Adelphi University Seven Sisters President's Award for Philanthropic Leadership

In the late '60s and early '70s, seven African American women became best friends at Adelphi University, at a time when its students were predominantly white. In an often challenging cultural and social environment, these young, aspiring women forged sisterly bonds with one another that transformed their experience and their lives. After the Adelphi University Seven Sisters graduated, they reunited regularly to celebrate their life-changing time together.

The late Diane (Hunter) Hazel ’69 had explained the necessity of their friendship and the legacy of their bond: “We needed each other for survival, support and management of issues surrounding civil rights, and with teachers, grades, boyfriends and parents. This bond enabled us to be successful, unique and talented women.”

Since their days on the Garden City campus, the Seven Sisters—Hazel, Renaye (Brown) Cuyler '70, Lavida (Robinson) Allen ’72, Charlotte (Matthews) Harris '69, Jacquelyn Lendsey '71, Joyce (Barnett) Montague '69 and Lorene Wilkerson '69 (formerly Lawrene Street)—did indeed go on to become successful, unique and talented women.

Lavida Allen, from Washington, D.C., graduated from Adelphi in 1972 with her B.S. in Biology. Her high achievement as an undergraduate and her desire to pursue a career in public health administration provided her with a full academic fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. However, poorly funded public health programs at the time yielded almost no job opportunities in her chosen field, so Allen spent 16 years in computer marketing for IBM and became the first African American marketing manager in the Philadelphia offices of the company's large systems division. For more than 20 years, Allen also operated a successful boutique for luxury and custom bed, bath and table linens, and home accessories, and she has been a certified gemologist in retail for more than 10 years.

Adelphi University Seven Sisters Renaye Cuyler graduated from Adelphi University in 1970 and received a U.S. Department of Education fellowship to pursue her master’s degree in speech and hearing at The George Washington University. Following graduation, Cuyler began working as a speech therapist in the Harlem Hospital rehabilitation department, but, after a year, she returned to Adelphi as an administrator and teacher in the African American Studies Department—a department that she and her sisters had pressed to have established at Adelphi in the '60s. In 1975 Cuyler began studying law at Fordham University School of Law on a full scholarship and had a nearly 40-year career as an attorney. She established her own law firm in 1986 and grew it to 20 attorneys. In 2004 Cuyler attended mortuary school, earned an associate degree and, in 2006, opened a funeral firm in Brooklyn with a business partner.

Washington, D.C., native Charlotte Harris graduated from Adelphi in 1969 with a B.A. in English Education. She began her teaching career in Maryland, ran a dance school, and served as vice president/treasurer, instructor and performer with the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. Harris later became executive director of the Central State University Foundation at Central State University in Ohio and went on to earn her Master of Humanities at Wright State University and her Ed.D. at the University of Cincinnati. In academia, Harris spent five years as assistant and associate professor and chair of the Department of Foundations of Education and Secondary Education at Georgia College & State University, and 15 years as assistant and associate professor, department chair, associate dean, and dean in the College of Education and Human Services at Wright State University. Now retired, Dr. Harris has returned to dance and community theater.

Diane Hazel, who predeceased her sisters in 2015, traveled all over the world following her graduation from Adelphi in 1969. Working for United Airlines in its reservations department, she and her family trekked extensively to places such as the Great Wall of China, the black sand beaches of Hawaii, the holy places of Israel, and the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When Hazel retired from United Airlines, she played a key role in the administrative management of her church.

Adelphi University Seven Sisters Jacquelyn Lendsey earned her B.S. in Elementary Education at Adelphi in 1971 and then her Master of Education at Howard University’s School of Education through a fellowship. Her early career included teaching children and training future teachers and six years as supervisor of public affairs and communications for the Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland, and as special assistant to the superintendent there. With her heart in nonprofit throughout her career, Lendsey has held leadership positions in a number of national organizations, including vice president of corporate and community development for a large healthcare system; national vice president for public affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America; executive director of Women in Community; and, currently, executive director of the Student National Medical Association, a 7,000-member national association for African American premedical and medical students.

Joyce Montague, also from Washington D.C., earned her B.S. in Nursing at Adelphi in 1969 and began her career in the city hospital in Washington, D.C., as a staff nurse. Three years later, she became the youngest head nurse ever hired at the hospital. Two years after that, she completed a nurse practitioner program, followed by her master’s degree in business and public administration. After making a transition into nonclinical managerial positions in healthcare, Montague spent the majority of her career in senior management positions with Kaiser Permanente. She retired in 2007.

Lorene Wilkerson, a 1969 graduate, majored in psychology during her time at Adelphi. She began her career in a New Jersey state department as a field representative in mental health but soon transferred to the state child welfare agency, where she remained for 35 years, holding positions in adoption, policy development and labor relations. Although social work had not been on her radar, Wilkerson found a rewarding career in this work. She retired in 2006, but remains active in child welfare advocacy on a voluntary basis as chair of the New Jersey Child Placement Advisory Council, where she interfaces with child advocacy organizations in the state, lawyers, judges and the legislature.

Since the Adelphi University Seven Sisters' lives were unquestionably transformed by their time at Adelphi, in 2012 they chose to establish, in perpetuity, the Adelphi University Seven Sisters’ Endowed Scholarship to help support and inspire the life journeys of other African American women students. They say the scholarship is also a way for their special bond to live beyond them—as a tribute to, and a legacy of, their friendship.