Lyllye’s Legacy: The story of UO’s Black Cultural Center

Lyllye Reynolds-Parker is a local treasure that has impacted the lives of many at the University of Oregon and the broader Eugene community. Her contributions were so great, the university chose to name the Black Cultural Center after her in 2019.

When Lyllye Reynolds-Parker found out that there were folks rallying to have the University of Oregon’s Black Cultural Center named after her, she was in disbelief. “Not in a million years would I have thought that they would name that building after me,” she said.

The center is named after Lyllye Reynolds-Parker, a 1991 UO alumna who spent 17 years as an advisor at the multicultural academic center on campus. Although UO follows a policy of naming buildings after non-donors only once they have passed, an exception was made for her.

In a memo to the Board of Trustees, UO President Michael H. Schill noted that there were over 500 nominations in favor of choosing Reynolds-Parker to have the building named after her. Mo Young, who graduated from UO in 2002 and now works for Lane County, was able to witness the ways Reynolds-Parker graced the UO community.

She says “she is magic. She was everybody’s auntie, she was everybody’s mom, if you were hungry you went to see her, if you wanted a hug you went to see her…she made time for everyone.” Young, whose brother was one of Reynolds-Parker’s advisees, experienced extreme hardships while in school and was deeply impacted by her generosity. “I have no doubt that she saved him, no doubt at all.”

Reynolds-Parker attended UO as a non-traditional student, applying for admission at 40 years old. She was encouraged to apply by Pearl Hill, the director of the Upward Bound program at the time, and Jewel Bell, a student life administrator and the wife of Derrick Bell, the first Black dean at UO.

During her time as an academic advisor, Reynolds-Parker worked with students of color at UO, reminding them that they could be successful in their goals, regardless of what anyone told them about the color of their skin. She would tell students that if anyone at UO said anything negative to them, to remember that “Ms. Parker said ‘you can, yes you can.’”

Reynolds-Parker’s impact on the Eugene community is intergenerational. According to the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House’s website, her parents, Sam Reynolds and Mattie Reynolds, moved from Louisiana to Oregon in 1943 during the Great Migration and became one of the first Black families to reside in Eugene. Born at Sacred Heart Medical Center, Reynolds-Parker was the very first Black baby born in Eugene.

Her mother, who passed away at the age of 91 in 2010, was the first Black person to seek a public office position in the city in 1966. She also was the founder of the Eugene chapter of the civil rights organization Congress of Racial Equality. With the help of Reynolds and 12 others, they founded St. Mark Christian Methodist Episcopal, Eugene’s oldest Black congregation, located on Sam Reynolds St.

DeLeesa Meashintubby, who is the Executive Director of Volunteers in Medicine of Lane County, is also the current pastor of St. Mark CME, where Reynolds-Parker still attends church. Meashintubby believes that Reynolds-Parker is a powerful force in the community whose significance to Eugene history is like none other.

“She has broken a lot of barriers by bringing to the forefront racial issues, civil rights issues, and also educational issues,” Meashintubby states. “She’s been one of the few people that I’ve seen in Eugene that would stand up and fight, no matter what.”

According to UO’s Office of Institutional Research, Black students made up 2.4% of the student population in the 2019–20 school year, with 23.2% of the student population being students of color.

The impact that Reynolds-Parker had on UO’s community left a mark so strong that the creation of the Black Cultural Center, something that Black students had advocated for since 1968, ended up being named after her.

The UO Black Student Task Force, which was formed during the 2014–15 school year, included the request of a Black cultural center in their list of demands that was presented to President Schill. 33 years later, the promise of providing a space for Black UO students was finally fulfilled.

Reynolds-Parker credits the students who advocated for the space for the reason why she was able to have a building named after her. “My name is on that building because in 1968, Black students started asking for a Black cultural center at the University of Oregon.”

What makes Reynolds-Parker’s legacy so unique is that she changed the lives of hundreds while being able to be alive to see the fruits of her labor and be recognized for it. Meashintubby explains that the legacy that Reynolds-Parker and her family left behind is a message of hope. She says, “they’ve left the legacy that we too can survive, that we can do it too.”

As much praise Reynolds-Parker receives, she stays humble and recognizes the efforts of others in her life. She says, “because of the students that I was so privileged to work with, I was gifted beyond words, my name on that building. I received just as much as I gave. I was truly blessed. I truly felt like that was my purpose in life. That’s what God intended for me to do here.”

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yordanos t.

yordanos t.

sociology, communication + media, and ethnic studies @ willamette university | journalism @ university of oregon | www.yordanostesfazion.com