STLCC Trustee Champions Education for Life
The Rev. Dr. Doris Graham has devoted her life to education and serving others.
From being the selected the “teacher” when kids in her neighborhood played school, to completing college and then serving as a teacher and administrator, and finally to service on school boards, Graham has spent the majority of her 75 years pushing herself and others to embrace lifelong learning.
In recognition of that devotion, Graham will receive the Lifetime Achiever Award at the St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education virtual gala Oct. 17.
Graham’s fondest childhood memories revolved around education.
“My mother (Josephine Dampier) always pushed education, and to do my best in school,” Graham said. “At church, Pastor Samuel F. Rabun would always tell us to take the textbook in one hand and the bible in the other and go marching up the King’s Highway. He reminded us that we can become anything in life.”
Growing up in Clayton, Graham attended Attucks Elementary School, a one-room segregated schoolhouse right down the street from where her mother and she lived her aunt and uncle, Annie B. and Ike Sevier, and their four children, Ike Jr., Beatrice, Brenda and Mark. Graham gave high marks to her teacher, Ms. V. Willene Jackson, who taught her from kindergarten through second grade.
When her family moved to St. Louis the following school year, Graham said she continued to have amazing teachers that heavily influenced her.
“Though they never directly told me to become a teacher, I was inspired by how they seemed to care about me and the children they taught,” Graham said.
As her educational journey continued, Graham earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Harris Teachers College (now Harris-Stowe State University), a master’s degree in elementary administration/principalship from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and a doctorate in educational administration/superintendency at Saint Louis University. Graham later completed a master of arts in pastoral studies from the Aquinas Institute of Theology.
Graham’s first teaching assignment was in 1967 at Clark Elementary School for St. Louis Public Schools. In 1979, while teaching at Shepard School and completing her doctorate, Graham walked the picket line as a strike leader for SLPS teachers.
“The strike lasted for 56 days, but I continued to fight for our rights as I worked on my degree,” she recalled “I also served on the negotiating team to get better benefits for teachers. At the negotiating table, I would often tell the administration side that I am working hard so that my baby sister (Deborah Faye), who was studying to become a teacher at the time, would start with a decent salary and not have the painter making more money than the teachers. I am proud of the contracts and benefits that I, along with Local 420 Teachers Union AFT/AFL-CIO, was able to provide. Many of those benefits are still in place for teachers today.”
During her 38-year career with SLPS, Graham was a classroom teacher, remedial reading specialist and co-host of an after-school radio program called the Rits Sisters and the Reading Is Terrific Show. She also served as an administrator during summer school, and then as assistant principal at Ames Visual and Performing Arts Elementary School for seven years before retiring in 2005.
Student Advocate, College Ambassador
In 1988, Graham became the first black woman ever elected to the Ferguson-Florissant District School Board.
“Being at the board table allowed me to be able to speak up on behalf of all children, but specifically for the black children who didn’t have a voice,” Graham said.
During her 23-year tenure, the district twice was recognized as a school district of distinction by the Missouri School Boards Association.
After an unsuccessful bid to retain her seat on the Ferguson-Florissant board in 2011, Graham turned her attention to St. Louis Community College. Backed by the Ecumenical Leadership Council, Graham was elected to the STLCC Board of Trustees in 2012 and was re-elected to a second term in 2018.
“The motto for STLCC is “expanding minds, changing lives” and it is doing just that with the various contributions that the College offers the community,” Graham said.
Graham has served as chair and co-chair of the STLCC board. She served two years on the Association of Community College Trustees’ Diversity Committee. She was instrumental in bringing a Diversity Council to STLCC, as well as the creation of the position of the director of diversity and inclusion.
“STLCC always works to create a safe and inclusive space so people from all different backgrounds feel accepted in the environment,” she said. “I am very proud to be an ambassador for St. Louis Community College and to serve as an elected official on the board of trustees.”
Graham is the chaplain for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, St. Louis Alumnae Chapter, Iota Phi Lambda Sorority, Alpha Zeta Chapter and for Deer Valley Home Health. She serves as an associate minister at Prayer Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. She has been married to Jerry Graham for over 55 years. Together, they have two daughters, Doretha Sandridge and Deanna N. Graham-Wilson; son-in-law Dennis F. Wilson; five grandchildren, three great grandchildren and four godchildren.
Graham has received numerous awards for service. They include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the St. Louis Teachers Union, the Legacy Award for Community Service from the National Council of Negro Women Inc. Gateway Metropolitan Section, and the Legacy Award from the St. Louis Argus. She also was recognized by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority as one of its Women Making a Difference in Politics honorees. In 2014, she received the St. Louis Metropolitan Urban League’s Salute to Women in Leadership Award for Education. Graham also received the Dr. Fredda Witherspoon Award for Outstanding Service from Iota Phi Lambda. In 2020, Graham received the Phi Delta Kappa Public Recognition Award for community service. In July, she received an award for dedication from Deer Valley Hospice Care.
From Graham’s perspective, the American’s Lifetime Achiever Award is one of the most prestigious honors an educator can receive in Metropolitan St. Louis.
“I am humbled and thankful for this award, and very excited to receive it. This award means that someone has worked in the field of education and others have evaluated their work to see the immense positive changes they have made,” Graham said. “I’ve been retired for 15 years. I continue to volunteer my time and work with others on committees about education. I have always carried a passion for education, and this award is saying to me that I have been achieving and helping others to achieve my entire life, so don’t stop, keep going.”