Centennial stories - Julinda LeDee

San José City College Centennial: Julinda LeDee

Julinda LeDee - Still I Rise

Julinda LeDee started working at San José City College in the year 2000 as a secretary in the Language Arts Department. She is now City College’s Articulation Specialist helping establish transfer agreements between City College and two-and four-year colleges and universities

Julinda is an in-demand motivational speaker, sharing her experiences and giving advice while empowering and uplifting others. At City College, she established on-campus poetry potlucks, a student food table stocked with free snacks, and Kandace’s Korner bookshelf of donated books for students. In 2015, she reestablished the Classified Senate, and this year she was one of the finalists

We had a chance to catch up with Julinda for City College’s Centennial celebration, where she explains what has made City College her second family for her and her children, two of whom are City College alumni!

I first went to San Jose City College when I was 18 years old right after high school. I was pregnant and I was former foster care in Santa Clara County. I only attended a short while because after the birth of my child, I realized I couldn’t work and go to school at the same time with a newborn under my circumstances.

Julinda LeDee

Eleven years later, I went to a job fair and talked with a lady at the table for City College and Evergreen Valley College who said there was an open secretary position. The Dean of Language Arts at that time, Lois Lund, called me and we had an interview. I was hired at City College in 2000. While working there, she requested that I attend school. She said, “Julinda, I would like you to take some English classes so you can represent the department a little better. If you go back to school, I will support you.”

At this point, I’m a single mother with three children, a full-time job and she’s asking me to take classes. A year passed and I took her up on her offer taking one class at a time, originally during my lunch time. I took English 1A, 1B, and 1C and from there, I continued. It took me seven years to earn my associate degree while I was working and raising my children.

I was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, but spent most of my life here in San José. I was in foster care and was one of those who bounced around, a runaway, going to four different high schools in the San José area, including Milpitas High. So, when my dean said she wanted to support me, I wasn’t used to that. And she did. Everyone at City College did. Faculty paid for my books, they paid for my tutoring, and made sure I had what I needed.

“This is a community. This is what a community college is about. I’ve been with the college for 20 years and it’s been an amazing experience. I’m truly grateful.”

Julinda LeDee

I chose Sociology as a major. Because of my background, I never went further than arithmetic. When I transferred to San José State, my counselor said, ‘You need to change your major, because you have to take statistics and you’ve never even taken algebra.’ I said was sticking with my major in Sociology with a minor in African American studies.

She was right. I struggled. It took me three semesters to pass statistics. I loved my instructor, an adjunct at San José State. The third semester, I went to him and said, ‘if you put it as a list instead of paragraphs, I can get it. It’s just the way I process information.’ I loved him because he listened to me and taught the whole class that way so I could pass. One of my City College classified staff even supported me with math tutoring. Thanks to them, I was able to earn my bachelor’s from San José State.

After that, my coworkers said, “Julinda, now you have to get your masters.” I was an administrative assistant raising three kids, going to work, not looking for anything more. But I saw something about University of San Francisco’s Public Administration program and thought how much I loved being in the public realm helping people. There was a satellite campus in San José, but you had to complete one semester in San Francisco to get acclimated to the University.

My first day driving to SF, I got lost! I couldn’t find the school. I didn’t have a phone. I was asking people. One sent me to SF State. It was a mess. I just cried and drove back home. After that, I was always early, because I didn’t want to have any excuse. Missing the first day devastated me, because I felt like I had come so far in my struggle. Education was never a priority. It was never talked about. Now I was embracing this. I wanted to learn.

When I graduated from USF, three City College faculty came to the graduation, one who lived in SF had a party for me. They made sure I had everything I needed.

That is my family. I don’t have the mom and the dad. I have the non-traditional family and we come in many shades and backgrounds. I now have a master’s degree. My oldest son has a master’s degree. He did not come from a privileged place. I am super proud of that. It is because of my San José City College family that I say that with so much love.

“That is my family. I don’t have the mom and the dad. I have the non-traditional family and we come in many shades and backgrounds.”

Julinda LeDee

City College not only influenced me as a person and as a mother, but I was able to pass that down to my children. My oldest child graduated from Lincoln High School and attended City College. With him being a Black boy, he finished in two years, received several scholarships, and transferred to UC Santa Barbara. He went on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. He has been living in Copenhagen for the last seven years. He’s a track athlete and broke records at City College and UCSB. He has run all over Europe. He now works for the Danish Federation Track Team and speaks Danish and French.

When my daughter was younger, I was able to get her into a program at Stanford. I chose web design for her. She said, ‘mom, I don’t know what Stanford is.” I said, “you don’t, but I do!” She was able to take web design and use it in middle school working on the yearbook. She also went to City College and transferred to an HBCU in North Carolina, because a City College instructor encouraged her to do something outside of herself. Now, she is a designer in San José with her own line of clothing.

My youngest has been doing dance since he was four. He grew up performing and isn’t shy doing it. Now, he writes music, poetry, and is a videographer, model and skateboarder. Because he writes, he encourages me to write.

I’m a published writer because of City College. An instructor noticed I was writing poetry and sent me information to submit them for a contest. I wrote a poem about my grandmother, called The Smell of Bacon Grease. You know you remember the smell of bacon grease in a house when it’s cooking. As a kid, it was something special. The smell came to me one day, so I wrote a poem about it because it felt like home.

Julinda LeDee recites poem Still I Rise by Toni Morrison

I submitted that poem and it was published in the 2007 In Other Words anthology. I was so excited. After that, I wanted to get published again and learned about self-publishing. Now, I’m self-published and I have two books with covers designed by my daughter. I started writing fictional short stories based on my life in 2011. During COVID, I wrote five different stories and I’m thinking about writing others. I want to bring you in and leave you wanting more; I leave a cliffhanger with all my short stories.

Marty Kendall, a City College English professor and a writer, was getting a book published about a Cambodian student and showed me the selection of paper she had. I never thought about paper before. She showed me texture of books, the ink, the font, how the process worked. It’s another example of how having these experiences, being around the dynamic people at City College helped me enrich my skills.

Find more Julinda has written and hear some of her poems, short stories, speeches, spoken word, and more at:

Speak for Impact & YouTube

There are many other stories of how my City College family have been there for me over the years, and how it has transcended to my children. I call them my family, because they have been my family. My first book is even dedicated to them. It has been in my core – the education, support, the love – to be able to utilize everything on campus from a student perspective and an employee perspective. This is a community. This is what a community college is about. I’ve been with the college for 20 years and it’s been an amazing experience. I’m truly grateful.