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Marcia Perlstein

1945 - 2018 Obituary Condolences Gallery
Marcia Perlstein Obituary
Marcia Hope Perlstein

June 1945-February 2018

June 14, 1945 — February 25, 2018

Born in 1945 and raised in the Bronx in New York City, Marcia Perlstein was a passionate educator, writer, psychotherapist and activist for equal rights in her seventy-two years of enthusiastic leadership and advocacy of all things that unified and helped people. Marcia's cultural identity of being heir to stories of the Holocaust, her appreciation of Yiddish, her NewYork-ness and her boundless warm-hearted humor colored her entire life and its many friendships.

Marcia was the oldest daughter of Sam and Pauline Perlstein, and is survived by her loving wife Nyla Dartt, her beloved and close sister Sherry Perlstein and Sherry's life partner, Mark Tilley. Her parents and her brother Jerome preceded Marcia in death. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1965 until 2003, Marcia died in a Seattle hospital in February 2018 near her home of Port Townsend, Washington.

Daughter of Jewish working class parents, Marcia was the first in their large extended family to go to college. Marcia found early her love of learning and teaching. Entered by examination into the Bronx High School of Science, she reveled in her education there and after graduation attended Harpur College, at the age of sixteen, in upstate New York. She majored in English and Drama, falling in love with poetry and producing one of the first Ionesco plays in the United States, 'Victims of Duty," for her senior work in 1965.

Marcia's activist life also began early. She met Stokely Carmichael at the Bronx High School of Science, whom she joined in protest, passing out leaflets in Harlem for CORE (Committee on Racial Equality) until the day she was encouraged by Carmichael to go to her own neighborhood in the Bronx and picket the local Woolworth's amongst her own people. Marcia's father had been an outspoken Teamsters Union organizer and had raised his children to never cross a picket line. She marched in the 1959 Washington DC Youth March for Integrated Schools and later she attended Dr. Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream Speech in Washington, in 1963.

Marcia drove west after college (via Mexico for the summer) and enrolled in the fall at the age of nineteen in UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education in the Internship Program in Teacher Education with a new specialty of teaching academic non-achievers, and received her Masters in Education in 1965. She was the youngest person ever admitted to that internship program.

Marcia began teaching urban kids in San Francisco. In a quest to enhance her ability to help students that were struggling emotionally and academically she also enrolled herself simultaneously in classes at San Francisco State University obtaining two Masters degrees, one in Psychology and one in Counseling. After several years of teaching, frustrated by the punitive structure of schools that punished troubled kids for misbehaving, she wrote a lengthy letter of resignation, telling the superintendent of schools how a school could foster success in these youngsters. He responded by assigning her to develop a school in that vision. In 1969 she then founded and became the first Principal of Opportunity High School in San Francisco —a school designed to educate "disenfranchised" kids at the peak of the Haight-Ashbury scene – the area was renowned as a mecca for dropouts and ample available drugs. San Francisco Superintendent of Schools Tom Shaheen charged Marcia and her co-teachers: "Do whatever it takes to reach the kids assigned to your school, you must reach them, there is no one else to do it." Its innovative curriculum included such courses as Drugs and Society, Ethnic Studies and Natural History of the Bay Area and included such diverse teachers and guest lecturers, as Country Joe McDonald (Songwriting, Music Business in Theory and Practice) and Dennis Banks, leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

She left the Opportunity School in 1978. She became a national lecturer as an Associate for the National Commission on Resources for Youth, on strategies in special education, and the editor of a highly regarded book, " Flowers Can Even Bloom in Schools",

She soon ran for Superintendent of Schools of Alameda County. With only $6000 in her campaign chest and out-funded ten to one, Marcia managed to convince outspoken feminist Congresswoman Bella Abzug to speak on her behalf. She lost 120,000 to 82,000 votes. She also forged the No Name Radical women's Political Caucus in the 1970s to promote women in mainstream politics.

Marcia went full time into her therapy practice and had a longtime association with the Berkeley Therapy Institute. Her work in psychotherapy was not restricted to client visits. She developed and spearheaded the East Bay Volunteer AIDS project in 1987, to provide mental health counseling to AIDS patients and their families. She wrote about domestic violence and double standards, held aspiration workshops for women and girls, and conducted diversity training for schools, nonprofits and businesses. She published many articles on ethics, inclusivity and improvement of the counseling profession, and also detailed the depressive effects on the therapist of counseling many clients who were at that time dying of AIDS. Marcia co-founded the Berkeley Grief Support Project. She was honored to be asked to provide counseling and support on site in Washington DC at the unfurling of the Names Quilt.

Marcia came out as a lesbian in 1982. She had been closeted throughout her teaching career and through her first long-term relationship with her "roommate " whose suicide caused much personal pain that could not be shared. When she did come out it was a celebration. Her professional work now came in line with her private life. Her advocacy for GLBT rights from that point on was vigorous.

She founded the Alternative Family Project, a resource and training agency that assisted gays and lesbians to become parents. The program provided assistance to custody struggles after divorce, insemination issues, and adoption. There she developed the first transgender parents support group in the country. An aspect of this effort, in conjunction with the Gay and Lesbian Outreach to Elders program, assisted gay elders to act as grandparents with new gay families. She led trainings and wrote curriculum for teachers to work on the prevention of gay bashing and she advocated for gay worker rights with Out and Equal in the Workplace.

Marcia had a life rich with close ties to family and friends. She was a godmother to eight children in the Bay Area. She would entertain the children of young parents with special trips to the library, the bookstore, a field trip, and even a trip to Hawaii. The simple act of giving parents a reliable and frequent breather and listening intently to the children's stories and concerns gave much uplift and love over decades.

Marcia met her partner Nyla Dartt in 1987. Sharing a counseling background and an abiding love of each other and adventure, the two forged a partnership that lasted thirty-one years until Marcia's death. They had a Commitment Ceremony in 1989. The couple moved to Washington in 2005. Nyla and Marcia settled in the Port Townsend area of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington and they were legally married at Sherry and Mark's home in Connecticut in 2011.

A memorial celebration of life will be held in Berkeley CA on Saturday, JULY 14 at 3pm. For information please go to the following web site: hello2826.wixsite.com/marciaperlstein for the process to RSVP.

Published in San Francisco Chronicle on June 17, 2018
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