Debra Jenkins, 2009 Woman of Achievement
The love of children, family and education were established early in Debra Jenkins’ life. Today, friends describe her as a “wife, mother, friend, professor, consultant, researcher, writer, psychological development specialist and advocate for disenfranchised members of society.”
Debra’s parents, Ruby and Hosea Stewart, opened their home to children in the foster care system. Debra was one of the children they adopted.
“That was the heart of my mother,” said Debra. “She always instilled in us the love of children and the love of family.”
Her father was an “awesome nurturer, very much a playful dad, but also a social change dad.” When she was a girl, Debra wanted to play baseball but the league didn’t allow it.
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Her dad “made my brother play so that I could have a uniform and warm up with the team. Then he advocated for girls to be able to play.”
Born in Portland, Debra attended James Monroe High School - a predominantly all-girls high school. It was the time of “women’s liberation” so, when Debra announced that she wanted to be a teacher, she was encouraged to become an attorney and to pursue a career in politics instead. She started to pursue a career in law by participating in Portland’s “Youth in the Law” program. Through this program, she worked in the office of Oregon Congressman Robert B. Duncan and with the staff of Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt. But Debra realized that law “wasn’t where my heart was. My heart was in teaching.”
Debra earned an associate of science degree in early childhood education at Clark College and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in human development at Pacific Oaks College in California. While taking classes, Debra realized that the colleges “were drawn to me and wanted me to teach for them.” She also knew that her work would involve children.
Debra has taught at Pacific Oaks College and North Portland Bible College. Today, she is a professor of early childhood education and psychology at Clark College, where she has served as chair of the Early Childhood Education department, a member of the Cultural Pluralism Committee and the Early Childhood Education Advisory Board. She is a member of the WSU Vancouver Diversity Advisory Board, Delta Sigma Theta and the board of directors of I Have a Dream Foundation – Oregon. She has also served as a children’s pastor and foster care program manager.
One of her nominators wrote that Debra “believes in embracing the ability to communicate across communities. She makes an effort to not only be understood by others but to understand.”
Debra says, “The bulk of what I do has to do with social justice. What really inspires me is being able to see that ‘aha’ moment in people who may not have understood systemic injustice and suddenly do.”
Married for 26 years, Debra and her husband Christopher have four children. Their daughters, Christal and Christina, and sons, Christopher and Christian, have pursued careers as diverse as technical engineering, sales management, acting, and fashion merchandising and design.
A nominator noted that Debra Jenkins does not “desire to make a name for herself or to seek out public recognition.” Debra believes that being named a Woman of Achievement “is an opportunity for me to deposit what has been gifted to me into the lives of others.” She adds, “My grandmother told me that no one has the right to die and take with them the gifts that they are supposed to leave on this earth to others. Know what you’re here for and don’t die without giving it.”