Education and community icon Dr. Margaret Hill left an indelible mark on the community and hearts of many with her love, compassion, and strength, especially when it came to her devotion to children and young adults for whom she fiercely advocated, empowered, and mentored over the past 50 years she spent in education.
Over a dozen individuals gathered virtually Saturday morning to share personal stories and memories of Dr. Hill, known fondly as “Community Mother,” during Coffee and Community Conversation, a casual monthly meeting created by Dr. Hill, who served on the San Bernardino City Unified School District (SBCUSD) Board of Education for 10 years, and SBCUSD Board member Gwen Dowdy-Rodgers.
“This is different for me today because I have never done Coffee and Community alone; the wonderful, irreplaceable Dr. Hill was always here,” Rodgers noted. “(Coffee and Community Conversation) was a vision to come to open up to the community to be able to have conversations with us as board members. We’re not here to talk, we’re here to listen.”
According to Rodgers, the sessions were created purposefully to hear from the community and to support the community by hosting them at local restaurants.
“People can come out on Saturday mornings… to support a local restaurant, to talk amongst themselves, and to have access to us as board members,” indicated Rodgers. “The commitment was never to be where we were unapproachable, and you know with Dr. Hill that would never be the case. She was always approachable, always willing to speak to the community and be there for the community, and what we would ultimately do is we would take all of that information back to our school district to make our school district better.”
A neighboring school district with a similar format for gathering community input is Moreno Valley Unified, of which Jesús Holguín serves as a board member.
“Dr. Hill is not only going to be missed in the San Bernardino County area, but she will be missed in the entire region, and I believe the entire state because she left her stamp everywhere she went,” reflected Holguín, Dr. Hill’s close friend. “She was always sweet, ready to give encouraging, praising, and positive words all the time, when you were with her you felt like this is a new day, something good is happening right here right now. People in Riverside County are devastated and we share in this pain.”
One of many people who looked to Dr. Hill as a mentor, Rita Clemons, Area County Director UC Agriculture & Natural Resources, reflected on the passion Dr. Hill had for her community.
“She definitely planted seeds everywhere and she really empowered a lot of individuals to be in the community, so I thank her for that, I will always remember that and I’ll make her proud as she asked of me.”
Jonathan Buffong, also encouraged and mentored by Dr. Hill, shared one of his most treasured memories was when his mother was sick with cancer Dr. Hill paid a visit to his parents’ house to sing and talk with her.
“She is such a multi-generational person, but it’s the consistency that I think we all are imagining because she has never, never not picked up the phone when we’d call,” Buffong recalled. “She’s like your grandma and your mom connected; she had that grandma feeling. My sons, they didn’t know their (biological) grandma, but they thought Ms. Hill was their grandma… the way that she treated them and loved them, she filled that void.”
A resounding sentiment during the conversation was Dr. Hill’s knack for making people feel exceptional.
“Dr. Hill made everybody feel like they were the one, they were the most special; I always felt like I was number one with her, and then you’d see all of the people that she touched and you go ‘oh my gosh, how does she do that?’” mused Larry Shackelford, to whom Dr. Hill offered support and advice. “The one thing she always told me was always make it about the kids… the kids are what’s most important.”
His takeaway from his relationship with Dr. Hill – you can always do more, “Because she did it, all the way up until the last day.”
Dr. Hill penned two books, It’s All About the Children and From Sharecropping to Non-Stopping: Reflections On Life From a Veteran Educator. It is a quote from the latter, “Mostly I just wish people would think more about others,” that resonates with San Bernardino Community College District Chancellor Diana Rodriguez who asserted, “I’m going to take that (hope) and that’s what I’m going to be doing.”
Dr. Hill’s brother and sister-in-law, Uncle Ray and Aunt Val (Raymond and Valjean Bynum), joined the Zoom meeting from Virginia. “It’s amazing to me the number of people she has touched and how busy she was. She was always thinking about people, the only thing she wanted to do was help people,” reflected Uncle Raymond, who directed this community to “Do what you can to carry out what she set out to do.”
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California) honored Dr. Hill on the House Floor on Jan. 14, describing her as the “Heartbeat of San Bernardino,” emphasizing her devotion to the children she taught and mentored.
“Her warmth, her wisdom, and her kind spirit will be missed, but her legacy lives on in the countless lives that she touched in the classroom and in the community,” Aguilar addressed the Speaker.
San Bernardino 6th Ward Councilperson Kimberly Calvin reflected on the accuracy of Aguilar’s tribute he presented to the highest office in the country.
“That’s the legacy that Mother Hill leaves us; try to be as good as she was, and that is so hard to do but we’re supposed to strive to do that every day,” Calvin said. “She was mother to the community; it is her physical presence that will be missed because she is still with us.”
Assemblyman James Ramos (D- Highland, District 40) paid homage to Dr. Hill when the Assembly reconvened in the new year.
“Dr. Hill pushed us all to achieve our dreams, no matter the circumstances. She will forever be remembered,” Ramos stated. “The overall community as a whole has lost a great leader and a great advocate, and now we look to those in the community to lift up Margaret Hill as we adjourn in her memory and we look to our community and we know it’s a better place because she gave so much to our community and the passion for all that live in our area.”
In the spirit of carrying on Dr. Hill’s visions and legacies, Rodgers declared Coffee and Community Conversation will continue to meet monthly for parents and community members to come together to support local businesses while shaping education.
“This loss is difficult but we know she lived a life so that we can continue that legacy… watching her students grow, mentoring her students, and seeing them become, is exactly what she was put on this earth to do,” Rodgers reflected.
In conclusion, Rodgers shared a clip of the last award bestowed upon Dr. Hill – the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the San Bernardino County Gangs and Drugs Task Force – an award that will continue in her name in the years to come.
In the video, Dr. Hill humbly receives the distinctive honor and naturally pivots the recognition to those she endeavored to uplift.
“I accept this award, but not for me. I accept it for all the youth and young adults in San Bernardino County and throughout the nation who have gotten the courage to put down the gun, put down the knife, put down the drugs and pick up a pen and go to college to make a good life for yourselves.”
The community is invited to view the private Margaret Hill Memorial Service via Zoom on Friday, Jan. 21, 11 am – 12 pm; https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87444918223 webinar ID: 874 4491 8223.
A public, in-person celebration of Dr. Hill will take place on Saturday, Jan. 22 from 11 am – 1 pm at San Manuel Stadium, 280 S. E Street, San Bernardino. Please register at https://bit.ly/3sZCEQo for the free event. The community is asked to wear purple in Dr. Hill’s memory. In lieu of flowers, monetary donations to Dr. Hill’s charity are welcomed: Maggie’s Kids Foundation: https://venmo.com/u/maggie4kids.