Thelma Burns leaves enduring, rich legacy

Thelma D. Burns

It was with deep sadness and a heavy heart that I learned the news of the passing of a beloved friend Thelma Burns, an active ABCD board member for more than 35 years. She served as the chair and as a long-time executive committee member.

Representing the Dorchester neighborhood, she took on various responsibilities through the years, including as the leader of the ABCD Dorchester Neighborhood Service Center Advisory Board. In 2016, ABCD honored her extensive contributions to the Boston community by renovating and naming a stunning building after her.

An educator, community activist, advocate, and volunteer, Thelma was always at the forefront of social justice initiatives. She was the recipient of a Robert F. Kennedy Fellowship and chaired or served on several other community boards, including Central Boston Elder Services, the Mayor’s Senior Advisory Council, and the Roxbury YMCA.

Thelma was a parent at the Christopher Gibson Elementary School in Dorchester in 1965 when a young teacher named Jonathan Kozol was fired for reading Langston Hughes poetry to his 4th graders. With other parents, she protested the firing and boycotted the school. Kozol wrote the book “Death at an Early Age” from the experience, winning the 1968 National Book Award. Thelma and Jonathan remained lifelong friends.

Having earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Boston University and a master’s in Education from Harvard University, Thelma served as METCO director for the Belmont Public Schools for 28 years.

A two-time cancer survivor, she was a fierce advocate for health equity and dedicated a great deal of time and energy to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the faith-based Cancer Disparities Network.

Thelma’s many accomplishments enriched the ABCD community and beyond, and her generous spirit and moral leadership leave us all an enduring legacy.

Words alone cannot express how much we will miss her.

Sharon Scott-Chandler, Esq., is the president and CEO of ABCD.