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What's Up Magazine

Yelova S. Peters

Mar 14, 2011 03:00AM ● By Anonymous
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“I’ll only be gone for 2 years,” Peters thought. She never returned. Recently appointed director of community services by County Executive John Leopold, she is probably the only person in Leopold’s cabinet who has a street named in her honor. Yevola Peters Way, the entry road into a townhouse community built by South County Residential Projects, Inc., was made possible by community activists Carl O. Snowden and the late Bertina Nick, who lobbied for her street namesake in the early 90s. The community is the first nonprofit housing development organization in the county, a group that was formed and supported by the Community Action Agency.

The Banneker-Douglass Museum owes its existence to Peters and fellow activists with the ability to look backward as they move forward. She raised awareness of the former Mt. Moriah AME Church building’s history, leading to its designation on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Snowden, who recently departed the Arundel Building where he served as an aide to Janet Owens, Leopold’s predecessor, noted he met Peters more than 40 years ago, when she was director of youth development for the Community Action Agency. He was 16 years old. “She would later become chief executive officer with that same agency and I would serve as her chief program officer,” he recalls. The building has served for more than 21 years as a center for the state’s African American history.

According to Snowden, Peters mentored many of the county’s prominent activists. He counts among them himself, Nick, the late Leonard Blackshear, Jeffrey Henderson, and Elizamae Robinson. “Most of us worked with Yevola when she was either the executive director or chief program officer. Yevola has been on numerous boards and commissions over the years and been a recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award.”

He observes that she also befriended and supported other county activists, such as the Reverend Leroy Bowman. “Her niche is her ability to communicate with different people who hold different political perspectives,” says Snowden. “More than once she has found herself serving the role of mediator. I suspect that is her forte, i.e., the ability to bring people together.”

Peters was born in Dorchester County; both of her parents were college professors at Claflin University in South Carolina. Her mother, Katie Smith, retired as an English and literature professor; her father, Hampton Smith, was head of the chemistry department. A gifted musician, Peters initially wanted to become a concert pianist but her desire to help others has kept her busy with other things. She has gone 25 years without finding time to sit down at a grand piano.

She met her husband, Everett “Peter” Peters, at Morgan State University, where both were music majors. He was an older, smooth-talking city slicker from New York City who’d already played his bass fiddle with jazz greats Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk and done a stint in the Army. “I was just a little country girl,” she says slyly.

In the South, blacks were not allowed to attend white graduate schools, and black colleges didn’t have graduate programs in music. The state of South Carolina paid her full tuition at the University of Boston. Maryland had a similar discriminatory policy. “That was segregation at that time,” she says. The couple married August 15, 1957, the same day she graduated from her master’s program.

Though her husband found a job in Centreville, the lack of adequate daycare facilities for their first child, Everett, nearly drove her nuts. “I was climbing the walls. I was not cut out to be a housewife,” she laughs.

Finding the integrated Jack & Jill preschool program in Annapolis clinched it for the Peters family. They moved to Annapolis in 1963. They’ve lived in their current home near the Crownsville border since late 1964. Mr. Peters did a reverse commute across the Bay Bridge, teaching instrumental music in Queen Anne’s County middle schools for more than 45 years. Resident services coordinator at Woodside Gardens from 1996 to 2001, she and friend Sheryl Banks founded a consultancy in 1989. YSP Associates, LLC, researched and sought out grant opportunities for nonprofit groups.

Peters is a Eucharistic minister—a lay position—for her congregation, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. She has also helped in researching and writing grant proposals for World Vision, which she describes as “a Christian-based group that focuses on Third World countries and their community development activities.”

She is an active volunteer in the Family Life Center, a nonprofit group connected to St. Philip’s. As a member of its board she helps with grant writing to assist the group in applying for funding from the federal government’s Compassion Capital Fund. The fund encourages faith-based organizations to increase their capacity to help low-income families in the community. “The government claims it’s to supplement, not substitute, services for people in need,” she explains. The center brings families together for nutritious evening meals followed by programs for adults and activities for the children.

Peters has attempted more than once in her life to retire from full- time work so she can spend more time with her family. Her husband, now retired, suffers from emphysema and type 2 diabetes. Tethered to an oxygen tank, he recently suffered a heart attack and had a pacemaker placed in his chest. Also living at home are their youngest child, Yvette, and two out of five grandchildren. Sons Everett Jr., 48, a retired Navy careerist, and Lester, 41, live nearby.

However, as soon as it became apparent that Leopold had won the race for county executive, Peters says, “My good friend Sheryl Banks called me and asked me to consider taking a position with the Leopold administration. Even though I supported Mr. Leopold, I did not take her request very seriously because I really felt my age would be a factor. When Sheryl insisted that I not say a definite no but really think on it, I agreed to pray on it.”

Peters decided, “I am not going to say or think anymore that I am too old to do what I feel like doing. If I feel like doing it, and can do it, then I am not too old.” After long talks with her husband, family, and minister, on Monday, November 13, she said “Yes!” to Leopold’s job offer.

“I still have a lot of energy and can be of service!” Leopold says, “Yevola has a wealth of experience improving the quality of peoples’ lives. I have had the privilege of working with her as a member of the board of directors of Community Action and know firsthand her dedication to the goal of uplifting our disadvantaged citizens. Based on her experience and dedication, she is the ideal person to lead my constituent outreach office.”

Full of plans and filled with determination, Peters oversees four people, each handling a quadrant of the county. The department will also coordinate the grants administrator and the Hispanic Initiative. Her office is already researching and preparing to develop a 311 phone service. “It’s Mr. Leopold’s driving point and he wants it established,” she points out.

Peters sees part of her new job as the “connection between constituents and the department. Hearing what people’s needs are.

“It is exciting. We’re going full force. I’m amazed at the difference in my energy level!” Community activist Max Ochs notes: “Yevola sets a high standard by working harder than anybody else. It’s hard to meet, harder to beat. She stays long after others leave and tenaciously perseveres until the task is complete. She sometimes shows impatience when you are keeping her from doing the work she feels she needs to be doing. But there is the spirit of the great fight being fought, of finding oneself on the battlefield alongside a great warrior, and you are thankful and glad that you are there and not some other, irrelevant place.”

Ochs, who was public affairs officer for Peters when she headed the Community Action Agency, wrote a song praising her:

You captured a vision of how it could be In your mind’s eye saw how it should be: Decent housing for everyone to attain Conflicts resolved so both sides gain, Organizing communities with a helping hand Members of families learning how to plan.

He says, “In her new role (director of community services), Yevola Peters knows the community and needs of the county extremely well and will be a tremendous asset to this government. She’ll help empower people to take the efforts to improve their lives.”