Notable Black Leaders in the Angeles Chapter

  • Posted on 28 January 2021
  • By Morgan Goodwin - Senior Director, Angeles Chapter

February is Black History Month, and we take this moment to celebrate the contributions of Black leaders to the Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter. Be sure to also read about the first Black members in the chapter and the challenges of integration. The following members have received Chapter leadership awards, which we highlight here.

Stagalee "Stag" Thurston Brown Stagalee "Stag" Thurston Brown was awarded the Outings Service award in 1979 and with the prestigious Chester Versteeg Outings Award in 2003, and the Extraordinary Achievement Award in 2014, along with Bob “Cat” Thompson, and Joe Young. 

Stag has been a Sierra Club member since the late 1960s and a leader since the early ’70s. He began leading for the Hundred Peaks Section (HPS) and for the Griffith Park Section in the mid-1970s. Stag served for several years on the HPS Management Committee, serving as outings chair, social program chair, and section chair. He was the first person ever to be chosen chair of the HPS twice, in 1983 and 1990. The HPS presented him with the John Backus Leadership Award in 1979, and its highest award, the R. S. Sam Fink Service Award, in 1989. He also received a special award for “motivation” in 1984.
Along with Joe Young, Stag led an overnight hike through Skid Row of downtown Los Angeles every Christmas for over 30  years. Called the Annual Midnight Hike to Help the Homeless, participants put on their backpacks and hiking boots to help those less fortunate. The route was about six miles round trip, as hikers sought out citizens in need and spent all night on an urban hike of good will.
Virgil Shields, first Black chair of the Angeles Chapter from '03 - '06Virgil Shields was the first Black chair of the Angeles chapter from 2003 to 2006. In 2008, he was awarded the Phil Bernays Service Plaque.
Virgil joined the Sierra Club in 1977 when he took the Basic Mountaineering and Travel Course, which he then went on to lead. He became an “M” rated leader, and trained and led countless people in the mountains. His many roles included chairing the Rock Climbing Section, leading Wilderness Travel Course groups, and serving on the Chapter Safety Committee and as the chapter’s webmaster. Virgil was active in the national Sierra Club, serving as a delegate to the Sierra Club Council of Activists and on the National Council Steering Committee. Outside of the Sierra Club, Virgil was an active volunteer educator for Black youth, Indigenous youth, and youth of color in the EXCEL program of the Los Angeles Council of Black Professional Engineers, and he tutored students at John Muir High School in Pasadena.
Virgil was widely recognized as an excellent chair of the chapter, expertly integrating the outings and conservation efforts, and expanding chapter membership. His 2005 overview of the Chapter activities exemplifies this vision and scope. 
Bill Vanderberg at the podium

Bill Vanderberg was awarded the John Zierold award in 2005, the Special Service award in 2008 and the Extraordinary Achievement award in 2009. Bill and his student volunteers from the Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors also received the Youth Volunteer Group of the Year from Yosemite National Park in 2017. 
Bill started working with the Sierra Club in 1999 when he joined the Trail Crew of the Santa Monica Mountains Task Force, doing trail maintenance on Saturday mornings, and he continues to serve on the Task Force as vice-chair. Bill has been a strong leader in the chapter’s political efforts, including organizing 75 constituents to meet then-state senator and county supervisor candidate Mark Ridley-Thoas in Kenneth Hahn Park, and similar events for other candidates.
Through the Sierra Club’s Building Bridges to the Outdoors national campaign, Bill has led hundreds of low-income students and students of color from several high schools to participate in wilderness experiences in Yosemite. Bill also leads Inspiring Connections Outdoors trips. Outside of the Sierra Club, Bill sits on the board of the Baldwin Hills Conservation Authority. 
Bill’s work spans the full range of Sierra Club activities, from outings to conservation and politics. 
Charming Evelyn

Charming Evelyn was awarded the Irne Charnock Office Plaque in 2009 for outstanding service to the Angeles Chapter office, in 2011 the Citation of Merit for the City Scores on Water Conservation Measures in LA and Orange Counties on behalf of the Water Committee. Charming has also received Certificates of Recognition for her work from the California State Assembly and California Legislature Assembly.
Charming’s volunteer service at the office jump-started her service as a Sierra Club leader when she became one of the founding members of the chapter’s Water Committee. When it came time for the committee to pick a chair, she was recognized as the best choice. Charming’s leadership as chair of the Water Committee has created a thriving and powerful committee advocating for everything from water quality and water conservation to fighting ill-conceived water mining and desalination plants, all the while maintaining a robust presence within several communities through education and outreach. Charming is the Vice-chair of the Angeles Chapter’s Environmental and Social Justice committee, Co-Chairs Sierra Club California Water Committee and has served as the Conservation Liaison of the Outings Management Committee for the last 7 years encouraging outings leaders to incorporate the discussion of conservation within their outing  She has also served as Conservation committee co-chair, Vice-chair of the parks committee and on the chapter’s Executive Committee.
Charming is of mixed parentage and her family is Black, South Asian, Latino and white, however she identifies mostly with her South Asian heritage
Bettie Pearson

Bettie Pearson received the  Special Service Award in 2015 for her life-long contributions to the Sierra Club and the environment. Bettie has served as currently the Crescenta Valley Group’s newsletter editor, Conservation rep, Chapter Executive Committee at-large representative and Chapter Elections Committee. She leads day hikes and backpacking trips for the Crescenta Valley group. Bettie also volunteers with Glendale's Trails and Open Spaces Foundation, the city of Glendale’s Parks and Rec Dept, as well as with the Verdugo Mountains Experimental Forest, planting and watering new trees.  
In closing, this partial list highlights important contributions and awards given to Black chapter leaders. Many more Black members have led trips, participated in conservation activities, and contributed to the growing Sierra Club Angeles Chapter.


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Outstanding contributions. Annual Midnight Hike to Help the Homeless was a surprise, I had no idea of the Sierra Club hikes in urban areas.

It is so nice to see our beloved Stag Brown memorialized here. I was working at NBC in Burbank when a girlfriend at CBS called and said, "Hey! What about losing some weight hiking with the Sierra Club in Griffith Park?" That was 1984, a year before I hiked to the summit of my first mountain—Tin in Death Valley with the Desert Peaks Section. I was definitely intimidated but Stag and crew (mostly HPSers) were so cheerful and welcoming. I knew then, that the Angeles Chapter was the place for me. Thank you Stag and Nami for such great life experiences.

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