Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Trailblazers Honored at Pepperdine Urban Initiative 2.0 Community Dinner
By By Dr. Renee Dorn, GSEP Director of Alumni Relations
Published February 20, 2020


Helen Williams, Avery Ruth Shaw, Jim Gash, Farzin Madjidi. (Courtesy Photo)

The Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP) held an Urban Initiative 2.0 Community Dinner in Marina Del Rey recognizing Trailblazer Alumni Honorees who have worked tirelessly within their communities for the last 30-40 years. This event was the brainchild of Dean Helen Easterling Williams, the first African-American Dean at Pepperdine University, who wanted to acknowledge where Pepperdine started on 79th and Vermont in Los Angeles and to remind everyone that “We are still here in the Los Angeles community, and we have never left.”

The President of Pepperdine University Jim Gash, his wife First Lady Joline Gash, the University Chancellor Sara Young Jackson, and President of the GSEP Board of Visitors Dr. Betty Uribe were in attendance to congratulate the honorees. Supervisor Janice Hahn, who has a family history associated with Pepperdine, presented Dean Helen Williams and GSEP with a commendation of congratulations for the celebration from the County of Los Angeles. Supervisor Hahn’s father, the former Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and her brother, the former Mayor of Los Angeles James Hahn, are both graduates of Pepperdine University.

The keynote address came from noted professor, author, philosopher, and activist Dr. Cornel West, who has been a visiting professor at Pepperdine GSEP for the last three years. He spoke about the great work Pepperdine is doing in the community and challenged the community partners, activists, educators, and business representatives to join together with Pepperdine to help uplift and transform our community.

Dr. Cornel West (Courtesy Photo)

The Trailblazer Alumni Honorees who were recognized graduated from the original Pepperdine campus on 79th and Vermont in Los Angeles with Master’s degrees in either Education or Psychology. The honorees were:


Mrs. Dessie Kelly – (MS ’74 – School Business Administration) – Mrs. Kelly worked in education for 34 years: five years as a 5th grade teacher in San Angelo, Texas, and 29 years in the Compton Unified School District as a teacher, counselor, head counselor, Director of Pupil Services, and Assistant Principal. She has received numerous awards from organizations, the City of Inglewood, and the City of Los Angeles for her work in the community.

Dr. Anthony Francisco – (BA ’71, MA ’73 – Clinical Psychology) – Dr. Francisco is a Clinical/Neuro Psychologist and has been working in this field for over four decades. He started as an assistant to a scientist and a Nobel Laureate, and since then, he has been appointed to Clinical Director at the United Nations, Clinical Assistant Professor of the School of Medicine at UC Irvine, and Clinical Director/Director of Psychiatric Services/Director of Neuroscientist Services at several medical clinics throughout Southern California helping many communities.

Dr. Avery Shaw-Hall – (MA ’74 – Education; EdD ’96 – Institutional Management) – Dr. Shaw- Hall has over three decades of experience in education, and she is the recipient of many academic and climate award recognitions working in elementary, middle, and high schools as a teacher, counselor, Assistant Principal, and Principal, as well as being acknowledged for her extensive work as a community college professor. Dr. Shaw-Hall is also a Pepperdine legacy with her father, Dr. Ernest Shaw and brother, Mr. Ernest Shaw, Jr. both graduates of Pepperdine University.

Mrs. Merelean Wilson – (MPA ‘76 – Public Administration; MS ’81 – School Management and Administration) – Mrs. Wilson worked in education for 38 years: 20 years teaching in the Compton Unified School District, and 18 years teaching at LAUSD’s Markham Middle School in Watts. She is also a former teacher for the late Nipsey Hussle. Mrs. Wilson has received many awards and honors from numerous community organizations, as well as the City of Los Angeles and the State of California, and she continues to lead and nurture children through the NAACP Youth Group.

The purpose of the event was to launch the revitalization of the Pepperdine University GSEP Urban Initiative, which began at the graduate school in 2008. GSEP is dedicated to serving the urban community and working collaboratively with community partners to serve and address educational and mental health needs in urban settings with transformative and innovative solutions. According to Dr. Anthony Collatos, Associate Professor of Education, Director of the Urban Parent Teacher Education Collaborative, and the Pat Lucas Center for Teacher Development, “It is not only about having a presence in our academic community. It is about making a difference in our actual community, outside of the walls of the classroom. Thus, the core of the Urban Initiative is not just to serve but to actually change the conditions that cause the need to serve.”

The Urban Initiative 2.0 will address topics such as multicultural praxis; culturally relevant well being; health, education, and incarceration disparities; human trafficking; homelessness; gentrification; innovation and technology; and civic engagement. Some of the community partners that have joined this initiative are the Union Rescue Mission, Hope Garden Family Center, Community Counseling Clinics, and the Social Justice Collaborative. For more information about the Urban Initiative 2.0 go to .



Jim Gash, Helen Williams, Janice Hahn, Sara Jackson (Courtesy Photo)


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