Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Gwendolyn Rooks
MSA SC 3520-15860

Biography:

Gwendolyn G. Rooks, a lifelong Marylander, is a community activist who has touched the lives of hundreds of young girls.  Born in Baltimore, Rooks attended City schools from the primary grades through college. Today, Rooks is a retired principal of Hamilton Elementary/Middle School. She remains highly engaged through many volunteer positions; foremost among these is her role as director of the After School AKAdemy program.1

A partnership between Family and Children's Services and the Rho Xi Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the After School AKAdemy is a program that supports middle and high school girls to achieve their goals and aspirations. The motto of the program, "Dare to dream," encourages the girls to look ahead to their futures and not impose any limits on their ambitions. Rooks, named the "queen of adolescents" by Stan Levi of Family and Children's Services, seeks to instill a sense of responsibility in the girls by repeating the Benjamin E. Mays quote: "It is not your environment, it is you. The quality of your mind, the integrity of your soul, the dedication of your will is what will make your life." "After a while," Rooks said of the Mays quote, "They started believing it." 2  Rooks' role as a mentor to these young girls is varied and far-reaching. She exposes them to cultural activities with trips to Broadway and the Kennedy Center and by inviting them to dinner parties with other adults. She ensures that the girls give back to their community by having them volunteer at the local Head Start program and at a homeless shelter. Most importantly, Rooks supports their academic goals. She makes sure that the members of her program go to high school prepared for the heavier work load, and for those who want to continue their education past high school, Rooks helps in their SAT preparation, college visits, and college and financial aid applications. Many of these girls are the first in their families to attend college. 3

The AKAdemy program is not the only way Rooks serves her community.  She serves on numerous boards, including the Baltimore School for the Arts, Continental Societies, Inc. Scholarship Review, and the Children's Choir of Maryland. She is also an active member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the NAACP. 4

Her committment to the Baltimore community has won her many awards, including the Rho Xi Omega Chapter's Cultured Pearl award, the 100 Black Women's President's Award, the Annie Roberts Foundation's Community Service Award, the Ravens NFL Community Quarterback Award, and the SHERO Award. In addition, Rooks was named one of Baltimore Magazine's Baltimoreans of the Year in 2006. 5

Gwen Rooks' devotion to and compassion for her young charges and her community is evident. She willingly and cheerfully gives her time and effort to help others. As Shanae Smith, one of Rooks' students, says, "She's completely selfless. I don't think she considers helping people as work. More people should think like that." 6 Many Baltimore girls and young women have benefitted from Gwen Rooks’ belief in them.


Endnotes:

1. 2012 Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Nomination Package. Return to text.
2. "Baltimoreans of the Year: 2006," Baltimore Magazine, December 2006. Return to text.
3. 2012 Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Nomination Package. Return to text.
4. Ibid. Return to text.
5. Ibid. Return to text.
6. "Baltimoreans of the Year: 2006," Baltimore Magazine, December 2006. Return to text.

Biography written by 2012 summer intern Anne Powell.

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