Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Emma Elizabeth Speaks, 63, teachers aide, children's advocate

She was a dancer and a former member of the Black Panthers.

SpeaksRead more

THE LIFE JOURNEY of Emma Elizabeth Speaks took a number of divergent paths. She was a dancer performing with popular local musicians; a member of the Black Panthers; a court-appointed advocate for abused and neglected children; a public-school teachers aide; and a nurse caring for homebound patients.

Along the way, she became a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, a dedicated churchwoman and an imaginative artist with needle and thread.

Emma Speaks, known to her family as "Angel," died April 13 at age 63. She lived in West Philadelphia.

The name "Angel" had somewhat mystical connotations. When she was pregnant with her oldest child, Tanya, her great-grandfather said he saw angels on her shoulder.

Later, she got the name "LeLe" because her oldest nephew, Donald, couldn't pronounce Elizabeth.

Angel was born in Augusta, Ga., to Gertrude Brown. She came to Philadelphia as a child and was educated in the public-school system. She graduated from Simon Gratz High School.

In later years, she attended Philadelphia Community College, majoring in early-childhood education.

She never studied dancing, but had a natural talent for it. Among those she joined on the local stages was the late Teddy Pendergrass.

Angel's strong belief in the need to make social changes led her to join the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panthers. She was intrigued by the Panthers' program that called for "land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace."

Angel attended the nation's first Black Power Conference, hosted in 1968 by the late Rev. Paul Washington at his Episcopal Church of the Advocate at 18th and Diamond streets.

Among civil-rights leaders who attended were the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Rosa Parks, whose defiance of the Montgomery, Ala., discriminatory bus law sparked the civil-rights movement; Ron Karenga, founder of the Kwanzaa observance; and poet LeRoi Jones, who became Amiri Baraka.

Eventually, Angel decided, as she wrote in her own words in her obituary, "It is easier to make changes within the system instead of out."

She became a teachers aide at Kearny Elementary School and at Vaux Junior High School for 18 years.

Angel was appointed as an advocate for abused and neglected children by Philadelphia Family Court, and often appeared in court with her charges.

After retiring, she became a Bayada nurse working with homebound patients and a respite worker for Youth Services.

She was honored by Women in Education for her work with children.

Angel married Danny Speaks in 1981 and spent 30 years raising a family. He died in January 2011.

She was a member of Ss. Andrew and Monica Anglican Church, where she was an usher.

Angel had an artistic bent and enjoyed crocheting and sewing. She wrote that she liked "finding a way to make something out of nothing."

In later years, she liked to kick back and listen to oldies music and reminisce about her days as an entertainer.

Besides her daughter, Tanya Brown, a Philadelphia police officer, she is survived by another daughter, Ericka Watkins; two sisters, Inez Brown and Dolores Bailey, also a police officer; three grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

She was predeceased by a son, Turhaan Watkins, and a grandson, Andrew N. Cain Jr.

Services: 11 a.m. today at Wayland Temple Baptist Church, 25th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Friends may call at 9:30 a.m. Burial will be in Ivy Hill Cemetery.