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Jeri Lou Dillard Oakley

September 14, 1946 - June 19, 2018

Mrs. Jeri Lou Dillard Oakley was born September 14, 1946, in Wayne County Detroit, Michigan, to Mack and Ernestine Dillard. Jeri was born second after her older sister Gail, and later her younger brothers Jeffrey and Brian would compiete the family of six.

Jeri grew up in a family in which community and service was important, as well as ambition and success. Mr. and Mrs. Dillard did their best to provide a comfortable life for their four children. Mr. Dillard worked for Ford Motors, later for the city as a garbage man, as well as ran his own business as a carpenter. In addition, Mrs. Dillard worked as a hairdresser in her basement salon. The Dillard family were very active in their community and took great pride in being members of large extended family.

Little Jeri was a curious child who loved to read. She could often be found with a spoonful of peanut butter, her favorite book, and a flashlight in the closet. Jeri was a girl who liked to play outside with the neighborhood kids. She was very helpful to her mother around the house and learned the value of hard work at an early age. She was also very close to her father and would often recall the many funny stories and life lessons he would bestow upon the family. With a natural instinct for learning, Jeri always did well in school and had many friends.

When Jeri was sixteen, the family moved from Detroit, Michigan to East Palo Alto, CA Teenage Jeri finished her high school education at Ravenswood High School, where her interest in social change and activism was sparked. After graduating high school in 1964, Jeri went on to study at College of San Mateo where she began to connect with organizations such as SNCC, Nairobi Day School, and eventually the Black Panthers. Her involvements with this freedom fighting organizations took her all over the Bay Area and beyond. Eventually Jeri moved to San Francisco and later Oakland while still keeping close ties to East Palo Alto. Her brothers, nieces, nephews, and god children all have fond memories of joining Jeri for Black Power rallies, James Brown concerts, and trips to the flea market. Jeri's love for Black culture and freedom would be a tremendous example for future generations of her family. Jeri studied at New College of San Francisco to obtain her certification as a Licensed Vocational Nurse and began working. Her impact as a caregiver would reach far beyond nursing touching the hearts and lives of her patients and their families.

Jeri met and married Dewayne Oakley, a blues/jazz musician. The couple was drawn together for their love of art and culture. Their union would produce a daughter Yahsmeen, and a son Jamal. In June of 1986, Jeri was once again blessed with the opportunity to become a mother to a baby boy, Rasheed.

Black families faced many hardships in East Palo Alto in the 80's and early 90's and the Dillard family was no different. Jeri took on the role as the backbone of her family, working hard to keep the extended family together and her children close. Jeri or "La-Lu", as she was affectionately renamed by her nephew Lantz, remained close with her nieces and nephews and their children throughout the years. None was closer than her niece, who she raised as a daughter, Bernita. Jeri was a devoted mother who was completely committed to providing her children with the best education and opportunities life could bring. She was a constant presence at their schools and all activities. She was a participating parent in the Ravenswood City School District, Shule Mandela Academy, Sequoia High School District, the Community Development Institute, Zohar School of Dance, Boy Scouts, and other organizations involved with her children's enrichment. Mama Jeri loved all children and was often a listening ear for her children's friends and classmates.

Again, Jeri was blessed with love in her when she met James McKelery. James and Jeri shared an endearing relationship that led to an unbreakable bond between James and Jeri's son Rasheed. Jeri and James stayed together until his death in 1996.

Jeri was among the founding members of the East Palo Alto Historical and Agricultural Society (EPAHAS). EPAHAS mission was to collect, archive, and protect East Palo Alto 's rich history. EPAHAS hosted and organized several East Palo Alto Juneteenth festivals in which Jeri's leadership was instrumental. Jeri was especially proud of the EPAHAS tree planting project. Jeri could be seen planting trees from East Palo Alto to East Menlo Park. She is fondly remembered recruiting tree planters, and saying, "Come on y'all, we gotta plant these trees!"

Jeri was also a very passionate entrepreneur, always trying to make a better life for herself and her children. Jeri would join her sister Gail, who was also a fearless entrepreneur, at festivals all over California selling snow cones and hot dogs. Teaching her children, the value of a dollar and how to be your own boss, Jeri was always ready and willing to learn something new and create opportunities for herself and others. Whether it was selling Avon or · Insurance, Ms. Jeri always had her "Irons in the Fire!"

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