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Irvienne Goldson, health care ‘spirit warrior’ for women of color, dies at 60

Irvienne Goldson (left) with Rhoda Johnson at the 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston.Bill Brett/Globe Staff/File 2008

No stranger to the daily challenges women of color face, Irvienne Goldson became a beacon of hope while offering health resources, education, and guidance to Boston’s underserved communities.

“Things get hard,” she said in a “Warrior Wednesdays” video posted online, adding that “when I get to that moment of, like, I do feel like giving up, that’s where my spirit warrior comes in.”

An inspiration for girls and women — and for men, as well — Ms. Goldson was deputy director of Action for Boston Community Development’s health services department. She was 60 when she died of a heart attack Dec. 29 in her Cambridge home, her family said.


Ms. Goldson had been a presence in Greater Boston health care for decades.

“She was the most godly, golden, supportive community advocate I had ever met in my life. She was always there,” state Representative Liz Miranda of Boston said during a virtual celebration of life on Jan. 14, what would have been Ms. Goldson’s 61st birthday.

John J. Drew, ABCD’s president and chief executive, said in a statement that the organization had “lost a powerhouse in its work with youth and neighborhood residents who need health and reproductive information to move their lives forward. Irvienne was a trailblazer. Giving up was not in her vocabulary.”

Ms. Goldson’s innovative approach to creating programs helped deliver essential health care information to those for whom physicians and hospitals can be out of reach. And she made herself available at all hours.

“There were no strict lines between her work and her presence in the world,” said Joan Whitaker, former health services director at ABCD.

While some might approach health care as a 9-to-5 job, “her involvement was all the time,” Whitaker said. “So much of the work she did was at night and on the weekends because, guess what, people are working and in school, and sometimes are only available in the evenings.”


Ms. Goldson “understood what people in our neighborhoods needed and she brought it to them via workshops, conferences, one-on-one meetings — whatever it took,” Drew said. “She was ablaze always with love and understanding so people listened to her. She made a difference. She was the best of us and we will miss her.”

During the emotional memorial gathering held via Zoom, which is posted on Facebook, Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia recalled through tears that Ms. Goldson had been a mentor when Mejia was an ABCD community health educator in the early 1990s.

The inspiration Ms. Goldson offered, Mejia said, went beyond the expansive reach of her health care programs.

“Miss Irvienne has inspired all of us to step into our power, to walk into spaces, and never leave ourselves at the door,” Mejia said.

“She is looking upon all of us and expecting us to do what’s right, and expecting us to continue to live on, and be as fierce and as dope and as always ready to go as she was. In every room that we walk into, we will be Miss Queen Irvienne and we will fix our crowns, and we will hold our heads up high, and we will let them know that we are here. And that is what she wants of all of us.”

In ABCD’s tribute, Jessica Aguilera-Steinert, the organization’s health services director, recalled that “Irvienne changed the lives of many young people in Boston and beyond. Young Black and brown girls, women, and men were her family, her joy, and her purpose.”


Ms. Goldson “had a lifelong commitment to educating and raising awareness about sexual health, reproductive justice, and health equity,” Aguilera-Steinert said. “She taught us to be brave, to care for ourselves, and to advocate for others.”

Irvienne Goldson was born in Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1960, the daughter of Gloria Henry Goldson, who worked in a bank, and Irvin Goldson, who died before she was born, said her cousin, Rachael Powell of Conyers, Ga.

Ms. Goldson’s mother moved to the United States first, while young Irvienne lived with her grandparents in Jamaica and made summer trips to visit Gloria, before joining her mother full time.

Though Ms. Goldson was an only child, she was very close to her extended family.

“What she did for the community she did for members of the family also,” said her cousin Shirley Roache-Russell of Cambridge. “You could always count on her to be there in times of need. She took care of us before she would take care of herself.”

Powell said her cousin “was just a caregiver and a nurturer.”

They spoke by phone regularly, including for hours on Christmas Day, in conversations where words at times were unnecessary and “we would just be listening to each other breathe. We weren’t even saying anything.”

One time when Powell was living in Cambridge and her jaw was wired shut for a dental procedure, Ms. Goldson moved in so she could cook for her cousin and feed her via a syringe that fit between the wires.


“She pureed that food and seasoned it so nicely and she put that food in that syringe and then she’d feed me,” Powell said. “It was like eating a steak, I’m not lying.”

Ms. Goldson grew up in New York City before attending Hampshire College. She subsequently studied at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Suffolk University.

In the 1980s, she participated in the founding of a feminist health center in Cambridge, Whitaker recalled.

Other health care work in that decade and the early 1990s included serving as the African-American outreach educator for the Cambridge AIDS Task Force.

At ABCD, Ms. Goldson started out in 1992 as manager of education and training. Over the years, she was instrumental in creating programs such as Sister2Sister, Adolescent Sexuality Education/Let Girls Learn, and Community Health & Wellness.

Most ventures she launched were not held in the organization’s headquarters.

“Irvienne always felt that she should host programs in the neighborhoods, and not make people travel a distance or go downtown,” Ivana Serret, deputy director of ABCD’s field operations, said for the organization’s tribute. “She made every event fun and interesting, while bringing in local food and making everyone comfortable.”

Ms. Goldson leaves no immediate survivors.

In addition to the Zoom memorial service held last month, ABCD will host an online event at 3 p.m. Thursday to recognize Black History Month, which will include a tribute to Ms. Goldson.


A foundation of each of Ms. Goldson’s interactions “was respect for the dignity of all the people she encountered, understanding where they were in their journeys,” Whitaker said.

That respect, Whitaker added, went hand in hand with her insistence on always being available.

“She would go above and beyond to get resources to people. It was never, ‘It’s not in my job description.’ People would come in seeking her out all the time,” Whitaker said. “I’m sure she was on everyone’s speed dial.”

Ms. Goldson “made the world a better place,” Miranda said in the Zoom gathering. “She made your lives better. She made our community stronger and healthier. She was this empowerment captain.”

“Let us live on with her legacy,” Mejia said at that service, “and hold ourselves accountable to what she has instilled in us.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.