Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Finding Napa or Napa Finding Me” April 2007.
Finding Napa or Napa Finding Me – Brenda Knight
By JoAnn Busenbark
Brenda Knight’s beginning was as the eldest child of four children, the only girl, growing up in the heart of Oakland, California. What motivated this girl to want to be a leader and develop a vision that bridges generations and creates excitement? Where did the spark come from to want to make things better for those around her for the next 40-plus years? If we could bottle her energy, enthusiasm, and caring for people, it would be explosive and would set to work a whole fleet of people who want to make a difference.
How did she find her way to Napa County and the city of American Canyon after 50 years in Oakland?
Brenda Knight set out to make a difference starting in middle school by becoming active in student government. This continued throughout her high school years. After high school graduation from Castlemont High School she set off to the North Country for college at Humboldt State University. As much as Brenda tried, the different climate and culture were too much for her to tolerate, so after three semesters she returned to Oakland and entered the work force.
After meeting the love of her life, she married and had three sons. As a stay at home mom, she got involved in the activities of her boys, especially baseball. As a coach she worked hard to include as many players as possible. Not wanting to cut anyone off the team, she ended up coaching three teams instead of one.
When Brenda’s boys reached the age to play baseball in the Babe Ruth organization, she further involved herself in, and continues to serve, the Babe Ruth organization on the national level. Brenda was instrumental in bringing the Babe Ruth World Series to Oakland for the first time in the late 80s, which was a wonderful experience for players all over the United States. Never before had the Babe Ruth World Series been held in an inner-city setting. Part of the World Series program includes players staying in the host homes of their local players. The diversity of Oakland was a life lesson for players from Middle America. Oakland won the World Series and dominated the series for several years. Brenda made a trip to the White House with the team and the Babe Ruth organization by invitation of the President of the United States.
Lionel Wilson was Mayor of Oakland during this time. As the mayor became aware of Brenda’s community activities, he contacted her and offered her a position with his administration as a Community Liaison to the people of the city of Oakland. Brenda brought forth issues and concerns of individuals and groups who wanted a “better Oakland.” As she became more acquainted with the community, Brenda developed a vision that has stayed with her and continues to motivate her activities-“Who’s taking care of the mothers?”
She continued her work with Babe Ruth and encouraged players to take the next step and attend a community college where they could play baseball and get an education at the same time. Her mantra to these boys was, “The community college has open access, and anyone can get an AA degree if they make the decision to try.” You could easily say Brenda was a recruiter for Laney Community College in Oakland.
In 1994, Brenda learned of a proposal from one of the board of trustees of the Peralta Community College District to turn one of the baseball fields into a building site. As fate would have it, the trustee was running for reelection and was the representative in her district. Brenda launched a grass roots door-to-door campaign as a candidate and won the election by a two-to-one margin. Her committee and workers were her girl friends of many years, women with interest in improving their community.
Although for years she had encouraged baseball players to go to college, Brenda had only a high school education and didn’t have knowledge of the community college system.
Brenda approached her steep learning curve of the system as she approached life, questioning, talking and listening to people. Once she understood the policy and budget issues, the next steps were applying who she is, a people person with genuine interest in her community and their concerns, to the job. Brenda’s leadership quickly brought the community college district closer to the people it is mandated to serve. Recognizing her as a “team” player with great enthusiasm, her fellow board members eagerly joined her efforts.
Brenda was elected to the statewide board of trustees and then to the national board of trustees where she became the first African American woman to chair the national board of trustees. As an advocate for community college students Brenda wanted to acquire a degree herself. She wanted to be an example as well as an advocate. By the time she reached the position of chairman of the national board, Brenda held an AA degree from Laney College and a BA degree from St. Mary’s college. Brenda had truly put her money where her mouth had been for years.
On Valentine’s Day, 1995, after her initial election to the Peralta Board of Trustees, Brenda initiated a luncheon for her friends who had helped her in her election. She asked them to wear red, her favorite color. Thirty women attended the lunch. Brenda committed to holding the lunch for her friends the first Saturday in February, no matter what was going on in her life. She has continued this event each year inviting each person to bring a friend.
The first February Saturday in 2007, 350 women attended the “Ladies in Red” luncheon. When she lost the board of trustee election in 2002, it was the first time Brenda was not tied to Oakland. Her husband had wanted to move from Oakland for several years and they had often visited her brother who lived in American Canyon. After touring the community and seeing the growth and development taking place, Brenda, her husband and her widowed mother relocated to American Canyon.
She approaches her new community as she has approached all of her activities for 50 years, by just jumping in. Brenda’s commitment to education made her apply for the vacated Napa Valley College Board of Trustees position to represent American Canyon and southern City of Napa area.
The excitement of a new community growing not only in numbers but culture and diversity, are driving forces that fuel the leader of the “Ladies in Red.” Brenda has turned her love of red and love of people into a business of motivational speaking, wanting to influence women of all ages to take a next step in education or in a career making a difference.
Join me in welcoming Brenda Knight to our community. Her advocacy for education will serve Napa Valley College students in a most positive manner. For more information on Ladies in Red visit Brenda’s web site http://www.bkladiesinred.com and share her vision.