Her poise, warm smile and sophisticated style gave Zandra Renae Conway an air of confidence she carried into any space she entered along her journey as a dutiful daughter, modern mother and social justice pioneer.
“There were times we would be the only Black women in the room, working to build the relationships that could help us find funding and sponsorship to make Atlanta Black Gay Pride a success” to paraphrase community organizer Darlene Hudson who spoke of her friendship with Conway who died March 5th at age 63. According to Ms. Hudson, Zandra was surrounded by her family in California when she made her transition.
"She was just as comfortable talking to major celebrities, like former NBA player John Ameachi, to chewing the fat with every-day, grassroots people who many in society choose to ignore” Ms. Hudson added about her late friend.
The two met back in the late 1990s--not long before both women joined the board of directors of In the Life Atlanta, Inc., the nonprofit producer of the world’s largest Black gay pride celebration.
“She often worked one side of the room while I worked the other,” said Hudson as
she recalled the early days of planning Pride celebrations with Ms. Conway at a time when Black LGBTQ advocacy in the deep south was still taboo and highly controversial. “She was one of the Black lesbian power-houses that made Atlanta a more inclusive and welcoming place for the children - a colloquial expression used by many gays and lesbians to describe others who identify as homosexual, same-gender-loving or Queer.
“She was a staunch supporter of building an inclusive LGBTQ community in Atlanta and around the United States,” said Earl Fowlkes, founder & CEO of the Center for Black Equity, a multinational LGBTQ+ network of Black gay pride organizers dedicated to improving health and wellness outcomes and driving economic empowerment opportunities and social justice initiatives and was a true servant leader who will be missed.”
Conway was among a generation of early human rights advocates who embraced intersectionality, an ideological framework for understanding the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, gender and sexuality create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination, disadvantage or privilege.
“She worked diligently to make connections across racial and gender identities,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality. “She brought humor and compassion to this work and was a leading member on our board at a time when there were few Black LGBT leaders working in the sphere of policy and politics.”
The world is definitely a different place today than it was when Zandra Renae Conway was born on April 21, 1957 in San Antonio, TX.
A self-described Air Force brat, Conway was the oldest of eight children born to the late A.T. and Walterine “Wally” Conway. The military parents raised their family on several Air Force bases that included posts in Germany and Hawaii before they settled in Fairfield, CA.
After she graduated from Fairfield’s Vanden High School in 1975, Conway enrolled at San Jose State University where she majored in History and became a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Her analytical mind fueled an interest in technology, which led to her obtaining a degree in information management systems from the University of California-San Francisco. She started her 22 year-career with Hewlett Packard in 1980 as a technology specialist and later advanced to roles as a trainer in the company’s marketing and human resources divisions. An avid sports fan, Conway enjoyed bowling and rooting for her favorite football teams, many remember the popular annual Super Bowl parties she hosted.
Those close to her say Conway’s proudest accomplishment was raising her only child, Kendra Renae Collins, born on February 12, 1988.
“She was so in love with her grandchild, Amira Renae Id-Deen, who affectionately called her Abbi [Ah-bee]” said Collins who was named after a San Jose street Conway traveled frequently along during her college days. “It is no coincidence she passed during International Women’s Month. She was a phenomenal woman, dedicated to sisterhood and cultivating relationships with other women.”
When the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington, D.C collapsed a portion of the United States economy, including the tech field, Conway pivoted to entrepreneurship. By that time, she lived in metro Atlanta and launched Conway Connections Group, a marketing and communications consulting firm.
Heavily involved in local politics and community organizing, In the Life Atlanta, Inc. was one of a number of nonprofit boards dedicated to social justice Conway volunteered her time to. In 2009, she served as the political liaison to the LGBT community for former Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell’s successful campaign, in addition to starting a three-year tenure on the board of directors for the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights group focused on the empowerment of Black LGBTQ+ people.
“Her service came at a crucial time when our ground work expanded to southern states,” said Donna Payne, former NBJC board member who is now a diversity and inclusion equal employment opportunity specialist for a financial firm. “Zandra played a key part in linking our work to African American political and religious leaders throughout southern states. Her solid insight and guidance secured our national outreach.”
A woman of conscious and faith, she and her daughter became members of Hillside International Truth Center in Atlanta, under the late Honorable Bishop Dr. Barbara King, a preeminent voice in the New Thought Movement. Once she moved back to the Bay Area in 2010, Conway quickly found a new spiritual home at Heart and Soul Center of Light under the pastoral care and guidance of Reverend Andriette Earl.
Her desire to create change for those most vulnerable, often attending meetings and networking mixers in her signature headbands and wraps, leaves an indelible mark on the world she leaves behind.
“We all stand on the shoulders of so many LGBTQ+ activists who laid the foundations for the freedoms we enjoy today. Zandra Renae Conway’s shoulders have been added to the list of those whose work will continue to pave the way for generations to come,” said Vallerie Wagner, friend and former chairwoman of the ZUNA Institute.
Zandra provided amazing leadership to the entire LGBT community and specifically worked diligently to make connections across racial and gender identities. She brought humor and compassion to this work and was a leading member of the Georgia Equality board at a time when there were few black LGBT leaders working in the sphere of policy and politics. Jeff Graham, Executive Director Georgia Equality
"She was a staunch supporter of building an inclusive LGBTQ community in Atlanta and around the United States,” said Earl Fowlkes, founder & CEO of the Center for Black Equity, a multinational LGBTQ+ network of Black gay pride organizers dedicated to improving health and wellness outcomes and driving economic empowerment opportunities and social justice initiatives. “She was a true servant leader and will be missed.” Earl Fowlkes, Executive Director,Center for Black Equity
Zandra joined the board in 2009 and served for 3 years. Her service came at a very crucial time because we had expanded our groundwork to Southern states. During those years, Zandra played a key part in linking our work to African American Political and Religious leaders throughout southern cities. NBJC’s national roots grew with her onboard. Grassroots activities in support of LGBTQ legislation was able to flourish because of her leadership. Zandra’s solid insight and guidance secured our national outreach. We are grateful for her presence on our Board during this time.
We all stand on the shoulders of so many LGBTQ+ activists who laid have now been added to that list of those whose work will continue to pave the way for generations to come.
Vallerie Wagner, Former Chair Zuna Institute & Friend