Sacramento State professor emeritus David Covin carefully developed a network of organizations to advocate for the economic, educational and political condition of Black men, women and children.
He died of colon cancer on June 3 at age 82, according to his daughter, Holly Covin Jacobson.
A memorial service will celebrate his life and contributions from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 7 at Capistrano Concert Hall, 6000 J St., on the Sacramento campus.
Sacramento State President Luke Wood recalled working closely with Covin to shape two independent study courses that allowed Wood to earn a bachelor’s degree in Black history and politics from the college he now leads.
It was a special major focused on Black studies, Wood said, and that required Covin and a few other faculty to ensure the curricula met California State University system standards.
“We lose an incredible force who did everything he could to make sure that those who are from the Black community have the support that they needed to not only enter into a place like Sacramento State, but to also graduate from that institution with a sense of self-identity that would empower them to do great things in the world,” Wood said.
Advocacy within the Black community
Outside academia, Covin carefully constructed a framework of organizations to cultivate and advocate for Blacks in Sacramento, said longtime friend Frederick Foote Jr.
Covin’s brilliance, kindness and wit, Foote said, inspired confidence and earned his organizations no shortage of volunteers to accomplish each group’s mission.
No one viewed Covin as ambitious or out for his own gain, Foote said. “His commitment to the African American Oak Park community was clear.”
In the ‘70s, Covin founded the Sacramento Area Black Caucus, an advocacy group tackling challenges the Black community face. Foote and Covin met at the caucus’ first meeting and developed a friendship over time, working with other members to address issues such as the use of excessive force by the police, housing insecurity, equal employment and educational inequities.
When it became clear that Black parents were concerned about obstacles their children were encountering at Sacramento Unified School District schools, Foote said, Covin launched an offshoot of the caucus called the Black Parallel School Board.
The Sacramento Area Black Caucus continued to field concerns right up until Covin’s death, Foote said, and the Black school board recently announced that it had settled a long-running legal dispute with the school district over equity in special education and disciplinary actions. SCUSD agreed to five years of independent monitoring.
Until the COVID-19 lockdown, the caucus also partnered with the nonprofit Black United Fund to plan and execute an annual conference known as the Congress of African Peoples Convening. For about 18 years, they would spotlight issues affecting the African diaspora, said Kakwasi Somadhi, who worked with Covin at Sacramento State for about eight years.
Book fair and publishing company embrace local Black authors
It seemed natural that a political scientist would be interested in education and economic justice, Foote said, but Covin surprised his old friend when he told him he was going to organize a book fair to showcase Black authors.
“I was overwhelmed because I didn’t think anybody had that kind of political and social imagination,” Foote said. “The book fair was successful beyond my wildest imagination, and every year it seemed to progress and add more attendees and more writers and contributors. I don’t know anybody else in Sacramento who would have come up with a Black book fair and run it so successfully as a volunteer organization.”
The first Sacramento Black Book Fair occurred in 2013, and the most recent one in spring 2019. Subsequent events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said organizer Faye Kennedy. The event is anticipated to return in 2024.
Before he launched the book fair, Covin founded a local publishing company, Blue Nile Press, to highlight Black authors in the Sacramento region.
Blue Nile published Foote’s first book, “For the Sake of Soul.” Covin paid $300 for an oil painting by a Sacramento City College student used to illustrate the cover, Foote said, and then gifted the artwork to Foote.
Covin was a scholarly writer (“Black Politics After the Civil Rights Movement, Sacramento, 1970-2000”), a novelist (“Wimbey’s Corner” and “Brown Sky”) and a short story writer. When his daughters — Wendy Covin and Jacobson — were young, he wrote and illustrated children’s stories featuring the two of them.
Jacobson recalled how she and her sister would beg him to tell and retell those stories at bedtime, and she still treasures and keeps the originals. Covin was a “super-present dad.” He never missed one of his daughters’ swim meets, and he brought them along to community events.
He was well known, Jacobson said, and many people, even his friends, would address him as “Dr. Covin.” She and her sister would often tease their father about that “absurd” title, saying, “You don’t have a white coat? You don’t have a stethoscope when you go off to work.”
He would respond: “I am a doctor of thinking,” Jacobson said.
It wasn’t until she was much older, she said, that she realized how true that description was.
How the Cooper Woodson College Enhancement Program formed
As a staffer, volunteer and instructor, Somadhi had a front-row seat to observe the “doctor of thinking” in action at Sacramento State from 1983 to 1991. In the years after Somadhi arrived, Covin worked closely with two other Black faculty members, Otis Scott and Chris Glen, to develop a program to guide African American students to pathways for success.
They called it the Cooper Woodson College Enhancement Program, named after pioneering Black scholars Anna Julia Cooper and Carter G. Woodson. Cooper provided a blueprint for how African American women could, through education and social networks, become authors of their people’s fate. Woodson advocated putting the history and human experience of African diaspora at the center of scholarship.
Scott, Glen and Covin called upon African Americans in the academic community to craft a responsive learning environment and to act as conductors, mentors and guides to nurture students in their academic pursuits.
Wood said Cooper Woodson played an integral role in launching his career in higher education. Upon leaving Sacramento State, Wood earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in early childhood education and a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies from Arizona State University.
“He was someone who very much saw something in me and then did his best to cultivate that, support that and encourage me,” Wood said. “As I think about my entire career as a Pan African studies scholar who happens to be in the field of education, everything that I’ve done was really rooted in the experience that I had at Sacramento State with scholars such as him.”
Another Sacramento State alumna, Jamillah Moore, recalled her “thrilling and terrifying” entry into higher education l from a Modesto high school. Covin’s mentorship allowed her to become a successful student, she said, and to imagine a place for herself in academia.
“He’s gonna be missed because of his commitment to education and civil rights,” said Moore, now vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at San Francisco State University. “It just feels like we’ve lost such a huge, huge advocate and supporter, and we have big shoes to fill. But he left his mark, and I just think we’re all better off to have known him and had the opportunity to work with him.”
Covin continued to financially support both the Cooper Woodson program and students after his retirement, said Boatamo Mosupyoe, an associate dean in the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies at Sacramento State, and she’s concerned about how the program will fare without him.
A professor of government and ethnic studies, Covin came to Sacramento State in 1970 and remained until 2005, Jacobson said. He completed three degrees in political science. His bachelor’s degree came from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, about 170 miles south of where he grew up in Evanston. He then earned his master’s degree from the University of Colorado, which where he met his wife of 58 years, Judy Covin. He later received his doctoral degree from Washington State University, where he founded the Black Student Union and the Black studies program.
Covin is survived by Judy Covin, Jacobson and three grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, Covin’s family suggested a contribution to the Cooper Woodson Scholarship Program, the Alumni Association Scholarship Fund or the University Library Fund.
If you plan to attend Covin’s memorial service, organizers ask that you email Amanda Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org to assist them with planning. Attendees will be admitted, however, even if they did not send an email.