Melva's birth heralded the spring in the American South. Melva was the firstborn to proud parents Minnie and William.
Melva’s beauty, charisma, and intelligence dazzled from infancy as she won the Blue Ribbon in the county fair's baby competition (Colored Division).
Melva lived in the house that their “Daddy” built with his own hands. She and her siblings, Myrtle and William, grew up among a large extended family and spent their summers at Grandmother Lizzie’s farm.
Melva and her extended family took part in the Great Migration of Black families from the South to Northern and Western cities.
Melva’s family arrived at the 8th Street Settlement House in Los Angeles, California. Melva was grateful to still live close to Gladys, her first cousin, best friend, and constant companion. The pace of Los Angeles urban life was overwhelming to a young Melva. She sought refuge at the public library, where she experienced tranquility and the intellectual stimulation of books.
At school, Melva was an academic star. She also enjoyed musical endeavors, singing opera competitively at the Los Angeles Music Conservatory, and playing the piano for the Greater Cornerstone Baptist Church.
At 16 years old, Melva graduated from the storied Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles. Melva met Rudell, who would become her best friend, at Jefferson, and together, they started UCLA. Restrictive covenant laws prohibited Black people from living in Westwood (the area around UCLA), so Melva lived with Rudell and other women of color in the Stevens House. The Stevens House was experimental housing in Santa Monica to see if students from different ethnic groups could live together. Eventually, her father bought her a car so that she could commute to campus from her home in South Central Los Angeles.
At UCLA, Melva joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and met many lifetime friends. Melva also befriended the curly-haired boy in psychology class, Joseph. They became study partners and enjoyed long philosophical discussions.
Melva graduated from UCLA at the age of 20. She continued her education by enrolling in the Masters of Social Work (MSW) program at the University of Southern California (USC). Melva achieved the highest score in the history of USC’s School of Social Work on the statistics portion of the entrance examination.
After graduation from USC, Melva and Joe married. Melva continued her education after marriage and was “all but dissertation” (ABD) in the Ph.D. program at USC’s School of Social Work. Melva and Joe were married for over 60 years until Joe’s death. They had three daughters: Sheri, Toni, and Colette.
Melva’s professional career was as varied as it was phenomenal. She was a pillar in her community, and her community was expansive.
Melva spent her career as a licensed clinical social worker dedicated to helping people better their lives through improved mental health, family relationships, and education. Melva created, developed, or consulted with many community programs to provide mental health care in Pasadena and Los Angeles. Melva’s passion was to improve the lives of people she touched, and she served her passion well.
She co-founded the Foothill (Mental Health) Free Clinic and actively created programs for the Jackie Robinson Center, the Institute for the Study of Black Parenting, Project DAY, the Positive Parenting Workshop, the Cambodian refugee center, and the YWCA social work internship program, among others.
As a professor of social work, sociology, and child development at Cal State LA, Cal Poly Pomona, Pepperdine, CSU Northridge, and Pacific Oaks College, she was a mentor and supervisor to many social workers seeking their licenses. Many of these relationships developed into life-long friendships. Melva retired from her career as a social worker in her early 80s. Her last position was with Family Actualization, the company she founded in 1978, through which Melva provided family and individual psychotherapy.
Larger than life and full of energy, Melva lived without limits. Melva was a courageous and intelligent woman who lived life on her own terms. She brought joy with her everywhere she went. And Melva went everywhere, traveling the world throughout her life with her consistent traveling partners: Miriam and Emily. Together with Miriam, Emily, and other friends and family, Melva visited every continent on earth, including Antarctica, where she swam in the Antarctic Ocean.
An avid art collector, Melva always brought pieces from her worldwide travels. She also collected art from local African American artists. As a patron of the arts, Melva was on the board of the Pasadena Symphony and frequented the Pasadena Playhouse, the LA Opera, and other area theaters.
Melva was an excellent cook. Food was her love language. With a welcoming smile and warm embrace, all visitors to Melva’s home were offered abundant food and drink. Like her mother before her, she improvised rather than follow a recipe. She enjoyed making dishes from cuisines from around the world, and she could recreate a dish from taste.
If you were family, a friend, or someone in need, you had a place to stay at Melva’s home.
Melva threw legendary parties, which often didn't end until the following day. Melva’s house was so filled with love and acceptance that she frequently hosted weddings and other celebrations in her home. Hosting and attending parties brought her joy throughout her lifetime. The last party she hosted was for her friend, Bob, 11 days before she passed away.
Melva’s garden was wild and eclectic. She especially loved flowers. When she took walks in the neighborhood, she would return home with many flower clippings, which she would frequently root, and pot for her garden. In later years, she became known for the signature flower in her hair.
Melva was a force of nature. Her charm and magnetic presence lit up the room. For Melva, there were no strangers, only friends she had not yet met and would soon get to know. She was a citizen of the world who loved humanity and delighted in beauty. Life, to Melva, was meant to be experienced, and she never missed an opportunity for a new adventure.
When friends or family members passed away, Melva declared that they were now dancing with the Gods. In September 2020, Melva went on her morning walk in the neighborhood. That afternoon, she swam in Toni’s pool. The next day, in the early morning hours, suddenly and without warning, it was Melva’s turn to leave her physical constraints behind and dance with the Gods.
She was welcomed to the spiritual realm by her husband, parents, siblings, cousins, and many dear friends. Melva started her new adventure.
Melva’s ascendance left a hole in the heart of many who were left behind and have now experienced a dimming of the world without the light of her presence. Daughters: Sheri (Gary), Toni (Adam), Colette (Eric). Three grandchildren. Nephews: Derek, Kirk, and Myron. Included among the mourners are many cousins and very dear friends.