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Cardrienne Perrin Griffin, educator and activist, dies at 84

Cardrienne Perrin Griffin, a longtime educator and civil rights activist who co-founded the service-driven organization Women Behind the Community, died of a stroke at age 84 at Seasons Hospice Inpatient Center in Baltimore on April 15.

The Fairmount resident was born on Sept. 18, 1933, in Atlanta, where she lived next door to Martin Luther King Sr., the father of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., and his family, according to her daughter Jewel Griffin Linzey.

Ms. Linzey, 51, of Columbia, said her mother often talked about growing up in a segregated community, where African-Americans were not treated equally. It would only later fuel her passion for education and equality, she said.

Mrs. Griffin spent some of her childhood years in Raleigh, N.C., before attending Virginia State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education in 1954. Mrs. Griffin began her teaching career in Charlotte, N.C. and spent her final 17 years as a teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools.

In 1958, Mrs. Griffin married James M. “Jim” Griffin, who was a physical therapist. Together, they had four children, whom they raised in the Fairmount neighborhood, and became active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, engaging in protests with civil rights organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE.

“They both had a passion for education and equality, and making sure that there was equal treatment for black people in health and education,” said Ms. Linzey, who described her mother as “the epitome of a strong, black woman who was dedicated to serving God, her family and her community.”

When they saw that there were needs in the African-American community that were not being met, Mrs. Griffith and her husband launched Women Behind the Community, or WOBECO, in 1968 — a service-driven organization that would go on to host signature programs, including book drives, voter registration drives and forums, scholarship funds, and several education initiatives, according to its current president, Rhonda Nelson-Boglin.

Ms. Griffin served in every existing office position in the organization during the past five decades, including four-term president, and most recently as historian and treasurer, Ms. Nelson-Boglin said. Up until this year, Ms. Linzey said, her mother faithfully volunteered on Tuesdays in the organization’s “Dressing Room,” a clothing resource and boutique for women entering or re-entering the workforce, which is operated through donations in the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. She also served the elderly on Wednesdays at the Ivy Family Support Center.

“Her personality was full of wit and humor. She’d always have something uplifting to say to everyone to make you feel good,” said Ms. Nelson-Boglin. “We loved her presence in everything that we did, and trust me, she made sure she was a part of everything. Anytime we had an event set up at a college or any other forum, she was there to support it. … She’s just a joyful, spirited person.

“I’m going to miss her so much. We promise to keep her legacy going with excellence.”

Mrs. Griffin was also a member of the NAACP, and a proud member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., from which she received several awards for her dedication. She also served on several boards, including the Coppin State College Foundation Board, Maryland 4 C’s Advisory Board, the Epsilon Omega Foundation Board of Directors, the Maryland Committee for Children, and Modern Grannies. Mrs. Griffin also served as a secretary for the Fairmount Neighborhood Association and as a secretary and college tour coordinator for the Inter-Alumni Council of Black Colleges and Universities from 1983 to 1993. Mrs. Griffin was also a member of Bethel AME Church. Upon retirement, she worked with her husband as an administrator in his physical therapy office, Griffin Associates P.A.

And beyond her dedication to the community, Ms. Linzey said, her mother, who earned the nickname “Big Mama” among her children and grandchildren, was always family-oriented.

“She attended all of her children’s and grandchildren’s activities. Basketball events, dance recitals, you name it. She was always there,” said Ms. Linzey, adding that her parents, together, often took her and her siblings to different events that had an emphasis on education and equality.

“She always enjoyed helping other people, and everywhere she went, she would meet somebody new and make them laugh. … She will truly be missed,” Ms. Linzey said.

Besides Ms. Linzey, Mrs. Griffin is survived by her husband; another daughter, Cheryl Griffin-Threatt, of Richmond, Va.; a son, Malcolm Griffin, of Baltimore; eight grandchildren; and a host of nieces and nephews. Her middle daughter, Debra Lynne Shannon, preceded her in death.

A special ceremony will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Bethel AME Church, 1300 Druid Hill Ave., followed by a wake at 11:30 a.m. and a funeral at noon. A repass will immediately follow the service at the Ivy Support Center, 3515 Dolfield Ave.

bbritto@baltsun.com

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