Celebrating a Life Well Lived
Mable “Jimi” Choice
Mable “Jimi” Choice blessed the Stockton community as an educator, youth activist, community pioneer and artist for nearly 60 years. She touched and improved countless lives during her 43 years as a teacher and counselor with Stockton Unified School District (SUSD). A native of Denver, Colorado, Ms. Choice was hired in 1963 “sight-unseen” by SUSD as the first black educator on the Stagg High School campus. Ms. Choice was a popular teacher at Stagg because she understood firsthand the importance of activism and engagement.
Born “Mable Marie Strong” in 1937, on a Sunday in the Five Points community of Denver, Colorado, Ms. Choice, also lovingly known as “Jimi Rae” was the eldest of five and became a part of history from the very first day of her life. Her young mother, Betty Lou Grant, delivered her on January 31st with the assistance of the famous midwife and doctor, Justina Ford. She spent her early years at the Carver Day Nursery learning and growing alongside her favorite cousin Patricia Anne “Pat” Grant, while her “momma” (her grandmother Myrtle Grant) worked ceaselessly to build her catering business and modeling for the girls the value of education, hard work and determination.
Young “Jimi Rae” attended racially integrated Whittier Elementary School, later making her academic mark at Cole Junior High and Manual High School. At Manuel, she continued her legacy of “firsts” as the first girl drummer with the band and a member of the Five Points Elks Drum & Bugle Corps. She was the first girl at Manual High to take driver’s education in high school. Among her friends, she had the first driver’s license and a car… a 1939 Ford. She was fond of saying, “I drove everyone to classes, basketball practice…anywhere and everywhere.”
By age 16, Ms. Choice worked in the family business and volunteered for programs at the Glenarm Youth Center and the local YWCA. Her outstanding academics earned her a scholarship to Colorado Teachers College in Greeley, Colorado. In the 1950’s, Greeley was strictly segregated, but she and her sister-cousin Pat helped get the school charter changed so that African Americans could live on campus. The determination to overcome overt racism was a regular theme in their lives. Against all odds, they pressed ahead to fulfill Grandma Myrtle’s desire that they get their education. Ms. Choice graduated near the top of her class. Years later, she earned her master’s degree in Counseling from Sacramento State University.
When the call came to serve in Stockton, California, “Jimi Rae”, newly married to former classmate and serviceman, Mr. John Choice, took up the challenge. Hired by SUSD as a gym teacher, Ms. Choice brought all her experience to her new position. As the first African American teacher at the then segregated Stagg High, she taught square dance, modern dance, gymnastics, and a wide range of activities, including golf. Although swimming and golf were not her favorite activities, she taught them with verve and vigor.
Ms. Choice became a favorite among students because of her depth of compassion and gentle, but effective advocacy on their behalf. She recognized the potential in each individual regardless of race, creed or gender, and gently reminded them that their lives mattered, believing in them even when no one else did. Once, during the tumult of desegregation, she used her commanding, reassuring presence to literally stop a race riot in front of Stagg High with nothing more than the serenity of her stance and her outstretched arms.
After earning her Counseling Degree, Ms. Choice took up a position as guidance counselor at Franklin High School where she inspired Yellowjackets for 37 years. She never limited herself to helping just the students on her roster. Even now, generation after generation of Stockton’s youth credit her with supporting, encouraging, and guiding them through tough times as well as serving as a second “mom” during their high school years.
Ms. Choice organized snow, camping, college and train trips, rallies, talent & fashion shows, Black History Month assemblies, and historical displays. She advised Franklin High School’s Black Student Union for many years, coordinating trips, raising funds, and even organizing the first and most well-established citywide BSU in Stockton. Under Ms. Choice’s leadership, the group organized and hosted two statewide conventions in Stockton. In addition to her duties at Franklin, Ms. Choice spent over 28 summers teaching and advocating for those incarcerated in the California Youth Authority system.
Ms. Choice, ever the groundbreaking pioneer, integrated Stockton’s Lincoln Village neighborhood, petitioning for the right to buy property in an area where the streets are still named after Confederate generals. She faced down the cross burnings, KKK leaflets scattered on the front lawn and hateful racist break-ins and vandalism of segregated North Stockton with courage, grace, and dignity. Our Nana was FEARLESS!
From the start, Ms. Choice jumped right into the social and political milieu of Stockton even while single-handedly raising her three daughters Leslie, Elisha and Lillaana. She helped Stockton Black Family Day get organized in its earliest years and became active in groups such as the local and national NAACP, the ACT-SO Program, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Debutante program, the Black Teachers Association (BTA) which later became known as BEA/SUSD, the CAL-RATA Association, the California Association of African American Educators, the Percy Barrow Association, CUFF, the Stockton Black Chamber of Commerce (SBCC), and the Stockton Black Leadership Council.
Ms. Choice brought her customary artistic flair to every new venture. She wrote and performed her original “Personalized, Poetry and Prose” (PPP) for individuals, groups, and community organizations. She popped up at convalescent homes, festivals, churches, weddings, anniversaries, and memorials to share her poetry, art, or a song. She hosted annual Aquarian Parties attracting folks from all over the state. She performed on the World Stage in Los Angeles, with the Pan-Afrakan Dance & Music Association and Tregle International. She has been published in numerous poetry anthologies, news articles, and other organizational documents, eventually publishing her own work of poetry.
Ms. Choice loved to travel by train, subway, bus, car, boat, and plane from coast (San Francisco) to coast (New York). She went all over the globe making friends and sharing her talents. She said, “I've been down the Hudson River... to Indiana, to Boston, Massachusetts by way of New York, to Chicago, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North and South Carolina, and Hawaii. I've traveled to Mexico, Nigeria, London and France, and I’ve never met a stranger.”
Ms. Choice, a third generation Christian Scientist, was an active member of Stockton’s Christian Science Church for half a century, serving as Sunday School Teacher and the Church Board Member. She often filled the positions of both First and Second Reader during her tenure there and participated with the prison outreach ministry at DVI. She often lent her beautiful alto voice to fill in for a soloist when needed.
For the last 12 years, she enjoyed fellowship at Victory In Praise, under the leadership of Bishop Rufus K. Turner and Pastor Trena Turner. She spent many hours enjoying lunch meetings and studying the true and living Word of God with Cameo (the mothers of the church). The congregation enjoyed her praise reports, her words of wisdom, her presence and her poetry!
Ms. Choice received Stockton’s prestigious 2008 Susan B. Anthony Award, numerous NAACP and Black Family Day Awards, 2009 Icon of the Year Award, and she was often referred to as Stockton’s Poet Laureate well before the position even existed.
Ms. Choice was quite adept at giving awards as well, annually funding the Choice Connoisseur of the Arts Award for Stockton’s talented youth. “Beyond the ABC’s and the XYZ’s is L.I.F.E!”, her book, shares her enduring wisdom with a list of her “Nana-isms” or words to live by, her sketches and drawings, her passions, and of course her infamous poem “Timeless Tapestry”. Selected poems from her book have been set to music and recorded in the author’s beautiful voice, a CD of which is available for those who want to support her scholarship.
Mable “Jimi” Choice was a Stockton icon and cornerstone of the community, serving with great compassion, wisdom, and enthusiasm. She sowed into the lives of young and old alike. She was a woman of note and worthy of the coveted title of “Nana” to those who knew and loved her. Ms. Choice left this earthly plane on September 24, 2021, having collected all her flowers and earned her sparkling crown. She has now crossed over to join her Heavenly Father for the rest of her eternal life. She will be forever loved and remembered.
Family and friends are invited to celebrate Nana’s life and legacy during “Nana Weekend”, a 2-day event of remembrance and celebration. Saturday, October 16th, will feature a morning quiet hour (9:30-10:30 AM) and funeral (11:00-1:00) at Victory In Praise Church, 2029 E. Harding Way in Stockton, California. Sunday, October 17th, continues with a Celebration of Life at 3:00 PM (location TBA).
Visit Ms. Choice, memorial website at www.stocktonfh.com to share a memory. For updated information about “Nana Weekend” or to continue her legacy of giving to her “Stockton Connoisseur of the Arts” scholarship, visit her Facebook page at https://bit.ly/3BaAgHA or her website at www.itsamoc.org. Cards can be sent to Mable “Jimi” Choice, 1048 West Robinhood Drive #77826, Stockton, California 95207.
Nana is survived by her three daughters, Leslie, Elisha and Lillaana Brigham, and her son Dewitt Bullock and her sons-in-law Henry, Stephan, Ericke and daughter-in-law Lydia; her grandbabies Kristi (Nate) Cooke, Shauna (Darren) Bigby, Ellissa Gorham, Nicci (Jason) Carson, Royalty (Jonathan) Gordon, Princess Fortier, Ebony (Ryan) Coleman, Destiny Fortier, Erick, Brenda and Amani Brigham, Dearah, Donyea, Da-Breya, Dewitt III, Derell Bullock and Denea Willis; her great-grandbabies Natalie and Naya Cooke; William, Avery and Daryn Bigby; Gigi, Monroe, Reganne and Josiah Gordon; Amaya, Eliana and Ryann Coleman, her siblings, Raymond Scott, Sondra Francis, Novuyo Masakhane, Shelli Porter, Scarlett Molock, Patricia Moore, and Pamela Baxter, and her aunts, Dorothy Grant and Helen Baxter. She is also survived by an incalculable number of cherished cousins, nieces, and nephews of whom she was so proud. She leaves behind in body, but never in spirit, a host of extended family members, including the hundreds of children she unofficially adopted as her own – of whom you are probably one!
She was preceded in death by a celestial roll call of ancestors, known and unknown, who came with the intention and purpose of creating the living legacy that Nana’s life made possible for her own offspring to continue. Included among Nana’s honored elders on the heavenly plane are Myrtle Alice Grant, her grandmother; Betty Lou Francis, her mother; Leonard Baxter, her father; Crawford Baxter, her brother; and Patricia “Pat” Lewis, her beloved sister-cousin.
They have welcomed her into her new and everlasting role to walk with us, bless us, teach us, share her wisdom, and bring comfort to all of us. And the Lord said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” Ashe’
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