East Bay honors professor emeritus

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

Gone but certainly not forgotten.

Robert “Bob” Blackburn, professor emeritus of the department of educational leadership at Cal State East Bay died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 81 on Sept. 10.

Throughout his career, Blackburn stood on the forefront of social justice reform, serving as a director in the Peace Corps in Somalia in the 1960s and the deputy superintendent to Dr. Marcus Foster, the first African American superintendent of Oakland schools, in the 1970s.

On the evening of Nov. 6, 1973 Blackburn and Foster were walking in the parking lot after a school board meeting, when they were met by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a radical group waiting for them with guns. Blackburn was shot in the back multiple times but managed to escape. Foster was shot by eight bullets, five of them dipped in cyanide, and was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the African American Registry, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education.

Blackburn’s long-time colleague and friend Dr. Jose Lopez, East Bay professor of educational leadership, told The Pioneer that Blackburn still had the trenchcoat with the bullet holes that he was wearing that evening.

Blackburn and Foster united in a shared vision of providing opportunity to underprivileged, inner-city youth. The SLA was allegedly unhappy with Foster’s decision to issue ID cards to students to differentiate and protect them from drug dealers and gang members walking around campus, according to the African American Registry.

Blackburn’s passion for social justice reform remained steadfast through the ordeal and continued as he became superintendent of Oakland schools and later began teaching educational leadership at East Bay — then Cal State Hayward — in the fall of 1981, according to the Office of Academic Affairs.

Dr. Emily Brizendine, a professor emeritus in East Bay’s department of educational leadership, credits Blackburn as being largely responsible for crafting the department’s core mission statement: “To prepare bold, socially responsible leaders who will change the world of schooling.” It has since been revised, but the core values remain the same.

The department of educational leadership today supports a graduate program, an administrative credential program, and provides master and

doctorate degrees in educational leadership at East Bay. It focuses on social justice and is geared toward teachers and administrators who are interested in district level careers, according to Brizendine.

Brizendine said that Blackburn recruited her to work at East Bay in 1990, for a brand new initiative called the Diversity and Leadership program, designed to address the issue of school districts saying they wanted more minority administrators to reflect students in K-12 districts. “He was a great mentor and a colleague to me,” recalled Brizendine. “He understood collaboration and collegiality.”

Brizendine said that Blackburn was generous with his time, both as a colleague and as a mentor to students. He didn’t hesitate to question the status quo and frequently challenged it when it came to policies and practices that negatively impacted students.

Lopez said he frequently saw him speaking heatedly with the dean or president and recalls that some people didn’t like him because he was confrontational. When it came to racial injustice, social injustice or issues of immigration in particular, Lopez said he walked the walk. “It wasn’t just a class, it was his core.”

Lopez said that Blackburn worked on the dissertation committee as recently as two to three years ago. Despite the fact that he had fully retired in 1996, he continued to commit to East Bay and offer advice to school administrators dealing with job-related issues over dinner in their homes.

The very first time Blackburn met Lopez, who had flown from Texas to California to interview for the position at East Bay, he welcomed him into his home to spend the night after only having spoken with him on the phone.

“Bob was my mentor and my friend,” said Lopez. “I used to call him ‘tio Bob’ — we had a wonderful relationship until his passing.

He had a saying: ‘when you join our program you inherit me for life. I will continue to be your mentor, friend and teacher as long as I’m around.’ Until the very end, Bob was.”

A memorial will be held for Blackburn at 2 p.m. on Oct. 9 in the Snow Building at the Oakland Zoo.

His family requests that anyone wishing to contribute in his memory donate to the Oakland Zoo or the Marcus Foster Educational Institute.