Sonya Reese Greenland is a community historian, activist and retired educator. She is the vice president of the Venice Historical Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of Venice, California. An only child, she was naturally curious about the world and realized her passion for learning at a young age. Inspired by early experiences with her elementary school teacher, whom she cites as a major inspiration, Ms. Greenland decided to pursue a career in education in order to help others satisfy their curiosity in similar ways. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from California State University, Los Angeles, and continued her education at California State University, Northridge, where she earned her elementary school credential. Subsequently, she earned a master’s degree in reading from California State University, Los Angeles.
Ms. Greenland began her professional career in a Head Start program. In addition to teaching, she was a credentialed reading specialist and dedicated her educational work to supporting learners with reading, writing, and other English language and literature topics. Outside the classroom, she also worked with students individually as a tutor. Her clients ranged from young children needing extra instructional support to succeed in school to adults looking to refine their essay and business writing skills to better advance their careers and college pursuits.
As a teacher, Ms. Greenland developed an acute respect for world literature and the place it holds in communicating culture and emphasized passing on her passion for diverse perspectives and meaning to each of her students. Her dedication to promoting the breadth of available literature and unique authorial voices led her to contribute to a variety of community-based charity work, including volunteering as a reading tutor and an active partnership with the Culture Education Project. Though successful as a teacher, Ms. Greenland also explored various other work, including property management services, and she spent more than five years working in the nonprofit sector. Currently, her focus is on outreach and administrative work for the Venice Historical Society.
Ms. Greenland’s interest in local history was sparked by her family’s generational interests in the Venice area and her commitment to passing on the legacies of similar figures, particularly after learning about her grandfather, Arthur Lloyd Reese, an influential businessman and designer who used his background as a train porter and maintenance worker to rise through the ranks at the Abbott Kinney Company. Initially drawn to the Venice area for its potential as a civic experiment and new business frontier, Mr. Reese eventually became known for his work in designing the iconic gondola vessels used in Venice’s canals. Ms. Greenland’s research and advocacy for telling the often-forgotten stories of the area’s development eventually led to the restoration and display of one of her grandfather’s original gondolas and the Venice sign.
Ms. Greenland’s research into her grandfather’s life and contributions has spanned more than two decades of work and established his legacy as a pillar of Black life and culture in early Venice. She is the author of a book about his life, “The Wizard of Venice,” inspired by her research and the lack of available resources on the area’s rich African American cultural history. Ms. Greenland considers her independent research and the publication of her book to be her two greatest professional accomplishments, and she looks forward to continuing to advocate for the preservation and celebration of local history as a part of the Venice Historical Society. When she is not working, she enjoys writing, working on personal creative projects, and helping to raise her granddaughter, Naila Reese Gaston.