A pioneer in bringing foster care, adoption and other essential social services to the underserved South Phoenix community in the 1980s, and one of Arizona’s 48 Most Intriguing Women has died at the age of 69. Mary M. Black, the innovative, tireless and outspoken founder of the community-based 501(c)(3) Black Family and Child Services of Arizona (BFCS) social service agency in 1984 served as its CEO for 35 years, retiring from her leadership role in October 2019 due to illness.

Shawn Pearson, a 25-year veteran of nonprofit business administration and community service in Phoenix began serving as CEO of the agency in January of this year, following Black’s retirement.

“Ms. Black’s pioneering work touched and improved the lives of thousands of children and families throughout the course of her amazing career,” said Pearson. “On behalf of the BFCS staff, our clients, our supporters, advocates and generous donors, I want to express our deepest sympathy to Ms. Black’s family and my personal commitment to continue serving children and families through this agency to carry her legacy forward,” she added. “We will all miss her vision, energy and selfless dedication to helping people very much.”

A Career of Achievement

During her three and a half decades as the leader of BFCS, Black oversaw growth of the agency from four employees sharing one small office to one of the most respected nonprofit child welfare and behavioral health agencies in Arizona.

Since 1984, the agency has supervised the placement of thousands of children into foster homes, placed hundreds of children into adoptive homes and provided behavioral health, substance abuse counseling, after-school programs and other services to thousands of others.

Black received a number of prestigious national, regional and local awards during her tenure as CEO of BFCS, including being recognized as one of Arizona’s 48 Most Intriguing Women in conjunction with the state’s centennial celebration. She was recognized for her leadership and service to the greater Phoenix community by the Phoenix Suns on Martin Luther King Day in 2014. Black was an alumnus of Valley Leadership Class 10. A more complete list of her awards can be found on the agency’s website, BFCSfamily.org.

Expressions of sympathy or condolences may be made in her memory by donating to Black Family and Child Services either directly or via its website, BFCSfamily.org.

Maintaining the BFCS Legacy

Pearson has a professional background that has prepared her for the leadership role of the social service agency that serves the entire Phoenix area from its office in South Phoenix.

She is the founder of Zion Institute, a non-profit organization established in 2010 to break cycles of generational poverty for residents in South Phoenix communities.

Her professional background includes more than 25 years of nonprofit business administration, community service and public speaking. Pearson has provided leadership and management consultation services and trained staff at more than 100 agencies, businesses, churches and government entities across the United States, including Arizona, California, Texas, Georgia, and Florida.

As a community advocate, she has served on a variety of government-led committees to foster social and economic transformation for South Phoenix.

In addition to her role at BFCS, Pearson is a wife, mother, grandmother of 10 and published author. She resides in South Phoenix, Arizona with her husband Erick. 

For more information, contact BFCS at (602) 243-1773 or visit BFCSfamily.org.