazer in the ERA campaign with Gloria Steinem and other national figures. She has lectured abroad and led global humanitarian, business and education exchanges.
As the president of the Lansing Regional Sister Cities Commission, she was responsible for establishing an HIV-AIDS project in Ghana; constructing and renovating health clinics, schools and libraries and working towards clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
But this week, Barbara Roberts Mason is our Good Neighbor, and we want to say thank you!
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