2024 Onyx Woman Leadership Award Honoree Ella Rawlings


Pastor Ella Rawlings is a remarkable woman who was born and raised in the vibrant Hill District of Pittsburgh, a place that would later serve as the foundation for her inspiring journey. With a deep commitment to education, a thriving family, and a pioneering spirit, Ella’s life story is a testament to her unwavering dedication to both her community and her faith.

Ella Rawlings, a mother to three daughters, a grandmother to nine wonderful grandchildren, and even a great-granddaughter, has been a guiding force for her family. Her educational journey led her to the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Education Degree, complemented by a valuable Letter of Eligibility. Her academic pursuits ignited a lifelong passion for education that would come to define her career.

One of Ella Rawlings’ most remarkable achievements is being the FIRST African American Female Principal at Wilkinsburg High School, an achievement that resonates with the values of equality and opportunity that she holds dear. This historic milestone was realized in 2005 and paved the way for countless others to follow in her footsteps.

In 2007, Ella faced a personal loss when her beloved husband of 30 years passed away. In the face of this hardship, she chose to rise to the occasion and took on the role of Senior Pastor at Covenant Church on the Hill. Her unwavering commitment to her faith community is evident through her dedication to Sunday worship services, hospital visitations, and organizing special outings for families and seniors in the Hill District.

In addition to her achievements in education and her role in the ministry, Ella holds pivotal roles in MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder). She serves as the President of the Moms Division, demonstrating her dedication to creating safer neighborhoods and communities. Ella also plays a key role as the Vice President of Outreach on the board of MAD DADS, contributing significantly to the organization’s mission of mobilizing, training, and guiding men and women to combat the issues of drugs, gangs, and violence in Allegheny County.

Ella’s spiritual journey is deeply intertwined with her membership at CCOP (Covenant Church of Pittsburgh), dating back to 1985, under the guidance of its founder, Bishop Joseph Garlington. Ella serves on the Board of Elders, where she finds inspiration and a sense of purpose. She holds the esteemed position of Chaplain, providing oversight to several senior citizen hi-rises under the National Church Residences.

The Leadership Awards will be held on Mother’s Day weekend. We asked our honorees how their mothers impacted their success.

Ella Rawlings’ Mom

When I was twelve years old, my mom became a single parent. These times were devastating for both of us, even though I saw my dad almost every day as he was our mailman. This took a toll on my mom’s emotional well-being, navigating life with three middle schoolers without my dad at home. Growing up with two brothers, obtaining my mom’s attention always felt like a struggle, especially being the stronger of my siblings. My mom, somewhat passive, relied on my grandmothers for help in raising us. Thankfully, I was close to both my paternal and maternal grandmothers. The African proverb that says it takes a village is so true; I learned a lot from these important ladies who were like mothers to me. Although I missed the closeness with my mom, it made me a stronger person, determined to navigate life independently. I drew strength and wisdom from my paternal grandmother’s mild manner and my maternal grandmother’s aggressiveness, shaping me into the person I am today. I was determined to be present in the lives of my three daughters, especially after the death of their dad. I am so grateful for the lessons they sowed into my life.

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