5 honored with annual ‘Strong Men & Women in Virginia History’ award

2/25/2021, 6 p.m.
Dr. Lerla G. Joseph, a Richmond physician and community health advocate, is among five African-American leaders named as this year’s ...

Dr. Lerla G. Joseph, a Richmond physician and community health advocate, is among five African-American leaders named as this year’s “Strong Men & Women in Virginia History.”

The five were honored by Dominion Energy and the Library of Virginia in the annual Black History Month program spot- lighting people from the past and present who have made noteworthy contributions to the Commonwealth.

Dr. Joseph, who specializes in geriatric and internal medicine, has medical offices in Richmond and Petersburg.

She earned her undergraduate degree from Winston-Salem State University, her medical degree from Wake Forest University and completed her internal medicine residency at Howard University Hospital in Washington. After working as an internist for the U.S. Public Health Service at a community clinic in Detroit, Dr. Joseph joined a medical practice in Richmond in 1983.

She opened her own private practice in Charles City County and saw the lack of comprehensive medical care in area communities. She expanded her practice into Richmond during the 1990s opening a diagnostic center and providing disease preven- tion education and other services.

In 2012, she founded the Central Virginia Coalition of Healthcare Providers, one of the nation’s few minority-owned accountable care organizations that brings together general practitioners, specialists and other medical professionals to provide accessible, high quality and affordable care for Medicare recipients.

She has served on the boards of Richmond Community Hospital and Bon Secours Health System, and was the first woman elected president of the Richmond Medical Society in 1994. Later, she served as the first female president of the Old Dominion Medical Society, for which she helped raise more than $60,000 for scholarships for Black medical students.

Dr. Joseph also organized annual short-term missions to Haiti, where she has provided medical treatment and supplies since 2005. In 2017, she received the International Trends and Services Award from the Eastern Area Links Inc. in recognition of her mission work.

Other 2021 honorees are:

Sen. L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, the first woman and first African-American to serve as president pro tempore of the state Senate.

Sen. Lucas was one of the first women to graduate from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard apprentice program, where she became its first female ship fitter in 1971. She later worked as the command’s Federal Women’s Program manager and as an Equal Employment Opportunity officer.

She studied vocational-industrial education and urban affairs at Norfolk State University, earning a bachelor’s in 1971 and a master’s in 1982. In 1994, she joined the NSU faculty coordinating research efforts and securing federal aid to develop retraining programs as a result of military and defense industry downsizing in the region. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Sen. Lucas is president and chief executive officer of Lucas Lodge and other related businesses providing residential and health care services for intellectually disabled adults.

Concerned about substandard housing, Sen. Lucas got involved with the Portsmouth Emergency Housing Coalition and served as director of the Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project from 1985 to 1992.

She entered politics in 1984, becoming the first Black woman to win election to Portsmouth City Council.

Since being elected to the Senate in November 1991, Sen. Lucas has advocated for the expansion of health care for Virginians, restoration of voting rights for felons, expansion of background checks before firearms purchases and regulations allowing casino gambling.

Krysta Jones of Arlington is a political activist and mentor who started the Virginia Leadership Institute in 2006.

The nonpartisan organization, now known as Vote Lead Impact, trains and mentors African-Americans interested in running for elected office at all levels. The organization has trained more than 350 future political candidates and leaders. Fifteen of the 30 who have run for office were elected, with more than 10 others receiving appointments to boards and commissions.

After graduating from the University of Florida, where she directed Students Taking Action Against Racism, Ms. Jones spent two years in Paraguay with the Peace Corps. Upon returning to Arlington County, she worked as a lobbyist and studied at the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership and attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.

She also earned a master’s from George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and published “A Seat at the Table,” a guide to help people get involved in solving community problems.

She is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and served on the boards of the Junior League of Northern Virginia and the Arlington Community Foundation.

Evelyn Reid Syphax, who died in March 2000, was an educator and entrepreneur in Arlington County.

A Lynchburg native and 1948 graduate of Virginia Union University, Ms. Syphax moved to Arlington County in 1951, where she taught while earning a master’s in early childhood education from New York University.

She taught in Lynchburg for several years before marrying Archie D. Syphax, a firefighter whose family had a long history of public service in Arlington. When she could not find a preschool in segregated Arlington that would accept her son, Ms. Syphax started the Syphax Child Care Center in 1963. She also taught and served as a reading specialist in the county’s public schools until retiring in 1972.

In 1980, Ms. Syphax began a four-year term on the Arlington School Board, where she advocated for a program to improve reading, writing and math skills of under-achieving elementary students.

She also organized a local Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority chapter to provide scholarships and mentoring programs and established a local chapter of the Coalition of 100 Black Women to improve the social and political status of Black women.

Ms. Syphax also helped lead the fight for a state historic marker at the site of the Freedmen’s Village and for creating the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington.

In 2010, VUU named its School of Education in her honor.

• The Rev. Stanley Maclin Sr. of Harrisonburg, who died on Jan. 11, was a minister and social justice advocate deeply involved in the community.

Born in Peoria, Ill., Rev. Maclin became a Mennonite minister and, during the 1980s, served as pastor of Joy Mennonite Fellowship in Peoria. He was president of the Harrison Homes Mission in one of that city’s public housing developments.

He advocated for a stronger African-American presence in church leadership, becoming president for 12 years of the African American Mennonite Association beginning in 1989. In 1991, he became pastor of Jubilee Christian Fellowship in Richmond.

About 2000, he moved to Harrisonburg and studied urban ministry and community outreach at Eastern Mennonite University. He worked with the local chapter of Virginia Organizing to bring immigrant groups together and to combat anti-immigration legislation.

He promoted criminal justice reform and taught a class at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Jail on empowerment and reentry after incarceration. He urged the Harrisonburg City Council to rename a street for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 2013. And in response to police shootings of unarmed Black men, Rev. Maclin co-founded Americans Resisting Minority and Ethnic Discrimination in 2016 to document and raise awareness of similar events.

Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minne- apolis police, he organized peaceful rallies in Harrisonburg that led to the establishment of the People’s Equality Commission of the Shenandoah Valley, which provides a platform for citizens to combat institutional racism.

Rev. Maclin also served as president of the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center in Harrisonburg, which he opened in 2010 to emphasize her leadership and service to others.

Four high school student essay winners also were recognized as part of the annual commemoration. Each wrote essays, selected from dozens of entries, about what social justice means to them.

The winners are: Tamia Booker, a junior at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg; Madisyn Ford, a sophomore at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake; Zahria Ford, a sophomore at Rock Ridge High School in Loudoun County; and Julie Thomas, a freshman at Harrisonburg High School in Harrisonburg.

Each student will receive an Apple MacBook Air laptop and $1,000 for their school.