Honoring Achebe Powell
On February 21, the world lost an incredible leader, and an even more remarkable human. Achebe Betty Powell dedicated her entire life to the pursuit of justice, building God’s reign on Earth. Among other incredible accomplishments, she was a founding member of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice [link] and co-chair of the National LBGTQ Task force in the 1970s. Fervently committed to intersectionality before the term was coined, she served on the New York State Human Rights Commission, coordinated Black and Jewish dialogue groups, and trained thousands of trainers to organize coalitions across race, class, sexual orientation, ability, religion and gender. A lifelong teacher and fervent believer in the value of public education, she served on the Board of Directors of the Equity Institute and on the Multicultural Advisory Committee to the New York City Board of Education.
Particularly dear to our own hearts, she was a beloved and active member of our Middle Church community, where she offered wisdom and guidance to younger members, a clarion voice for justice, and a fount of ebullient joy. She was so excited to speak at our conference in April, and we are heartbroken that she will not be with us. To honor her legacy, we are dedicating this year’s Freedom Rising Conference in her honor and donating 10% of the ticket sales to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. We will incorporate footage of Achebe speaking into the conference, so we can continue to learn from her wisdom, even as we mourn her tragic and untimely loss.
We invite you to join us in NYC April 28 – 30 at this historic gathering, building the kind of broad, intersectional coalition for collective liberation that Achebe spent her life organizing.
About Achebe Betty Powell:
Achebe Betty Powell was born Betty Jean Kelly on June 14, 1940 and was raised in Florida and Germany. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from The College of St. Catherine in Minnesota, and earned a Master of Arts degree in French Language and Literature from Fordham University in New York. She resided in Manhattan and Brooklyn for 60 years. She completed graduate and doctoral work in linguistics and urban education, as well as coursework in human and organizational development and building diverse institutions. Achebe was an activist since high school, where she joined the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Achebe took leadership in many liberation struggles and movement organizations for justice and freedom, including the Gay Academic Union, the National Black Feminist Organization, and the National LGBTQ Task Force, where she was co-chair of the Board in the 1970s. She was a founding member of Salsa Soul Sisters and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice (1977), where she remained a constant presence and influence throughout her life.
Achebe was a French language professor in New York City schools, a Professor of Linguistics at Brooklyn College, and an administrator at Kitchen Table Press before she went on to focus on diversity, inclusion and antiracism training which took her around the globe in the struggle for human rights and liberation. She was a highly sought after speaker for panels, lectures, interviews, and political events from her early activism onward. She spoke on behalf of the lesbian caucus’ successful bid for inclusion in the Platform for Action at the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston – the United States government’s event for the United Nations International Women’s Year. Achebe is featured in many interviews, including the Smith College, “Voices of Feminism Oral History Project,” and in documentaries, such as the pathbreaking LGBTQIA+ film, The Word Is Out.
Achebe also worked with international feminist groups such as the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and the Solidarity Network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, becoming a pioneer in connecting United States work on intersectionality, inclusion, and diversity to transnational conversations on gender, race, class, and culture.
In addition, she served on the New York State Human Rights Commission, coordinated a New York City Black and Jewish Women’s dialogue group, and served on the Multicultural Advisory Committee to the New York City Board of Education. In the early 1990s, Achebe served on the Board of Directors of the Equity Institute, where she assisted in many of their programs using an inclusive diversity model and helping develop a cutting-edge cross-class program addressing classism.
As an out Black feminist lesbian from the early 1970s to her untimely death in 2023, Achebe Betty Powell’s life work has had a major influence and impact on multiple communities and on untold numbers of people, young and elder, across races, genders and religions. This brief biography only scratches the surface of who Achebe was and what she has given us. Her legacy lives on.
Achebe is survived by her partner, Linda Fraser of New York, NY; a niece, Lisa Foster-Bryant (Abdul-Raheem) of Lawerenceville, Georgia; two nephews, David Leon Foster (Meredith) of Chicago, Illinois and Dana Simon Foster (Katie) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; two great nephews, Abdul-Raheem Bryant Jr. and Shane Simon Foster; a great niece Kira Elizabeth Bryant; a host of close friends and the many people whose lives she touched.
Click the links below to learn more about Achebe’s remarkable life:
Voices of Feminism Oral History Project, Smith College
Pioneering Black Lesbian Activist Achebe Betty Powell Has Died at 82, Them
Longtime Lesbian Activist Achebe Betty Powell Dies at 82, Advocate