Education has been a large part of Naomi Rainey-Pierson’s life, from elementary school through her attainment of three higher education degrees from Long Beach State, and into a career as an educator and administrator.
And yet, her passion to teach still burns.
Her forum now, however, is neither classroom nor school, and her teaching focuses more on giving and serving rather than the three ‘Rs. Rainey-Pierson is president of the Long Beach chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where she works to eliminate racial inequities in the education system.
“Our city is a very diverse city, and I want to show women and young people of color that if you have faith, stay focused, believe, have good mentors and get a good education, that is of value,” Rainey-Pierson said.
Rainey-Pierson’s mentors at Long Beach State instilled in her a sense of giving, and her family taught her “that everybody can make the world better by giving,” she said.
She has also given back to the university through her philanthropic efforts. Over the past 31 years, she has donated to the university, worked to increase enrollment of women and minority students and volunteered for various campus projects. In 2012, a dorm was re-named in her honor.
“I was taught by my family that you don’t just take, you give back,” Rainey-Pierson said. “So, it was very important to me to give back to my school and my community, to help them grow and promote the vision.
“I believe in the visions and goals and objectives of Cal State Long Beach because I experienced it.”
Now, it’s Long Beach State’s turn to give back. Announced during Women’s History Month, Rainey-Pierson will become only the fifth woman, and 12th person overall, to receive an honorary doctoral degree from the campus. Long Beach State will honor Rainey-Pierson by conferring a Doctor of Humane Letters during the College of Liberal Arts commencement ceremony this May.
“Because of my religion and background, we are taught to serve without expecting recognition, but I must’ve danced and praised the Lord for a long time because it feels good to be recognized,” said Rainey-Pierson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts in 1972, and two Masters of Arts degrees in 1981 and ‘82. She also holds several teaching credentials.
Rainey-Pierson credited former president Steven Horn and Dr. Norma Gibbs, associate professor emerita, as well as Rep. Alan Lowenthal, also a former professor, and other faculty members who welcomed a young woman from Mississippi into the Long Beach community.
“I give to the school because I want to promote that,” she said.
Rainey-Pierson hopes to inspire graduates to be remain involved in their campus and community long after graduation.
“I want my legacy to show that it’s better to be united, but even as one, you can make a difference. This is the Naomi Rainey-Pierson story,” she said. “I want people to realize that they have a voice, and when we share all our stories, we provide a wonderful symphony for peace and decency.”