Dr. Calvin W. Rolark Sr.
Dr. Calvin W. Rolark Sr.

On this day, Dr. Calvin W. Rolark Sr. was born in Texarkana, Texas, on May 18, 1927. He would have been 90 years old today. Family members and friends join his daughter, Denise Rolark Barnes, and son, Calvin W. Rolark II, in this tribute to a man who devoted his life to his family and to the community he loved.

Dr. Rolark, an alumnus of Prairie View College, was a civic leader, a civil rights activist, entrepreneur, humanitarian and philanthropist. After moving to D.C. in the early 1950s, he established The Washington Informer in 1964, a weekly newspaper serving the African-American community in Washington, D.C.  He wanted a publication that would positively impact and give a voice to the District’s disenfranchised and predominately-Black community that was deeply engaged in a battle for Home Rule and self-determination. Ten years later, in 1974, he fulfilled an idea initiated by members of the Black United Front following the 1968 riots, to incorporate a Black philanthropic organization called the United Black Fund [UBF]. Its mission, To Serve Unmet Needs, addressed the myriad of social and economic needs served by mostly small and struggling Black and Latino non-profits shut out by the established United Givers’ Fund (later United Way). Following a legal battle led by Rolark’s wife and attorney Wilhelmina J. Rolark, UBF became the first Black non-profit organization to participate in the federal government’s Combined Federal Campaign. It was a historic victory.

Rolark, and his wife Wilhelmina, who served on the D.C. City Council representing Ward 8 for 16 years, were known as the ‘dynamic duo.” They worked tirelessly to support and uplift those who were “paying it forward” to make D.C., and especially Ward 8, a better place to live and work. Dr. Rolark’s philanthropic work took him throughout the U.S. and beyond where he established UBF affiliates in more than 30 states and supported projects in Africa and the Caribbean through UBF International.

“My dad passed away 23 years ago. Thank you to those who still express your gratitude to me for the big things and the small favors he did for you; the battles you fought and the victories you won … together, are stories that are emblazoned in my heart. They will forever remind me of how great a man he was. Thank you for keeping his memory alive.” — Denise Rolark Barnes

Dr. Rolark died on Oct. 23, 1994, at age 67. May he continue to rest in peace!

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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