Lily Kharrazi, Living Cultures Grants Program Manager
January 21, 2014

Portrait of Dr. Annjeannette Sophie McFarlin

“She was a tireless defender of those who are marginalized.  She told the stories that needed to be told.  A community cultural treasure; She will be missed!”  –Felicia Shaw (San Diego Community Foundation)*   

These remarks were written in a memorial book and are one of many sentiments expressed at a gathering on December 7th and 14th to honor Dr. Annjennette Sophie McFarlin who passed on November 26, 2013.

Dr. McFarlin founded the Black Storytellers of San Diego, Inc. (BSSD) 15 years ago.  As an affiliate of the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS) headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, their mission is to promote storytelling through education and entertainment, inspire through the power of the word and to keep African/African American culture and traditions alive and connected by telling and teaching stories.  Under Dr. McFarlin’s leadership, the Storytellers provided acclaimed performances and presentations primarily throughout San Diego County.  They have performed in classrooms, Head Start programs, homeless shelters, military bases, funeral services and hospitals.  BSSD, Inc. collaborators have included Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library, National University, Grossmont College, University of San Diego, UCSD, San Diego Women’s Chorus, The Joe & Vi Jacobs Center, and San Diego Museums.  

The Black Storytellers of San Diego, Inc. has received numerous commendations and awards including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the San Diego Commission for the Arts.  In 2009, a Living Cultures Grant ( was awarded to the Storytellers to research the history of African Americans 79 years and older who were born in San Diego.   The rich oral histories and life stories remain an historic marker of a rich and continuous presence in the Southern California.

“Dr. McFarlin’s life made a difference in the world.  Her stories healed communities, guided youth and she used her gifts to make a better change.”
–Jacque Nunez (California Indian Storytellers Association)*     

Dr. McFarlin’s life history and accomplishments were many.  In the mid-1940’s, her family left her birth home in Pensacola, Florida, by train, to move to California.  She lived most of her life in the Woodlawn Park community in Chula Vista, California, except when attending university or teaching out-of-state.   Annjennette McFarlin first pursued and worked in the medical field as a Licensed Vocational Nurse.  She later found her passion in the field of Communications and went on to earn a B.A. (Cal State Long Beach), M.A. (UCLA) and a Ph.D. in Speech Communication. In 1975, she became the first Black American to receive a Doctorate in Rhetorical Studies from Washington State University. She was the second African American woman to receive a Doctorate in any subject matter from WSU. She is the first recognized scholar of orator of Hallie Quinn Brown, an African American activist from the late 1800’s.

Dr. McFarlin taught at several educational institutions: Northern Illinois University, Southwestern Community College, University of New Hampshire, San Diego State University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Washington State University, and Grossmont Community College. She also held several administrative positions during her time as an educator.

From 1994 to 2002, Dr. McFarlin was Director of the San Diego Imperial County Community College Association Regional Faculty Internship Project (SDICCCA). This project was highly recognized throughout America for its ability to recruit, train and place ethnic faculty into community colleges.  Over 130 interns were recruited, trained and placed into teaching positions within the community college system. For her successful leadership of the SDICCCA Project, Dr. McFarlin was recognized by the State Chancellor’s office for her contributions to Leadership.

“Thank you for coming ’round here.”
–Baba Jamal Koram (Affiliate Director of NABS)*

“She loved us all.  She loved us well.”
–Annjennette E. McFarlin (daughter)*

*Comments selected from the memorial and the remembrance book

This portrait was written with the invaluable help of T. Ford, Joyce Suber, and Dr. Maxine Sherard of BSSD, Inc.; Dr. McFarlin’s sister, Linda Brown; and her daughter, Annjennette Elizabeth McFarlin.

Dr. McFarlin, her daughter Annjennette E. (left) and legendary actress Ruby Dee.  BSSD, Inc. hosted Ruby Dee in February 2006 in preparation for hosting the National Association of Black Storytellers Festival and Conference held in San Diego.