In Loving Memory

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Olivia Cousins

 

Dr. Olivia Cousins was born in the winter of 1948 in Dayton, Ohio to
Mary and Oliver Cousins, Sr. with her four siblings: Sandy, Collette, Michelle
and Oliver, Jr. Olivia graduated from Julienne High School in Dayton, OH in
1967 and proceeded to attend the University of Dayton, graduating in 1970
with a BA in Psychology. Olivia was a charter member of the university’s
Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. chapter, and instrumental in founding its Black
Studies Department. As a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee, she traveled to the Deep South to help with Black voter
registration. Olivia left Dayton and moved to Boston-Cambridge, MA for
graduate studies where she did further studies at Harvard University and
Boston University, earning degrees in Education and Social Policy (1970) and
Afro-American Studies (1975). In 1984, after fulfilling the requirements, she
was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Medical/Community
Sociology.

Baptized and confirmed at St. James Catholic Church in Dayton,
Olivia, “Libby,” as she was affectionately called by her family and close
friends, was a devout Catholic and a woman of faith for all times. Helen

La Kelly Hunt, In Faith and Feminism: Holy Alliance, calls her friend and
colleague, “A scholar, a Catholic woman and a feminist” and quotes Dr.
Cousins saying: “As a Christian, I am guided by the spiritual understanding
that I am a steward of the world—responsible for the total well-being, mind,
body and spirit–of this planet.” Olivia’s faithfulness and deep spirituality live
on in the ecumenical associations and affiliations in which she actively
engaged in membership and the ministry of service, including St. Paul AME
Church in Cambridge, MA as a founding participant of The Henry Buckner
School; Bridge Street AME Church in Brooklyn, NY, where she created the
Rites of Passage Program for Preteen Girls; Our Lady of Victory of St.
Martin de Porres Parish, Brooklyn, NY, where, as Eucharistic Minister, she
co-created an Annual Jazz Concert Fundraiser; and St. Francis of Assisi
Church, New York, NY, as Eucharistic Minister, volunteer parish
photographer and usher.

            Dr. Cousins was a fierce warrior for social justice who championed

civil rights by fighting for access to adequate health care for women in the

inner city; her work mirrored her passions. As a Clinical Sociologist, Dr.
Cousins advocated for communities of color locally and internationally;
Director for the After-School Program at Solomon Carter Fuller-Community
Mental Health Center in Roxbury, MA (1978); Consultant for The Pan-African
Program for Neonatal Health Care in Liberia, West Africa; Professor at City
University of New York’s Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC
1987-2019) where she developed the college’s Black Men and Black
Women’s Initiative (1988); she chaired the Health and Education Departments as well (1991); became Director of BMCC’s College Opportunity to Prepare for
Employment Program and founded BMCC’s Women’s Resource Center.

As a feminist, a scholar and an African-American historian, Olivia
was committed to advancing the issues of all women and the legacy of
African-Americans; her passion is evident in the organizations in which she
held positions of leadership, including the acquisition of the historic John
Mercer Langston* House, former board chairperson of the National Women’s
Health Network, board member of The Sister Fund and the New York
Women’s Foundation. Dr. Cousins not only owned and stewarded the John
Mercer Langston Historic House, which is a historical African American
landmark, but she also founded the John Mercer Langston Institute in
Oberlin, OH. The House was in disrepair when she purchased it, but Dr.
Cousins personally financed all the repairs to date, and through grit,

ingenuity and creativity, she developed historical tours, youth education
programs and scholarly retreats that embody the legacy of John Mercer
Langston. Dr. Cousins was a Charter Chapter member of Increase Carpenter
Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, Queens,
NY, was a past Chapter Regent of Increase Carpenter Chapter, and was the
Northeastern Division Vice Chair for the Historic Preservation Committee.

Disciplined and prayerful, Olivia’s playful side loved the arts; she
was an artistic photographer with a passion for photojournalism, producing
photo essays documenting her family, the people and flowers of her
neighborhood in Brooklyn, her travels to Ghana, New York City’s
#BringBackOurGirls protests, historical tombstones and Underground
Railroad sites. Olivia enjoyed Broadway plays, roaming around the Fulton Art
Fair and being an avid collector of art.

Olivia loved living; she leaves to cherish her memory her beloved
daughter Aisha and her siblings Collette, Michelle (Mark Wherry) and Oliver
Cousins, Jr., and is preceded in death by her sister Sandy Cousins Young
(2004). Olivia’s nieces and nephews include Nicole Nooks, John (Shawna),
Arden Blackwell, Aana Leech (Jeremy), Jessica Wherry and Christopher
Cousins, as well as a great-niece, Nova Leech, and a host of wonderfully
caring friends too numerous to name, along with colleagues, students and

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church family members.

* John Mercer Langston was an African American abolitionist, attorney,
educator, activist, diplomat and politician in the United States. He was the
first dean of the law school at Howard University and helped create the
department.