Like so many of us, Mary Poitier has faced more than her share of hardships. But she always had within her an unbreakable spirit that helped her overcome her greatest struggles.
Born to a large family in Trinidad and Tobago, Mary showed an aptitude for learning far beyond her grade level. When she took the Common Entrance exam at twelve years old – a year early – she received her school’s highest score.
When Mary was seventeen, her father and family’s breadwinner died suddenly. Eager to help her mother and siblings, Mary went to New York and worked as a housekeeper. The city was not friendly to Mary: the cousin she stayed with took the money she saved, and over the next few years she would be forced to endure cold, homelessness, and hunger.
Through it all, Mary found strength in her faith. She was offered a job caring for a terminally ill patient, and inspired by her passion for serving others, Mary earned her nursing certificate. Her work tending to homebound patients made her realize how precious life is, and she made the decision to move to California.
Mary arrived in Los Angeles when she was 22 years old. She married and had two sons while earning her degree as a paralegal at Phillips Junior College, where she made the Dean’s List. But her marriage turned abusive, and finding sanctuary at a battered women’s shelter first brought her to Simi Valley.
Discovering that she was pregnant with her third son gave Mary the courage to divorce her abusive husband. She was living in Simi Valley and earning her MBA when her ex-husband passed away and she was diagnosed with a serious illness. Mary had been considering running for political office in her home country like many of her family members, but her illness prevented it. She finished treatment and her degree from USC but was still forced to accept food from charities and work minimum-wage jobs to support her family. Depression and anxiety set in.
Mary found respite in performing at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, as well as language and dance courses at Moorpark College. There, she was elected President of the Black Student Union, then the first African American female President of Associated Students, running weekly Board meetings and adding changes to the constitution that were passed by the Board of Trustees. She helped shape school district policies about COVID vaccine requirements and exemptions, and was instrumental in planning and developing programs, seminars, and webinars that would help increase student function online and in person. She continues to help plan diversity events at the college, including creating the Steel Drum Workshops.
Mary finally felt like she had found her calling in helping people and giving them a voice. She’s since been elected the first African American female Regional Affairs Director for the Student Senate for California Community Colleges. In this role, she’s represented the students on the hiring committee for the Vice President of Academic Affairs, at the annual Moorpark College Strategic Planning Retreat, and in Sacramento, where she met with legislative representatives to discuss student issues and encourage policy to better students' experiences.
She has been active with Simi Valley’s Neighborhood City Council and Youth Employment Service, and volunteers at the senior center and Good Samaritan Center and distributes blankets to Simi’s homeless. Instead of letting mistreatment and adversity harden her heart, Mary is resolved to help people like her who face the same. “For the rest of my life, I want to serve the people and be there for the people. Without compassion, sympathy, and empathy, I don’t feel like a whole person.”