Biography: Imani Bennett was born Charlynn Roberta Bennett to her loving parents Constance Delores Dixon and Charles Robert Bennett on June 30, 1950, in Washington DC. Their only child, “Charlie”, as she was lovingly called in honor of her father, was the center of the universe for her parents. Imani spent many of her childhood years engaging in social and team-oriented activities such as singing, cheerleading, and dancing.
Sadly, Imani’s carefree, free-spirited childhood was upended by the premature passing of her father in 1964 and her mother shortly thereafter in 1966. At 16 years old, Imani was suddenly an orphan. Blessedly, before her death, her mother arranged for Imani to be adopted by a neighboring family, the Parkers. Lutrelle and Lillian Parker had three boys, Lutrelle Jr., Wendell, and Raymond, and it was Imani’s tenacity and spirit that guided her during this difficult time. With time and patience, Imani’s heart was able to heal, and she flourished in her new life with “Ma and Pappy P” and her three big brothers.
Imani continued her cheerleading, becoming captain of the team and graduated from Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia in 1968. She attended Randolph Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and while she enjoyed her time there, the allure of “Chocolate City” called her back to the place of her birth, Washington DC. She continued her undergraduate study at American University, graduating in 1972. She later enrolled at Howard University School of Education, where she met Thomas Jenkins and, from that union, had her first child, Rabiah.
In 1977, Imani met John Youie Woodruff and sensed an immediate connection, admiring his determination, ambition, and zest for life. They decided to embark upon a new life adventure and move to the State of New York and were married in 1979. From that union, they had two children, Dalila and Jelani.
Imani and John loved Harlem for its rich history of African American achievement, culture, and community. In 1982, they decided to plant roots at 49 Saint Nicholas Place, and this historic property would be their legacy. Imani saw this historic property as her dream home. She envisioned totally restoring to its original grandeur, room by room, floor by floor. She was always a visionary and believed all things were possible. This was different. Unfortunately, the challenge proved to be too great, which impacted the marriage. They reframed their relationship to co-parent their children with love, support, and generosity.
Contributing to the history of Harlem through economic empowerment was Imani’s lifelong mission. It was this passion that laid the foundation for her professional trajectory. Over the next 20 years, Imani held various executive positions with Citibank, and then, Fleet National Bank (now Bank of America) in the small and minority-owned business lending space. She was instrumental in advancing these various lending institutions’ footprints in low and moderate-income communities, with a specific emphasis on Harlem. Additionally, she was responsible for directing corporate charitable contributions and marketing opportunities within the Harlem community.
In 2003, Imani joined the US Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency as a Business Development specialist, where she shepherded the agency’s mission of advancing the creation of wealth and employment for New York’s regional minority business enterprises. After a distinguished career in government and the private sector, Imani retired from the Minority Business Development Agency in June 2013 with the intention of spending her golden years traveling and enjoying her next phase in life, devoted to her family, her grandchildren, and the church.
We would be remiss if we did not talk about Imani’s love of fashion! She had incredible taste, and fearlessly embraced any style or look that was on trend at the time. From her hair, her makeup, her outfits, if you were to follow a fashion timeline for the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s…Imani’s look was always aligned, yet with her own distinct flair! Most notably, Imani possessed a unique ability to showcase arguably the most important defining feature of fashion in the 1980’s: the shoulder pad. This was how Imani expressed herself and how she directed her audience to perceive her. Her personal style exuded freedom, confidence, creativity: Imani.
Imani was also an adventurous traveler and cultural enthusiast. Her fondness for arts and culture led to one of our annual family traditions of visiting the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre during their holiday engagement at New York City Center. She frequented the many cultural institutions in New York and Washington DC as well as anywhere else in world she traveled: museums, monuments, architectural marvels, botanical gardens, historical landmarks…Imani never stopped learning, evolving and she loved rich and robust travel experiences.
A woman of strong devotion to God, Imani was faithfully committed to the church, joining the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. She was a very active member at Abyssinian, serving on the Board of Directors of the Development Corporation and a member of the Inspirational Voices Choir.
Her selfless sacrifice for her children, her commitment to community empowerment and professional excellence were exemplified throughout her life. She brought dignity, grace, and an elevated sense of purpose to all her endeavors—even through her final battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Imani made her transition peacefully at the Amsterdam Nursing Home on February 23, 2023. She was preceded in death by her parents at an age far too young and will be reunited with them again in Heaven above. Her HOMEGOING is celebrated by her daughters Rabiah Colter and Dalila Woodruff, son Jelani Woodruff, son-in-law Terrance Colter, grandchildren Sahilu and Yohannes; and her extended, blended family, relatives, and loving friends.
She was admired and greatly respected by those that knew her. “A fine leader servant”, “dignity personified”, “loving mother and grandmother”, “fierce and tenacious friend”, “effervescent”, “positive”. These are just a few words that describe Imani to the core. This is how every person that she encountered will remember her. To know her was to love her. Her grace, beauty, and the sparkle of her spirit will forever be missed.