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Joannie Yuille

Jonnie Bell Gholar was born in Los Angeles, California on Friday the 13th of March 1953. Bad luck? Her parents John and Annie Bell Gholar felt it was the luckiest day of their lives. Her parents had five children — Jonnie, Barbara, Larry, Janet, and Steven. Jonnie is only 11 months older than her sister, Barbara Ann. They were raised as twins and lived in Monrovia on Sherman Avenue family (Marvin “Oka” Inouye). It was an integrated neighborhood. Her parents were members of Second Baptist Church at the time of Jonnie’s birth. As a young child, she remembers attending,

but as she got older her parents became disenchanted with the fact that Sunday mornings all over the community were so segregated. Before too long the family converted to the Baha’i Faith and moved from a Black to a multiracial church. The Gholar girls attended pre-school at the Presbyterian Church on Foothill Boulevard, where they were the only Black children. A year later, Jonnie went to Santa Fe Elementary, the only integrated elementary school in Monrovia. It had been integrated for several years and most of the discomfort was in the past. However, bigotry and prejudice would at times flair its ugly head. Joannie still remembers an event as if it happened yesterday. She recalled, “By this time, I had added an "a" to the spelling of my name and dropped the ‘Bell’. I was Joannie Gholar and pretty popular. At Santa Fe, we all had friends of every race. Although I must admit, I could not quite figure out how my school friends never accepted an invitation to come to my home. Our only problems seemed to be kids who moved into the area, those who were not accustomed to attending an integrated school.   A tall blond pretty White girl that everyone wanted to have as a friend openly did not like Blacks. She would ask other White students, "Why do you play with them?" "Is she your friend?" "I would never have a N friend!" Joannie continued, “It’s interesting how there seem to be major incidences that occur in one’s life that stick. I think I had my first real lesson that there were people who saw me as “different” when I was in 5th grade. It evokes very strong feelings of shame and embarrassment. I was having lunch outside with a large group of friends that happened to be White, talking, laughing being kids. This relatively new White student was also 102 Joannie’s father, John Davis Gholar, President of Laborer’s Local 492 sitting in the same area. I decided to move to another group of kids sitting in the vicinity. I was pretty social. As I walked past this new student, she stood up looked over her shoulders at the kids she was sitting with and before I realized what was happening, she lifted up my dress and shouted “Let’s see how she hides her tail”. It seemed as though everyone one broke into laughter. I wanted to die! I was so embarrassed, humiliated. I had just been likened to an animal. I didn’t know what to do. So I just ran into the restroom and stayed there until the bell rang. Then I had to make that long walk to line up for class. It felt like all eyes were on me. I heard giggles, whispers. I never said a word to my teacher but I felt that she knew what had happened to me at lunch. In fact, I didn’t speak for the rest of the afternoon in anticipation of making the long walk to where my mother picked me up every day. When school was out and I opened the door to our car my mother looked at me and said, “What’s wrong?” In the safety of our car, out of sight of the eyes of my classmates, I burst into tears. We drove around Monrovia as I told my mother the whole story. I remember how she waited patiently for me to share everything, never telling me to stop crying or not to be upset. By the time I finished we were in front of our house. We sat in the car. I was all cried out and silent. My mother took my hand and said, ‘You are a smart, beautiful, Black girl. You come from a long line of smart, beautiful people. There are some ignorant people who do and say things out of their ignorance. It is important that we do not react to ignorance with ignorance but with dignity, because God has created you and you are a noble being. So is this little girl. She just has not discovered her nobility. You can help her by not treating her badly like she did you. Treat her better than you would treat yourself. Be proud of that while you pray for her to become her noble self.’ Joannie continued, “I remember that so vividly because I heard this all my life. I feel that’s how I have always looked at life’s circumstances.” 103 Joannie has no idea what the girl’s consequences were but Joannie learned to appreciate her own mother’s love and support. “She would not allow anyone to humiliate me. Rather than become a victim, I learned I could be an agent of change,” Joannie said. She fretted about going to Clifton Junior High School. All of Monrovia’s public elementary 7th graders attended that school. Things began to change for her there. The majority of friends she had gone to Santa Fe with were White. On campus that first day she and many of her friends were anxious and excited but happy to reconnect. But it seemed each day more of her White "friends" avoided her and ultimately stopped talking to her. They did not want to include Joannie, their Black friend. Where was everyone? Until one day it was only Joannie at their morning before-school hang out spot. She was alone. Joannie saw one friend who walked the other way and ignored her calls. Then she noticed small racialized groups of students. She recalled, “As I approached one group where I saw some of my White friends along with other Whites whom I did not know, they began to disperse and walk away. My old friends had found new friends and did not seem to want to include me, their former Santa Fe Black friend. As I walked away, I saw a small group of Black students that I had started to see as I walked up to school each morning. I stopped where they stood and they welcomed me. For the second time in my short life I became keenly aware that I was different and because of the color of my skin there might be those who did want to be with me.” Joannie was confused by how skin color seemed to separate her from others. She remembered lessons she had learned and how her mother put a positive twist on this event. She said, “Joannie, being accepted in a group becomes very important to people. Not every one has the courage to withstand the pressure to conform. It sometimes takes people time to figure out how to stand strong for what is right. Give your friends a chance to figure this out. Also, you must understand that they all have their own journey.” Determined not to be a victim, 104 she sought out new people and met three new girls -- Nisey, Joyce and Nettie -- who are still her good friends. In spite of living in a prominently African American section of Monrovia, Joannie was intimately exposed to diverse cultural relationships early in her life. As a young child, Lena Pinkerton, a White Baha’i friend who lived north of Foothill Boulevard in a Caucasian area of Monrovia, mentored Joannie. Along with the Gholar family’s strong emphasis on education, this woman made a lasting impression on her and helped spark her thirst for learning, fueled her passion for the Arts and commitment to helping others. When the opportunities came, Joannie also tutored younger children. Joannie set goals. People liked her and she liked all people. Helping others made her happy and she enjoyed discovering new things. It was during this time a deaf child moved in the house next door. Joannie said, “Everyone was afraid of the child but not me. I was curious so I would play with the child through the chain link fence that separated us. This went on for several months and then the family moved. I was so touched that I made a decision then to become a Speech and Language Therapist so I could to work with deaf children.” Joannie’s involvement in student government and speech at Clifton Jr. High continued as she matured. She excelled in public speaking, traveled and competed successfully all over California with Monrovia High School’s Speech Team. However, the 1960s and 1970s brought challenging change, not only in Monrovia, but also in our country. It was a time of racial tension that caused many to question old standards and seek to develop new ones. It was another time of emancipation for Blacks from the Jim Crow era. Suddenly Joannie became aware that her "perfect" Monrovia was also in need to repair. Friends suddenly found themselves as foes and not always sure how they got there. Too many times these confusing thoughts erupted into hate and violence. “They were sad and confusing times for me, 105 who had always lived in an integrated community, who always had friends on both sides of the racial lines,” she said. Joannie recalled “I remember going to school on the day before spring break in my junior high school year, and although not a member of Monrovia High’s Black Student Union (BSU), I went to their meeting. They spoke about the possibility of a fight before spring break. I knew if my parents ever felt that I participated in the organization of a fight, I would be in big trouble. So when my father got home from work, I told them what might happen at school the next day. My parents felt that I should have used my influence (sure!) to convince the BSU not to fight and were disappointed in me. My idea was not to go to school, but they insisted I go and try to defuse the anger. That was my plan. But I never even had the opportunity to implement my plan. The fight seemed to erupt at the very beginning. For me it was a nightmare -- friends, fire, and fights -- and then we were sent home and it was over. Diverse groups were brought together to find solutions and at this low moment for me, we came together, worked toward solutions, appreciated each group’s opinions and created unified actions to move forward. I felt so honored to be selected as one of the many agents of change.” Changes started happening for Blacks at Monrovia High! Later that spring, Joannie was elected Student Body President - the first Black female to hold this honored position; Denise Matthews was elected Song Girl, Diana Price - Varsity Cheer Leader, Joyce Hurst - Head Pep Cat, Arthur Buckley-Senior Class Vice President, Barbara Gholar - Majorette, Annette Webber - Homecoming Princess. A united student body changed the climate and Monrovia High School became a campus that began to value all its people. 106 James and Joannie Joannie attended the University of Redlands, where she graduated and earned her Speech and Language Pathologist credentials a year early. There she met James Curtis Yuille from South Central Los Angeles who had never lived in an integrated community. By 1975, they married and moved to Monrovia. By 1976, she and James had a daughter - Ruhiyyih Nikole, the first of their three children. Her past experiences and her parents’ words “Don't complain, be the agent of change” propelled her into service for family, friends, her church and Monrovia - her community. She was a wife, homemaker, and volunteer. At Wildrose Elementary School, Joannie was a PTA member and officer. At Monrovia High she worked with Big M Boosters, Girls Basketball Boosters, Girls Volley Ball Boosters and the MHS Show Choir. She received PTA Honor Service awards from both Mayflower Elementary and Monrovia High. Her tireless volunteerism in City of Monrovia was focused on the needs of children. At a Monrovia Town meeting, she and Betty Sandford realized they both were concerned about the government’s interest in children when making decisions. They formed a small group with a goal to make Monrovia a child development-centered community. The Monrovia Reads Project is an indirect outcome of Betty and Joannie’s initial meeting. Joannie was appointed to the Baha’i National Education Task Force to help develop a spiritual Pre-school through High School educational curriculum. There were 15 lesson planning guides developed and published and a six-volume storybook series. Baha’i children and youth in Monrovia, as well as communities worldwide, now benefit daily from this curriculum. Diagnosed with Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH), a rare incurable lung disease in 2009, Joannie felt like a victim for over a year until she was given an invitation to participate in a new program - 107 Monrovia Area Partners (MAP). She began to see herself instead as an agent of change. Her mental attitude became more powerful than her physical limiations.. Since that first meeting, she has led MAP Neighborhood Conferences and helped the youth develop their leadership skills. Covered subjects include anti-bullying and building self-esteem for Monrovia’s children, adults, and seniors. The program brings greater understanding of unity in the community. She also serves on the city’s Community Services Commission.   In 2011, the idea of an Interfaith Council of Monrovia was presented to Joannie during a conversation with city employees. The idea of having various faith-based congregations in Monrovia work together to serve our community was intriguing. She asked another MAP leader, Alena Uhamaka, Pastor of the United Methodist Church of Monrovia and Bobbi Rahmanian, a fellow member of the Baha’i faith and a former member of the Arcadia Interfaith Council who had recently moved to Monrovia, to assist with this project. They decided to annually host an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service in Novemberand on the National Day of Prayer in May. Canned goods and monetary donations for Foothill Unity Center, a local non- profit organization, are collected during both events. Their first Thanksgiving service was held Thursday, November 21, 2013. Interfaith Council has continued to grow. Currently there are 18 members representing the Buddhist, Islamic, Baha'i, Jewish, and Christian (Protestant and Catholic) communities. Joannie is a long-time member of the Monrovia-Duarte Black Alumni Association and the Monrovia High School Alumni Association. For several years, she has planned, staffed and coordinated Black History projects that include all of Monrovia’s public schools and the community at large. Her vision was to make each event a “teachable moments and life changing experience”. The Black History programs are hosted in Monrovia's public schools so all children can envision the many contributions of African Americans. Hopefully these images will help shield them from prejudice and bigotry. James and Joannie’s children and the children of Monrovia grew up in a community where there were many examples of people of African 108 descent in leadership roles. The Yuilles had African American teachers, principals, counselors, a mayor, as well as loving parents who were also devoted to promoting excellence in all things.  Regardless of what color you were, there were examples of human equality present. Due to the political agenda of late in our nation, the youth of Monrovia went through a period where diversity had waned. The Arts Festival grew out of that. It allows all children in Monrovia to have a positive interaction, using art as one of the mediums, so they understand and appreciate the contributions of African Americans. This project has expanded and is an example of Monrovia’s progress by its residents and our elected officials. From the very first event city staff and elected officials have been supportive and encouraging by promoting attendance and attending Black History events. Thus, modeling tolerance and a community - the ‘Gem City of the Foothills’ - that is inclusive and appreciative of its diversity. In 2017, Monrovia Unified School District honored Joannie with its “Golden Apple” award in recognition of the success of her involvement in the community’s Black History programs. Despite physical challenges due to PAH, Joannie, is still employed by the Baldwin Park Unified School District. A Speech and Language Therapist, she is a leader in her profession, holds special certificates as a Race Unity Trainer and Teacher Trainer, has been named Service District Teacher of the Year, is a member of the California Teachers’ Association and also serves as a PAH support leader for a group that meets six times a year in Monrovia. She has made a concerted effort to educate as many Monrovians as possible about this rare disease in order to help with early diagnosis, has organized three successful walks and raised over $40,000 to date. In 2015, Joannie received an “Unsung Heroines” award from United States Congresswoman Grace Napolitano for her community service, noting that her volunteer efforts are not limited to Monrovia. She has assisted with Habitat for Humanity projects and for years, with 109 “Over the years, Monrovians have embraced the idea of recognizing and celebrating the contributions of ALL people. Let’s keep it up!” Joannie Yuille members of her family and the Baha'i Community, organized Southern California youth to help with the Special Olympics program. She developed a training program about how to be a selfless servant to the athletes and understand their various abilities. Each year 50 young people stay at Gholar families’ homes and ride in a chartered bus to the Special Olympics for a day of service, fellowship and fun. In 2015, Joannie’s group helped at the World Games. Responsible for getting hosts to escort basketball teams on and off the court, Joannie has interfaced with coaches, athletes, as well as parents, folks from all over the world. Joannie summarizes, “Over the years, so much has changed. I feel that as a community and as individuals, Monrovians have embraced the idea of recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of all people. I am proud of the community for becoming more proactive in identifying challenges and working on solutions before they reach a crisis-point. I also believe that we are seeing far more tolerance of diversity. I see an appreciation of diversity as a strength of Monrovia’s society. 110 Joannie was honored as a Distinguished Woman of the Year 2015 by Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA), 32nd Congressional District. But as the same time it is clear in 2017 we still have a long way to go. It continues to be a work in progress. I find my children and grandchildren are still experiencing prejudice and bigotry in Monrovia. When my daughter, Ruhiyyih attended Wildrose School, they assumed I was her unwed mother. At MHS, she was unable to be a lead in a show due to her race. My son Justin went to Mayflower Elementary School and faced discrimination. At Clifton, he encountered prejudice. He, too, has his own story of racism at Monrovia High School. Monrovia, we have the same issues with different players at the same schools, Mayflower Elementary and Clifton. My grandsons, Justin and Tristin are subjected to what my family now has had – four generations of racism and bigotry.” “My religion, profession and volunteerism reflect my desire to bring people from diverse backgrounds together in harmony. Personally, I don’t consider myself a ‘ChangeMaker’. I’m just Joannie doing Joannie,” she added, “I m committed to continue working so the gains of previous years don’t slip through our community’s fingers. I believe it is important to hold on to the principles, to the integrity witnessed in planning and organizing for the future. Monrovians must live to serve the entire populace and uphold the actions that have come to be recognized as the ‘Monrovia way’ of doing things. The community as a whole needs to see itself as a changemaker. And as individuals, we must always use the measuring stick of social justice to raise our standards.” Joannie closed with these words, “As we celebrate how far we have come, we need to realize we still have a long way to go to achieve our desired goal. We cannot be satisfied with our accomplishments to date. We have to continue to identify how individually we must improve ourselves. We have to engage in true friendships and fellowships by stepping out of our comfort zones. To make room for hospitality in our lives. We need to be of service to each other. As an African American woman, I need my White brothers and sisters to speak out about the injustices of our society with those that you call friends. 111 I, as a woman of African descent, need not tolerate the sweeping generalization often spoken about people who are racially or socially different than me. We need to see the community as a beautiful rainbow and make it our goal that all members of the rainbow are represented in every aspect of our personal life and our community. We need to all take up the banner of the African proverb "It takes a village..." by being productive members of the village.”

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