Honoring A Long Line of Black Women Who Came Before Me

“Before the moon I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman’s power, deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon.”

—Ursula K. Le Guin, Tehanu

As many of you know, I am being honored as this year’s Woman of Achievement by Berkshire Business and Professional Women. On the 54th year of this award, I am the first African American woman and I am moved to take a moment to reflect, acknowledge, and share just some of the names of the generation of African American women who came just before me who are all Berkshire women of great achievement. Without them and without so many personal connections with these leaders, I would have not been able to see what might be.

I have been honored to dream alongside and speak with many other fellow leaders without whom I would not be where I am. Sometimes these are brief conversations, other times these are much longer conversations. Thank you Wilene Austin, Joyce Armstrong, Rev. Esther Dozier, Dr. Frances Jones Sneed, Maggie Adams, Elaine Gunn, Shirley Edgerton, Eden-Reneé Hayes, and Rev. Sheila Sholes Ross. This is to just name a few of the people who have spent time sharing their vision and work with me. I also want to center and elevate my thanks to my mother, sister, grandmother, daughters, and aunts for showing me what strong, persistent womanhood means. I want to give a shout out to my mentor Joyce Shabazz for her mentorship as I stepped into diversity leadership as a Black woman. This fortified me for my work here in the Berkshires. We first met at my National Coalition Building Institute training in 2010. Another champion of Black women’s leadership here in the Berkshires is Cara Hendersonthose of you in our justice work know hershe has been by our (my) side for eight years.

I could not have done what I have done without support from my circle of women of color: Safara Fisher, Stephanie Wright, Luci Leonard, and Vanessa LeGrande. I am grateful as well for the encouragement, wisdom, and support from Estela Ortiz, Nixsa Mills, Setsuko Winchester, and Gabriela Cruz amd many many more. The leadership of Women of Color and of African American has been strong up and down our Berkshire County for centuries—we are no different now! I so look forward to all of my sisters being acknowledged for all of their hard work!

"The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results."

—Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

I am grateful to so many women in my extended circle as well. We have modeled and are modeling what it means to be in the work together and to share all of our resources. Whether you are a colleague, sister-in-law, small business owner, ally or accomplice, woman in charge who can take the stand for equity and justice to become a primary focus, or friend, your sisterhood has been immeasurably valuable to me.

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