Activist helped rebuild community after ‘67 riots

Oralandar Brand-Williams

Brenda L. Rayford and 11 other Detroiters had a vision to rebuild the city and help its residents after the 1967 Detroit riots.

Part of their effort to help residents in ruined and struggling neighborhoods was to foster a belief in self-determination through the formation of the Black Causes, which was the predecessor to the Black United Fund of Michigan. The community organization funded projects to spur economic and job growth for the city’s residents.

Ms. Rayford was a founding member of the community organization and more than 40 years later, helped it to become one of the most successful outreach community organizations in the state.

Ms. Rayford was Black United Fund of Michigan’s first and only executive director and she helped build it into a well-known community and non-profit organization. One of her ideas to boost funding from Metro Detroiters was to push employers to do payroll-deduction.

A community activist and developer as well as a social worker, Ms. Rayford died June 22 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. A member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Rayford was 75.

Named as a Detroit News’ Michiganian of the Year for 1999, Ms. Rayford told the newspaper in 2000 about her love for her work.

“I feel good when I get up in the morning and I can’t wait to get to work, because I genuinely like what I do,” she said. “Every time the organization has a new success, I become energized. I see this as my calling.”

The BUF of Michigan has raised money for help with everything from domestic abuse to those affected by homelessness to helping youngsters with educational needs.

“I’m thrilled to help mold, shape and educate,” Ms. Rayford told The News. “I just want to do right by humanity.”

Kenneth Donaldson, the president and CEO of BUF Michigan, said Ms. Rayford was a “focused and strong, strong woman.”

“She was the most focused and dedicated person you would ever want to meet,” said Donaldson, who became head of the organization in 2010. “She gave it her all. She had a heart for the community.”

Ms. Rayford, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, retired as the group’s executive director in 2010. Donaldson said under her leadership, BUF helped hundreds of people and thousands of organizations.

Under her leadership, BUF gave funding to such successful and nationally-known organizations and African-American institutions such as the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program for youngsters interested in math and science-related fields.

Visitation will be 4-8 p.m. Tuesday at Swanson Funeral Home, 14751 McNichols. The funeral service will be 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Stephen A.M.E. Church, 6000 John E. Hunter Drive. The family hour will precede the funeral at 10 a.m. at the church.

Ms. Rayford is survived by a son, Valdez Rayford, and a daughter, Blake Rayford.

Memorial tributes may be made to Black United Fund of Michigan, Inc. Endowment Fund, 2187 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan 48208.

(313) 222-2027