Emma loved her children and pushed for a good education for her children and herself. While working two jobs, Emma pursued her degree in pharmacology. The weight of raising four children and the determination to stay in a good public school system forced Emma to put her dreams on hold. Emma spent countless hours meeting with teachers, principals and administrators advocating for her children.
Emma was introduced to Buddhism in 1982 by her sister Stella and became an active member of the SGI-USA. The premise that all individuals possessed the power to change their lives in this lifetime resonated deeply. Emma embraced Buddhist studies and activities and fiercely believed in her ability to protect and encourage her children through diamoku. The chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Emma was a member of the SGI for over 40 years, serving as a group leader, district leader, chapter leader, part of the Women’s Division and the many treasurers. Emma introduced all her children to the Buddhist practice, with each of her children receiving their own Gohnzon, which contains the Law of the Lotus Sutra. Emma supported and encouraged numerous members over the years.
Emma’s Buddhist practice, strong determination, hard work and laser focus on education truly changed her future, the lives of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Emma made college a reality for all of her children with at least three earning Master’s degrees. Emma’s older grandchildren have all attended college and earned a collection of degrees including an MBA, a JD and a MD. Emma was able to return to college and earned her Master’s of Management degree from Cambridge College at the age of 57. Education continues to be a driving focus for “the children of Emma” and the accomplishments of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were an endless source of joy. For multiple years, graduation would fall either on Mother’s day or on Emma’s birthday. Each time, Emma said she could not have asked for a better gift.
Emma was known for providing all of her children some fairly intense lessons, including teaching a child how to take someone down who was larger, teaching how to throw a punch, practicing CPR on baby dolls, basic dance lessons because rhythm doesn’t really come naturally, positive affirmations known as the “I am statements,” to counter the many facets in the world that would tell us what we were not, and perhaps her most famous – tongue fu, so we could always advocate for ourselves and our loved ones with our words.
Coming together as family was a priority for Emma. She always told her children, “you only have each other” and stressed the importance of keeping our family together. Emma discovered Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. She loved the ocean, diversity and tranquility. It became and continues to be the family destination for vacation. Emma loved Ocean Park and sitting on the porch, watching the ocean and happy families.
Emma inherited from her parents a love of music and dance, she also inherited their good looks. Similar to her mother Clara, Emma was stunning. She was pursued by CEOs and multiple NFL players. Emma decided that she would never remarry. Emma’s external beauty was only ever overshadowed by her inner beauty and compassion.
Emma provided a safe haven and opened her home to foster children, unwed mothers, and foreign students. Emma believed if you could help, you absolutely should. A focus on compassion and support defined how Emma ran her household, how she defined her career and where she volunteered her time. Emma founded the Nubian branch of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Massachusetts. Regardless of where Emma was physically located, she considered the City of Cambridge her true home and community.
Emma served as the Director of the Cambridge Citywide Center for over 25 years. She created a safe and enriching environment for seniors and received numerous awards for her service to the community, including the Nancy P. Kahn Award for excellence in community service for Cambridge and Somerville Elders. Multiple awards from the City of Cambridge for her service to Cambridge residents, awards from the City Manager and Mayor for her leadership on the Cambridge Postal Customer Advisory Group that organized events ranging from Black History at Cambridge City Hall Celebrating the Legacy of Ella Fitzgerald, to the Kwanzaa Community Celebration at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School and honored. Emma retired at the age of 75 and continued to support seniors. Serving on multiple committees and boards advocating seniors for the City of Newton.
Emma had an incurable illness that she battled for years. Emma departed this lifetime on January 19, 2023, surrounded by the love of family and friends. Emma is preceded in death by her mother Clara May Spencer, by her father Curtis Mays. From her seven Spencer siblings she is preceded in death by her brother, Clinton “Butch” Spencer, and leaves behind Donnie Spencer, Franchetta Harrington (Elmer), Lee Spencer Jr, Thomas Spencer, Bessie Spencer – Caples (Reginald) and Marvin Spencer. She leaves behind her Mays’ sibling, sister Stella Wilson (Mays). Emma leaves behind 4 children, Eileen Diggs (Ray), Cheryl Vines (Michael), Donna Levin (Bruce) and Raja Afrika (Kathleen). Leaves behind 13 Grandchildren, William Blige II (Tabitha), Taishan Gary, Michelle Cooke (Brandon), Jacquelyn Vines, Jasmine Diggs, Miles Levin, Kwanjai Welch Lucier, Rahim Welch Lucier, Kamal Welch Lucier, Kira Levin, Tenzin Afrika, Carolyn Afrika and Nyla Afrika and four great grandchildren, Kaiden Gary, Kal-El Cooke, Xanderlee Howard Blige and Taskerlee Howard Blige and a host of other family and friends.
A memorial service will be held in celebration of Emma’s beautiful life at Shir Tikvah, 34 Vine Street Winchester, MA 01890 on Sunday, January 22, 2023 at 3pm or join remotely Zoom:
https://shir-tikvah.zoom.us/j/81480959104, YouTube (computer, tablet, or mobile):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uz14sCKuUXg. In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to NAMI.