Home World Willie Mims remembered as a tireless East Contra Costa advocate

Willie Mims remembered as a tireless East Contra Costa advocate


PITTSBURG — He’s been called everything from justice warrior to tireless advocate, inspiring mentor and civil rights champion. When Willie Mims, dressed in his colorful African kufi hat and dashiki top, walked through the door with his carved traditional walking stick, heads turned and everyone knew he was going to have something to say.

An ally to those whose voices often went unheard, Mims never wanted to step off the political battlefield, fighting for causes he believed in up until the end. A legend in the East Contra Costa County community and beyond, the longtime Pittbsurg resident lost his battle with cancer on May 22. He was 79.

“Willie was important to all aspects of the community,” Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover said. “Willie will be remembered for the fact that he always showed up. He would bring folks together and make sure policymakers were aware of the issues.”

A lifelong educator and longtime East County NAACP education chair, Mims advocated for students and families from throughout the NAACP district, including Solano County, where he had worked as an English teacher. That meant going to bat for students and bringing to light larger discrimination issues, as when he helped broker a groundbreaking agreement with the Antioch Unified School District and the local NAACP to address the unequal rate of suspensions and expulsions of Black students and students with disabilities in 2015.

In 2013, he began working with Antioch schools on the African-American Male Achievement Initiative, seeking to end disparities in achievement between Black students and their peers.

“He was for standing up for people, and one of the things that he really stood for is justice within the educational system,” Glover said.

NAACP President Odessa Lefrancois said Mims was “well-respected,” willing to research and follow up on any subject he thought was important and ultimately, “he always had a solution.”

“We have lost a great civil rights warrior and a friend who always strived for justice and equality for everyone,” said Lefrancois, a friend for more than 25 years. “It didn’t matter who you were.”

Marcus Mims said his father’s passion was to help people, and he thought he could do so through politics “by trying to put the right people in the right places.”

He added that his father was a good male role model who helped thousands of schoolchildren and families over the years, advocating for them and sitting in on educational plan meetings, all on his own time.

“They (parents) would call my father for help and he would always answer the call,” he said. “He was still selling dinners and making contributions for fundraisers (until just before he died).”

Marcus Mims said his father taught him “to be a good person” and was a devoted husband to wife Darlene. An avid reader – especially about African history – Mims always gave his children brain teasers to solve when they were young.

“His whole thing was he wanted to make people think,” he said.

“His quote was ‘They want us to forget,’” Mims’ daughter Dana Mims said of her father. “And that’s why he always fought so hard.”

Though education was his passion, Mims also took on city councils, the county Board of Supervisors and others – wherever he thought he could make a difference.

“He was a fighter,” said former Pittsburg City Councilwoman Merl Craft. “He was all over East County, but his biggest impact was here in Pittsburg.”

City Councilwoman Pittsburg Shanelle Scales-Preston said she was like “an adopted daughter” to Mims, having grown up in the neighborhood where he lived. She recalled Mims being a major voice opposing the WesPac crude oil project coming to Pittsburg in 2015 because “he didn’t feel it was safe.”

“This is our own living legend right here,” she said of the Black civil rights leader. “He’s the one standing up for injustice, making sure that he’s fighting for the liberties of all people.”

In 2020, the then-75-year-old Mims participated in all six of the Black Lives Matter marches in Pittsburg, including walking the five miles from Antioch City Hall to Pittsburg City Hall, refusing to accept a ride despite the heat, Scales-Preston said.

A native of McCaul, La., Mims grew up in West Pittsburg, graduating from Pacifica High School in 1963. He entered the political arena when he was just 17, passing out flyers supporting the Rumford Fair Housing Act to combat racial discrimination in housing in California.

After graduating from Diablo Valley College and San Francisco State, he obtained his teaching credential and later his master’s in English and creative writing. But he was unable to find a full-time job as a teacher, so instead worked as a substitute teacher while moonlighting in food service at the VA Hospital to support his family, Dana Mims said. In time, he was hired by the Vallejo City Unified School District ,where he would remain until he retired in 2009.

Mims helped found Pittsburg’s Black Political Association and the East Contra Costa County Branch of the NAACP, was a former mentor of the Safe In My Brother’s Arms program and a former East County Boys and Girls Club board member.

He was honored with the Dr. Martin Luther King Freedom Fighter Award in 2008 for his efforts to promote racial justice and equity, was given the key to the city in Antioch in February and was named the Contra Costa Humanitarian of the Year in January, among other honors.

Mims also worked as a volunteer for the Greater Faith Food Pantry, was a former representative on the Contra Costa Community College’s Hiring Policy Review Committee, a member of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District’s Equity & Disproportionality Committee and of the Vallejo Unified School District’s LCAP & LCFF committees.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 52 years, Darlene Lea-Mims; his parents, Edward and Lillie Mims; sisters Wilma Douglas and Isabel Medford, and his brothers Melvin Mims, Mack Mims and Walter Mims. He leaves behind his two children, Dana and Marcus (Cassandra) Mims; sisters Hilda Murdoch of Pittsburg, Nancy Mims-Burt of Pittsburg, Ruth Mims-Jemerson of Oakland and Melodye Montgomery of Alameda, brother-in-law Larry Harold, six grandchildren and numerous other family members.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Delta Bay Community Church, 1020 E. Tregallas Road in Antioch. To watch online, visit zoom link ID: 740 600 9196, Password: 2024. Donations in his memory to the Willie J. Mims Education Scholarship for East County Youth are accepted at www.obituare.com/willie-james-mims-obituary-133141/.

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