Shirley Higgenbotham Jones, 90, passed away peacefully in her sleep on September 28, 2019, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Juanita Shirley Mariea Higgenbotham Jones was born November 1, 1928 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Shirley spent the majority of her early childhood with her grandmother, Alice Newman, since her mother, Beatrice Higgenbotham, taught in rural areas and was home only on weekends. Shirley’s mother was a home economics teacher, who successfully organized rural communities composed primarily of sharecroppers, to improve schoolhouse conditions.
Because Shirley’s mother wanted her to have access to a better school environment, Shirley, her mother, and grandmother moved to the Watts area in Los Angeles when she was a young girl. In 1953, she graduated from Los Angeles State College with a B.A. in Education. She went on to do graduate study in speech therapy at the University of Southern California. Shirley obtained a Doctorate in Psychology, was a licensed marriage and family therapist, and had a Certification in Psychodrama.
Additionally, Shirley participated in local “Negro Theatre” groups, was featured in films, and created and starred in her own local television program called “Miss Jones’s Playschool.” Her dream was to become an actress and a doctor, and she achieved both.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Shirley began what would be a long committed career focused on children, child development, and families as a teacher with the Los Angeles City Unified School District. She taught third grade students in the Watts-Compton area for over two decades before becoming a pioneer and a visionary in the Head Start movement.
When the Head Start program began in 1965, Shirley was appointed to set up the first ten sites in Los Angeles. By 1968, increasingly aware of the special needs of their community, Shirley, and her husband James L. Jones, a psychiatrist, founded the Kedren Community Mental Health Center in the Watts-Compton area of Los Angeles. The center was named after their daughter Kedren. Today, Kedren Community Center has grown exponentially. It provides a full range of psychological services, including group and individual therapy for children and adults, and programs in community psychology. Shirley also took in and raised many foster children. Their lives and hers were forever bettered by the time they spent together.
Shirley practiced Buddhism side by side with her daughters: Shawn, Kedren, and Marne. She will continue to be adored by them, and beloved by her sons-in-law, Vaughn Clarke, Peter Werner, and Kurt Boulware. –Shirley reveled in the fact that she, ”…had all girls and they had all boys …” Her wisdom, fierceness, compassion, joy, strength, love of the arts (especially music), are an inspiration to and have enriched the lives of her grandchildren: Austin and Jordan Clarke, James Werner, and Jason Boulware, her step-grandchildren, their friends and her own. She loved them all so much and always wanted them to get the best she had to offer. She succeeded.
The details of her remembrance celebration will be announced in the coming months. In the interim, in lieu of flowers, please donate to your local Head Start program or to the Alzheimer’s Association in her honor.