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Bells for Peace…to Honor the Past and to Assure the Future
Elizabeth Dianne Nelson Watkins ‘65

Dianne Watkins is president and founder of Bells for Peace, Inc., a non-profit, charity incorporated in Virginia and approved under Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  The organization was established in memory of Dr. John Malcus Ellison, Sr. (1889-1979) and Mrs. Elizabeth Balfour Ellison (1911-1994) as a foundation in support of Virginia Union University.  She and her brother, Alan Nelson, were responsible for unveiling a connection between Virginia Union University’s Belgian Friendship Building and Stanford University in March 2004.  This “new history” has attracted national and international recognition.  Bells for Peace, Inc will replace Virginia Union University’s  missing 35 bell carillon that now rings at Stanford University with a new new endowed carillon bells for Virginia Union’s Vann Memorial Tower.  Full information is obtained at

Mrs. Watkins received a fellowship to Stanford University’s Executive Leadership Program in Urban Education, representing Richmond Public Schools in 2003. She heard the beautiful Belgian Building carillon on the California campus, not at that time knowing its connection to Virginia Union University.

In October 2006, Dianne unveiled documentation that proved the Belgian Friendship’s use as a racially integrated Military Processing Center for more than 161,000 drafted and enlisted men for WWII. These revelations have created marketing strategies proposed to attract national and international recognition, students and new funding for the university.

Dianne graduated from Virginia Union University with honors in 1965. She taught in Danbury, Connecticut as VUU’s first graduate in Early Childhood Education and was a pioneer Head Start teacher. After earning her MA degree from Columbia University in 1969, she was hired as an instructor by Clark College – Atlanta, Virginia State University as Field Coordinator for the Early Childhood Education Master’s Program and Instructor of Education at Virginia Union University. Her work in the field of Early Childhood Education led her to the Virginia State Department where she coordinated a pilot program to demonstrate “full day kindergartens.”

Later Mrs. Watkins entered Richmond Public Schools as a classroom teacher and administrator. She increased its Four Year Old Program from 21 classrooms to 42 classrooms, and reduced its class size from 22 to 18. As a member of the Board of the Virginia Association of Early Childhood Education, Dianne coordinated the “Week of the Young Child” for Virginia. She created Richmond’s first Early Childhood Institute, first Mentor Teacher Institute, first New Teacher Institute. She coordinated the “Teacher of the Year Program” and worked with area colleges to place student teachers. She enabled Richmond’s para-educators to meet new federal standards. In 1999, Mrs. Watkins’ accomplished full editing of the school division’s Administrative Procedures Manual.

Dianne Watkins brought “The Hundred Languages of Children Exhibition” from the Schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy to Richmond, creating a partnership with Bell Atlantic, the Virginia Historical Society and Richmond Public Schools. The project attracted 3000 local and national visitors.

Dianne has been the recipient of various awards among which are:

2007 National Alumni Council of the United Negro College Fund Alumni Award
2006-07 Virginia Union University National Alumni Association Alumna of the Year Award
1999 YWCA Outstanding Woman in Education Award
1999 National Association of University Women Outstanding Accomplishments in Education Award
1965 Virginia Union University Most Likely to Achieve in Education Award

Dianne is a member of many educational and civic organizations including: Kappa Delta Pi and Phi Delta Kappa Honor Societies in Education; and she has served on the Urban League Board, YWCA Board and the Children Museum of Richmond Board. She is a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She also is a member of the Advisory Committee of Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital, The James River Valley Chapter of the Links, Incorporated, and The Rotary Club of Richmond.

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