Velma L. Stokley Flournoy, a Sacramento activist who helped raise and award thousands of dollars in scholarships as founder of a pageant for African American women, died Wednesday of causes related to aging, her family said. She was 87.
Mrs. Stokley Flournoy organized a pageant in 1970 to engage and encourage young people to go to college and give back to others. She reached out to African Americans because "I saw a pageant on television, and there weren't any blacks involved," she told The Bee in 2009.
The Miss Black Sacramento Scholarship Pageant became one of the longest-running youth programs in the region. During its history, organizers have given out scholarships totaling more than $100,000, said executive director Angel Stewart, the founder's granddaughter.
Under Mrs. Stokley Flournoy's leadership, organizers dropped the swimsuit competition and other traditional pageant criteria in favor of academic achievements and volunteer work. Contestants also receive training in poise, personality and professional skills, said Stewart, who won the 1987 crown.
A revered matriarch of five generations, Mrs. Stokley Flournoy was widely known in the community as "Mother." Warm and vivacious, she connected easily to people of all ages as an advocate, mentor and friend.
She took more than 40 youngsters into her home as a foster parent and served as 1973-74 president of the Stanford Home Auxiliary. She was a former director of the NAACP's ACT-SO program, a student academic contest. She was active in the senior ministry and Bible study at Center of Praise Church in midtown.
She earned local and national recognition for public service, including a Woman of the Year Award from the National Council of Negro Women and the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award from Kappa Alpha Psi. In 2010, she received the Robert Matsui Community Service Award at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
"She went well beyond herself and her biological family to serve others," said Bishop Parnell Lovelace Jr. of Center of Praise Church, which named a scholarship program for her. "She saw the whole community as her family."
The former Velma L. Hayes was born in 1924 in Chula, Miss., and moved with her family to Oklahoma. She worked for the Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa and moved to Sacramento in 1962. She was a computer operator and vice president of Blacks in Government, an employee group, at McClellan Air Force Base. She retired in 1985.
She was predeceased in 2002 by her husband, David J. Flournoy, a retired Regional Transit driver. She is survived by four children from a previous marriage.
Young at heart, Mrs. Stokley Flournoy remained active late in life as a travel agent. She was skilled with computers and communicated easily through instant messaging. She enjoyed traveling and celebrating her birthday with her granddaughter's friends.
"She eloped at age 80 and planned her wedding online," Stewart said. "She was always ahead of her time."