Remembering Kenya Flash: “Brilliance, generosity, and vast knowledge”

  • Smiling Black woman wearng white turtleneck sweater, glasses, and colorful hairband, holding pencils in one hand and a bookmark in the other.
    Kenya S. Flash
January 9, 2022

Kenya Siana Flash, librarian for Political Science, Global Information, and Government Information at Marx Science and Social Science Library, was known at Yale  as an exceptional and beloved social sciences librarian, colleague, teacher, and community member. She died on Dec. 24 at the age of 41, after a short illness.

Her untimely passing was met with shock, grief, and accolades. “Kenya was a person with so much light, kindness, fierceness, passion, and generosity,” tweeted Héctor Peralta, a PhD student in American Studies, whose work explores immigration, racial formation, and competing sovereignties at the Mexican-American border.  Anne Mishkind, a doctoral candidate studying 20th century educational planning, policy, and statecraft, wrote: “I sent nearly every one of my students to Kenya, even if they didn’t think they needed her, because I knew that they’d be better off for having experienced her brilliance, generosity, and vast knowledge on seemingly every topic. She was incredible and made Yale a better place.”

Path to Yale Library

Born in Jamaica, Kenya Flash moved to Buffalo, N.Y., as a young girl together with her mother and siblings. She earned a bachelor’s degree in government and law from Lafayette College, an M.A. in political science from East Stroudsburg University, and an M.S. in library and information sciences from Drexel University. She was a librarian at King’s College and the University of Tennessee Knoxville before joining Marx Library—then known as CSSSI—in 2017.

During the hiring process, she wowed her future Yale colleagues with her interview presentation, a mock instruction session.  “She was a star,” recalled Jill Parchuck, who retired in 2020 as director of Marx Library and associate university librarian for science, social science, and medicine. “She had us all fully involved and engaged. It was a master class in how to effectively do library resources instruction.”

Kenya provided instructional and research support for the departments of Political Science and Global Affairs and for programs in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration and Ethics, Politics, and Economics. She led collection development in political science, global affairs, government information, and public policy research. Her scholarship and subject expertise can be seen in more than 30 research guides  she created or co-created with colleagues, ranging from broad disciplinary overviews to more specific topics such as political protest movements and individual course guides.

Within the library, she served on many committees, including as co-chair of the Staff Diversity Committee. “Her insights, energy, and empathy have been critical in our ongoing efforts to make the library a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization,” said Barbara Rockenbach, Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian. “Her contributions to the library and to Yale were immeasurable.”

She was also active in the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Diversity Alliance residency program. Beginning in 2023, Yale University Library will host a three-year residency for an early career librarian from a professionally underrepresented racial or ethnic group, in her honor. 

Passion for government information

A common thread throughout her research guides, presentations, and publications was the importance of government information resources, from the text of the U.S. Constitution to civil rights, federal legislation, funding for the arts, war declaration, foreign policy and much more. She was Yale’s administrator for several document repository programs, including U.S. federal documents, U.N. documents, FAO documents, EU documents, and Canadian documents. “These resources are something that Kenya was passionate about providing to researchers,” said Jill Parchuck. “She knew the resources well and did her utmost to expose them to those who could use them in their work.”

She was a lead organizer of Yale’s annual Constitution Day celebration, which featured public readings, library exhibits, and giveaways of pocket texts. She also led the annual selection process for the Applebaum Prize, awarded for the best use of government information resources in a senior essay. In 2019-20, she helped develop Eye on the Count - Census 2020, a series of talks and workshops.

Devotion to students

Kenya’s unstinting engagement with students was a defining characteristic. “She loved her job,” said her friend Ingrid Lennon-Pressey, manager for classroom support at the Beinecke Library. “She loved her students. No matter what the case might be, she was there for her students.”

Michelle Nearon, senior associate dean for graduate student development and diversity, credited Kenya with transforming the curriculum for the graduate school’s summer undergraduate and post-baccalaureate research programs. She introduced weekly, daytime workshops on literature review basics, citation management, strategies for finding and using data, Google Scholar, finding and using images in presentations, digital humanities, finding and working with government information, and strategies to ensure the proper use of materials. “These sessions were instrumental in helping to prepare undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students for graduate school,” Nearon said.

Patrice Collins, who will graduate this spring with her doctorate in sociology, met Kenya when Collins was the graduate coordinator for the GSAS summer undergraduate research fellowship. “From the first interaction we just connected,” Collins said. “She was just a bright light. Kenya went above and beyond for students, especially graduate students, and also for the undergraduate students. She never said no. She would always find a way to make it work. Kenya has been a motivating, encouraging force and, also, a great friend throughout my entire graduate school experience.”

Tributes from colleagues

Visitors to an online tribute wall praised her kindness, her joyful spirit, and her megawatt smile.  “Every time I saw her, she made my day brighter, and I know that was a shared experience for so many of us at the library,” wrote Alison Clemens, head of processing in Manuscripts and Archives. “She was one of the kindest, funniest, clearest-eyed, most dedicated people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. We were fortunate to have her in this world, and I miss her already.”

To make a gift in support of the Kenya S. Flash Residency, please e-mail library gift officer Chris Woodford.

—by Patricia M. Carey

Image details: Kenya Flash holding promotional materials—carpenter’s pencils advertising the Catalog of Government Publications (in her left hand) and a bookmark promoting Ben’s Guide to the United States Government (right hand)—at a 2020 celebration of Yale Library’s 160th anniversary as a government depository.