These pioneers endured discrimination and opened doors for the next generation without exception. The women we will honor at this year's Women of Achievement Breakfast on April 28th have felt the sting of racism in this great city we call the city of Roses. However, they struggled on, and in the tradition of Maya Angelou's poem, still they rose. Many of them met old man Jim Crow and discrimination in the southern states of Alabama and Mississippi. Leaving the south to come west for a better life, they were met again by old man Jim Crow wearing different suits called discrimination and segregation to cover-up who they were.
One of our honorees came to Pasadena with experience and degrees in hand but was not allowed to teach in the Pasadena School District because, as she was told, they already had their quota of Black teachers. Another was told she could only use her degree from Alabama A & M to be a cook because they didn't hire Black teachers. One who was a third generation Pasadenan at the time had earned a Masters in education, but had to drive daily to 139th School to teach because there was no room in Pasadena for a Black teacher. Another, with her degree in hand from Tuskegee, applied in Pasadena and was told that they couldn't hire her and it would be 10 to 15 years before they hire another Black teacher.
In spite of their rejection, these pioneers persevered and stuck it out to open doors for those who came behind them. Another, as a little girl from the cotton fields of Alabama, became a Dr. and college director of education. And yet another became the first Black Principal while enduring protests from white parents who didn't want her. However, white teachers and staff recognized her genius and stood with her.
Another honoree went from teaching to becoming the first Black person to run for a seat on the Pasadena City Council. She opened doors to African American participation in local Government and was a member of the commission on the status of women. She went on to become a director of one of a state funded program for children in Pasadena.
Maya Angelou's great poem, "AND STILL I RISE" is the story of these ten women that will be celebrated. They are pioneers who understand the principles that Marian Wright Edelman taught as the legacy of our African American ancestors. One of her sons, Jonah, cites them in the foreword of her book, "The Measure of Our Success:"
"(1) Don't feel entitled to anything you don't work for;
(2) Never give up. You can make it no matter what comes. Nothing worth having is ever achieved without a struggle;
(3) Always remember you are never alone. You are loved, unconditionally. There is nothing you can ever say or do that they can take away from my or God's love."
Black poet Sterling Brown wrote about them, when he wrote, "The strong men (and women) keep coming on." His poem says, "They dragged you from your homeland. They chained you in coffles. They huddled you spoon fashion in filthy hatches. They sold you to give a few gentlemen pleasure. They broke you like oxen. They scourged you. They branded you. They made you breeders. They swelled your numbers with bastards... They taught you the religion they disgraced. You sang... 'keep a –inchin' along like a inch worm'... You sang, 'Bye and Bye I'm gonna lay down dis heaby load...' You sang, 'Walk togedder chillen, dontcha get weary... The strong men (and women) keep a-comin' on. The strong men (and women) git stronger.'"
The lives of these women we will honor are demonstration of how we got over. As we watch our first Black President and the racism of the Republican Party passing laws to set us back, we need to revisit the examples of the past and give thanks to these pioneers who wouldn't give up. The expressions of hate to President Obama, like a recently seen bumper sticker that says, "DON'T RE-NIG IN 2012", are indicators of the indignities these women and other pioneers have endured and suffered to open doors for today's generation. Their lives stand as examples of how we keep on keeping on, even against the odds.
The Trayvon Martin tragedy may seem unrelated but is another sad reminder that the struggle is not over and we must keep the pioneering spirit alive to avoid having doors that have been opened, closed again. Let us honor those who opened the doors for the next generation, lest we lose all the progress we have gained. We tend to take the work of our pioneers for granted. However, we need to thank them for their service to our community's progress. They endured the slings and arrows that come with being a pioneer and a first. Let us take the opportunity to say thank you to them now. Join The Journal on April 28, 2012, at Brookside Clubhouse for Breakfast to honor these ten wise women of achievement on whose shoulders we all stand. Call the Journal for your tickets today. Seating is limited.