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41 Years of Resilience

and Optimism in

the DLS

By Lydia Freeman

“I had become immersed and enamored with government and

history as a college student,” said Edwards. “When I saw the ad, I

thought, hmm, I think I might want to work there.”

Meet Brenda Edwards, the Senior Research Associate for the

Virginia Division of Legislative

Services (DLS). She’s been working for DLS for forty-one years,

leading multiple commissions designated by the Virginia legislation.

Two notable commissions are the Virginia Bicentennial of the

American War of 1812 Commission and the Martin Luther King Jr.


“During the commission’s six years, Brenda Edwards served as

it’s dependable, hardworking, full-time staffer,” said Delegate Kirk

Cox on Edwards’ work with the 1812 Commission. “Her positivity

and love of history was without rival. Without Brenda, our programs,

and specifically our signature Legacy Symposium, would not have

been so well organized and received by its attendees. The 1812

Commission was a success in large part due to her.”

Delegate Jennifer McClellan spoke on Edwards’ work with the

MLK Commission.

“Commission chairs and members come and go, but Brenda is

the glue that binds the Commission together and we would be lost

without her tireless efforts,” said McClellan. “I don’t make the

decisions,” Edwards explains, “but I put the guide out there. Tell

them, ‘here are some things you need to think about to meet your

goal. Here are the advantages and the disadvantages.’ Then the group

decides.” Edwards attributes her leadership style to her Jim Crow era


“I grew up during the Jim Crow era,” said Edwards. “When I

went to school, we went to school in shifts. There were no textbooks

to speak of and the ones we had were damaged and part of the story

would be ripped out of the back or the book would be mutilated

sometimes. So what our teachers would do, and we didn’t even know

it at the time, they would tell us to read the book or the story as far

as the pages would allow and then based upon what you had read,

come up with two or three plausible conclusions to the story. Then

we would discuss them in class. The teacher would say, ‘based upon

what you told me or what you’ve read, does that make sense?’ And so

that kind of reasoning was kind of a hallmark or continuation in my

education even from college.”

One of the projects that Edwards guides is the Martin Luther

King Jr. Commission. Edwards has been working with the MLK

Commission since 1992 when it was established by Virginia in

response to federal legislation.

“The commission strives to live up to its statutory responsibility

of continuing King’s work and his legacy in Virginia,” said Edwards.

“They [the commission] work very hard at doing that. And they work

to educate the public about the totality of Dr. King. A lot of people

just see him as a civil rights icon when he was so much more than

that. He was an author, scholar, pastor, theologian, educator, historian,

and he loved history, loved education. It was like he was a man for

all seasons. The commission does a great job of trying to get that

information out and trying to do even more to the fact that he was

more than a civil rights activist.”

One objective of the commission is as follows: “Promote the

legacy and continuation of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

particularly racial, economic and social justice, academic scholarship,

and community service.”

Edwards loves her work on the commission in part because she

personally encountered racial injustice throughout her upbringing.

She remembers that her school did not have indoor plumbing,

an assembly room, a cafeteria, or school bus transportation. She

remembers the dried fruit skins placed on the potbelly stove in the

classroom in order to deodorize the air. She remembers gathering

outside her school in 1954 as her principal announced the Brown

Supreme Court decision. The moment was so significant that she can

even remember the blue and red plaid dress she was wearing.

Other historic civil rights moments surrounded her early life

experience. Edwards attended the prominent HBCU, [historically

black college or university], Howard University during the Civil

Rights era of the 60s. During this time she was transformed by a