It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Deena Smitherman on June 27, 2022.
Deena was a founding member of the Parent Leader Network and served on the first Steering Committee, where she helped to raise awareness on race equity, parent leadership, and the importance of community engagement. She also contributed to the development of the Manifesto for Race Equity and Parent Leadership and was a fierce advocate at conferences all over the country on why organizations should adhere to the Manifesto’s challenges in their parent leadership work to:
- Challenge racism
- Embrace parent leadership
- Prioritize resources
- Create career pathways
- Maximize equitable outcomes
Deena was also very active in her local community of Mattapan, a neighborhood in Boston, MA, where she was a parent leader at the Mattapan Family and Community Engagement Network. In that role Deena was committed to parents’ engaging in their child’s development through the Ages and Stages developmental screening, and became an effective Parent Screener Coach for Boston’s Screen Every Child Project. Deena was the Mattapan Playgroup Leader, creating an intergenerational playgroup by partnering with the Mattapan Center for Life-Retirement and Assisted Living Facility. Residents there joined the Hugs and Play group, to read and sing with children. She also led the families from ABCD Head Start, residents from the Center for Life and the Hugs and Play group of children in planting vegetables and flowers in an unused garden bed, bringing it to life and teaching children how to care for it as they watched it grow. Additionally, she volunteered many hours at Mattapan’s Food and Fitness Coalition/ Mattapan Square Farmers’ Market reaching out to families, inviting them to playgroups, parenting education programs, and supporting them as needed. Deena was also part of the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network (CPLAN). She was the co-creator of Mattapan’s Young Men’s Leadership Program and participated in the Edgewater Drive Neighborhood Association, which is committed to empowering teenagers to make better life choices.
Deena leaves behind three sons: Marshawn, Deon, and Ethan. She sought to share the message that a single mother can raise productive, successful young men, no matter where they come from.
Deena’s colleagues were saddened by her sudden passing and have shared many messages showing their love and appreciation on social media and during our PLN meetings. Here are a few of the notes from her fellow Parent Leader Network co-founders and a close colleague in her hometown:
- Lisa Melara, Boston, MA parent leader and co-founder of the PLN: Deena will always hold a place in my heart. She is the best of the best. I will miss everything about her. I will continue to honor her and do her proud.
- Anthony Queen, Kent County, MI parent leader and co-founder of the PLN: I will always remember the time we were in Washington, DC and after the session was done where I had an opportunity to speak, she told me she wanted to talk to me about something. Later that evening at the reception she said, “I was forever her work husband,” I said ok, but why? I never forget when she said “you know how to say things that don’t upset people, when I do it people get angry. Thanks for showing how it can be done.”
- Ms. Vickey Siggers, Boston, MA Mattapan Family Network Coordinator: Ms. Deena was committed to family, community and the Boston Family Engagement Network. I am so blessed to have had her in my life. It has been a beautiful life lesson that I worked with an amazing spirit. She would always tell me “I got you Ms. Vickey.”