Keeping a Bright
The family of Sherrie-Ann L. Gordon ’00 launches a fund in her memory to ensure equitable experiences for Black students.
By any of the customary measures, Sherrie-Ann L. Gordon ’00 was exceptional.
Honor student, senior class president, winner of the prestigious Sarah B. Whitaker Award (The White Blazer), “for the senior girl who made the greatest contribution to the life of the school,” she was the daughter of Jamaican immigrants who arrived at Williston from Brooklyn and soon distinguished herself as a campus leader and mentor, in particular to her fellow students of color. She continued to make her mark at Trinity College, speaking at her 2004 Class Day ceremony, and in her professional career, first as the Connecticut State Office Administrator, then as the Manager Director for Multicultural Markets and Specialty Programs coordinator for the American Association of Retired People (AARP), and later as a social entrepreneur, acting on her passion for improving the lives of others.
But Gordon’s promise was tragically cut short in 2015, when, after a 10-month battle with ovarian cancer, she died at the age of 33. For those she touched with her positivity, faith, and resilient character, her brief but remarkable life remains an inspiration. “Anyone who remembers Sherrie will tell you,” notes her friend Pierce Freelon ’02, “she was a powerful being.” Adds History teacher Peter Gunn, “Sherrie saw the world as it was and sought to make it better. In her affection for learning and living, she raised our community consciousness. There really are no words to adequately describe this incredible person and her impact on those around her.”
To honor that legacy, the Gordon family—her father, Dorrick; mother, Beverly; sisters Kimberly Gordon and Jacqueline Elleston; and brother, Derrick—are launching The Sherrie-Ann L. Gordon ’00 Equity Fund for Social and Diverse Experiences, a permanently endowed fund providing non-tuition supplemental aid to Black students with high financial need. The fund will allow low-income students of color to take part in social events and other activities that they might not have otherwise been able to afford.
“I know that Sherrie loved Williston, and that this would be something that she would love to know that we are a part of,” explains Dorrick. “That’s one of the reasons why we came together and decided to do something, to keep her name going.” Beverly adds, “We said, if we can do something to help even one child, to put a smile on somebody’s face, to put joy in their steps or in their heart, that would really go a long way for us. We wanted to reach out and do whatever we can to give back to Williston, because Williston did a lot for Sherrie.”
For Sherrie’s brother, Derrick, an alumnus of the New Hampton School, the fund also has a larger social mission, one that reflects his sister’s values. “I can tell you that going to a boarding school can be shell-shocking for some Black and Brown kids from the inner city,” he explains. “So if you have the opportunity to blend in, it’s a help.” Being able to fully participate in the social life of the school is central to the independent school experience, he adds, “and this Sherrie-Ann L. Gordon Fund enables you to have an opportunity to do those things. This is who she is. This is what she would have wanted for you. She wants you to enjoy your experience to the fullest.”
Encouraging her peers to become engaged in the school community was one of Sherrie’s greatest talents, say her teachers and classmates. “Sherrie connected with people through her devotion to social justice and her embrace of the possible,” recalls Gunn. Assistant Head of School Ann Pickrell remembers Sherrie’s powerful presence at the podium during assemblies. “She made everyone think beyond the present and strive for equality and excellence,” she says. “She used her empathy to connect with everyone in the school community.”
That was the case for Freelon, who met Sherrie when he was a new sophomore on campus and Sherrie was a senior. “She was an inspiration to me,” says Freelon, now a musician, filmmaker, and activist. “I cherished her mentorship and friendship.” Sherrie, he recalls, welcomed him into the community and encouraged him to pursue his passions. “It was a safe space to be, under her wing. I still carry her with me, even though we only overlapped for one year.”
To her family, this was just how Sherrie was. “She told everybody to dance to the beat of their own drum,” recalls Kimberly. “She was my support system in every way. She would leave Los Angeles and attend parent teacher meetings in Florida to support her nephews Daniel, Matthew, and Joseph, whom she loved very much,” says Jacqueline. “The word I’ve used is genuine,” adds Derrick. “She was 100 percent herself, at all times. You really don’t find that often, and she was proud of it. When you own it, people will respect it, and people remember it. And I think that’s why she was so influential.” That strong social conscience was evident from the time Sherrie was a young girl, her mother says. “She would always try to help out in situations where people were having problems,” Beverly says. “She was a person who loved to help, loved to contribute, and was looking out for others.”
Born in Jamaica, along with her three siblings, Sherrie and her family came to the United States when Sherrie was three, settling in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush neighborhood. Her mother worked as a unit secretary in a hospital; her father was an airline ground attendant before starting his own maintenance business. Seeing the benefits that an independent middle school had on her older brother, the family sent Sherrie to Bethlehem Baptist Academy, where she excelled, becoming her class valedictorian and receiving a scholarship to the independent school of her choice. After touring a number of options, Sherrie chose Williston.
She thrived in her new environment. She became goalie on the water polo team (she also rowed crew and played basketball). She pursued her love of music, playing the saxophone, bass guitar, and drums, and singing. And she excelled in her studies. “She was always a go-getter,” says her father, “but I believe that Williston helped her to develop more effectively.” The school brought out the best in her, says her brother. “It nurtured her, encouraged her, allowed her to be herself, allowed her to be great.” Her sister Jacqueline adds, “My sister was fearless, she had a go-get-it attitude, and she was the sibling who would try anything. She learned to ice skate, roller blade, ride a motorcycle and she would never take NO for an answer.”
After Williston, she attended Trinity College, spending time abroad in Trinidad and earning her degree in International Studies, and then began what would become decade-long career with the AARP. A lifelong Christian, she was active in her local church community as well, volunteering as the assistant director for Lahairoi, an urban, faith-based youth enrichment program in Hartford. She also kept her connection to Williston, returning to campus for diversity days, TRIBE Reunions, and as a member of the alumni council, which she joined in 2007.
Her success with the AARP led in 2010 to a new position in Los Angeles, where she became the group’s Associate State Director for Multicultural Outreach. There, she conceived the “To Serve, Not to be Served” campaign, whose goal was to engage multicultural communities and encourage civic participation and volunteerism. In 2013, demonstrating her own commitment to civic action, she accepted Governor Jerry Brown’s appointment to the state’s Dental Hygiene Committee.
In both her career and volunteer efforts, she found satisfaction in providing others with access to the information they needed to improve their lives, say family members. “Anytime she could get people access to information, she was at her happiest,” recalls her sister Kimberly. “She believed in doing work that you love.” Indeed, on the Williston campus, beneath a tree planted in Sherrie’s memory, reads a plaque with a favorite quotation: “Life is too short and too long to do work you don’t love.”
That philosophy led Sherrie in 2015 to leave AARP and start her own audience-centered design business to help organizations, corporations, and technical experts more effectively share information. She was also pursuing grants to start a business, for young Black men, that would combine a barber shop with resources and information. She was in the process of training to be a barber when she was diagnosed with cancer in March 2015.
Even as she dealt with her own health crisis, Sherrie stayed positive and worked to help others, a reflection, say those who knew her, of her deep Christian faith. Her mother recalls how after chemotherapy treatments, she would offer encouragement to the other patients, stopping in their rooms and telling them, “You’re going to be okay.” On the way home, she’d have the family buy an extra take-out meal for a homeless man she had befriended.
“Her faith was incredible,” says her friend Jennifer Hopson, noting that the AARP established the Sherrie-Ann Gordon Multicultural Leadership Award of Excellence in her honor. “Wherever she went, she was just a really great, bright, light.”
That positive spirit is what her mother chooses to remember, helped by the photos she now surrounds herself with. “To this day, I say, ‘God, you know best,’” says Beverly. “‘You took my little baby girl, but I’m not mad.’ Every day I drive in my car and there’s a picture with her on my dashboard. And all I see is that she is smiling.”
To see more photos and quotes about Sherrie, scroll to the bottom of this page.
A new way to support diversity
To honor Sherrie’s legacy, the Gordon family is launching the Sherrie-Ann L. Gordon ’00 Equity Fund for Social and Diverse Experiences, a permanently endowed fund providing non-tuition supplemental aid to Black students with high financial need. “I know that Sherrie loved Williston, and that this would be something that she would love to know that we are a part of,” explains her father, Dorrick.
For more information on giving to the Sherrie-Ann L. Gordon ’00 Equity Fund for Social and Diverse Experiences, please contact the Advancement Office at (413) 529-3300 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also give online via our Williston Northampton Fund page at https://giving.williston.com/ — after you submit your payment, please be sure to add a comment citing the “Sherrie-Ann L. Gordon’00 Equity Fund for Social and Diverse Experiences.”
“Our family was intentional about choosing a right name for the fund. It's for social and diverse experiences. Because that is the critical part of a student's experience, and the memories of your experiences in high school are what you're going to take with you. That's what we want other students to experience. -Kimberly Gordon
“The power of a boarding school, to me, is social. It's who you speak to, who you have access to, who you hobnob with. And it’s those little things, those little experiences, that really mean something to you when you’re building the whole student. That trip you took for spring break with your friends—I mean, you’ll remember that trip forever. When you don't have those little things, it's not like you can't be great, but it doesn't allow you to be the greatest you can be.” -Derrick Gordon, brother
“The Sherrie Ann Gordon Equity Fund for Social and Diverse Experiences embodies the accomplishments, vision, and person of Sherrie Gordon. She has left behind a growing orchard of self-development, utilizing one's skills and abilities to strive for excellence and active faith in God to reach beyond socioeconomic, cultural, and even ethnic divides.” -Oral Blackstock, pastor, First Church of God, Hartford, CT
“I remember when Sherrie enrolled in Williston, they said, okay, everything is taken care of. All the parents have to pay is one thousand dollars. I said to the financial aid representative, "$1,000 to me is a million dollars because I don't have it." They found a book club to cover the $1,000 that I would have to pay. That's why I believe this fund will also be helpful to people like me, that come to the school without adequate finances.” - Dorrick Gordon, father
“It would be an incredible honor to establish an equity fund for social and diverse experiences in Sherrie’s name. Sherrie's legacy was pursuing her passion with joy and dedication.” -DeVonia Daniel, inspired friend
“Sherrie Ann Gordon’s legacy is the many lives she personally touched and changed, and who now are building upon her faith that it is possible to create a more equitable world and who approach this work with confidence and humility, as Sherrie did. I believe the Sherrie Ann Gordon Equity Fund for social and diverse experiences will help inspire and equip young people, today and in the future, to live and thrive in our increasingly diverse, challenging world.” -Brenda Kelley, Sherrie's first AARP supervisor after college
"The Sherrie Ann Gordon Equity Fund for social and diverse experiences embodies Sherrie's legacy of enjoying fun-filled adventures, meeting challenges head first, seeking new and unique opportunities while enjoying every minute of the journey.
Sherrie would revel in the idea that students can now see the world and have similar experiences that they otherwise would not have because of her fund." - Su-Layne Walker, Kaia Hilson, Imnett Habtes, Tiffany Brown - Trinity College Girl Crew
“All her peers, her friends, people that she worked with— that’s what she allowed people to feel. It’s okay to bring your personality to whatever you’re doing, to let people see that, and be proud of that.”
“Sherry’s foundation was a spiritual foundation. She was a Christian, and a believer in good, and in being the best. She was brought up in a Christian household, so she took those values with her. And I think those values are what made her an incredible person.”
–Kimberly Gordon, sister
“She always commanded people's attention. I remember in our church, we used to do a lot of poems, for our Easter and Christmas pageant. Whenever she would give her performance, she would always do such an amazing job. She would bring her personality. She added something to everything she did. She was that kind of an individual.” -Kimberly Gordon, sister
“She would always tell me, ‘Ma, I'm going to buy my house by the time I reached 23.’ And she did. It’s like she had a vision of her life planned out. And she’d go for it. She never let anything stop her from doing it.” -Beverly Gordon, mother
“In her passing, may she be forever remembered as in her life; a true reflection of who she is, a giver of life to countless people.” -Vanessa Chavez-Asforis, best friend for 22 years
“She set an example for us all. She was driven by integrity and purposeful work. She really wasn't interested in doing, just for doing’s sake. She wanted to have impact on people’s lives.” -Jennifer Hopson, friend and colleague
"To me, Sherrie's always been the most upbeat, pleasant lady that I can remember. There was not a single office visit that she would not holler 'Dr Pei, how ya doin!' Most folks are reserved in their demeanors, and from this outward holler, I knew she was different. She was born to influence others in the most positive way. When you can change the mood of others around you, you are an influencer, and Sherrie is the perfect embodiment of this sentiment. I would never forget how she taught me to utilize different colors and combinations in the way I dress, to look outstanding! To this day, I adhere to her advice, and not a single day goes by did I forget about it. Now that is legacy." -Dr Pei, friend and doctor
“Sherrie left behind a legacy of empowerment. She exuded a soft exterior but had a warrior spirit, a God-made success story that continues to uplift us and reflect in all the lives she influenced.” -Sandra Fuertado, Jenniqua Bailey, and family; Good Friends
“Sherrie is a woman with the last ingredient to God's creation! I'm looking forward to seeing many young people benefit from the Sherrie Ann Gordon Equity Fund for Social and Diverse Experiences.” -Cheris Fitten-Everett, friend and confidante
“Sherrie's legacy: she loved the youth and she wanted us to experience a life filled with God at the center. I feel proud that even beyond the grave Sherrie is still helping others. The Sherrie Ann Gordon Equity Fund is a wonderful program!” - Shariyah Smith, friend and mentee
“Sherrie was all about finding your true purpose and identity, and going for your dreams. No matter what she did, she stayed true to herself and her values, and encouraged others to do the same.” -Aidonee Blackstock, friend and mentee
“Sherrie's legacy, in a word, would be selflessness; other than dedicating herself to being more Christlike, she was utterly devoted to increasing quality of life for others. The Sherrie Ann Gordon Equity fund is completely in alignment with her life's work.” -Andrea Gardiner, Trinity College girl crew
“Sherrie-Ann Gordon took Williston by storm as an inspirational leader during her four years. Her ability to ask challenging questions respectfully and then take action was remarkable and made the entire community better.” -Ann Pickrell, Assistant Head of School
“My first time rapping on a stage at a proper venue was at Williston as a part of her senior project. It was this hip-hop show that had dance and rap and performance and poetry. That was a really special experience for me, in part creatively, but also because of who Sherrie was.” -Pierce Freelon ’02, musician, filmmaker, entrepreneur, political activist
"Sister and friend always changing the world" - JahDiego, friend and brother