By Janice K. Neal-Vincent,
The first of a series of forums entitled The Legacy of Courage brought attention to African-American women who have stood tall before humanity and produced change on Monday, March 1. The 7 p.m. virtual event highlighted the unswerving courage of Gladys Noel Bates who filed the first civil rights case in Mississippi for equal pay for teachers.
Businesswoman and member of Women for Progress, Willie Jones, served as facilitator. She introduced the film The Impact of One by Wilma Mosley Clopton of NMHS Unlimited Productions. Jones pinpointed that Bates advocated that teachers of African descent should receive the same amount of pay as their white counterparts.
“I have been denied, slapped down, knocked down…but now we have equality of education, I hope,” said Bates during a tributary celebration in the film. “I’m not the person who should be honored today, [my parents should be the ones]” she continued.
According to panelist Cassandra Welchlin, State Lead, Miss. Black Women’s Roundtable, “There’s a history to Mrs. Bates’ story. [Her] story lends opportunity to bring new groups which are black teachers into the forefront. Wow! Black women only making 50 cents on the dollar. It’s an old fight and we have to take it all the way.”
“This type of storytelling in connecting the dots is what the month of March is about. When we talk about courage and activism, we have to redefine [the meaning]. Most activists are outraged about something,” noted Jones.
“I’m more fascinated with the word courage. Courage involves motivation for fairness. You get upset about it and you move to action. You’ve got to get up, do something, stand for something and say something,” Corrine Anderson, vice chair, Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute, claimed.
Welchlin interjected: “I think about John Lewis when he said, ‘Make good trouble.’ I was bullied by a big girl. My aunt told me if I didn’t confront her, she was going to confront me. She took me down to the girl and told me to tell her how I felt. I learned to do it [though] I was afraid, and the courage kicked in.”
“I was born to a teen mom and a dad. So my grandmother raised me. She had a quick temper and a sharp tongue. She told me to learn to speak up for the people who couldn’t speak for themselves. I grew up an only child, knowing I was my brother’s keeper,” recalled Anderson.
Jones informed panelists that her mother and grandmother inspired her. “My mom was an entrepreneur. She was an Avon lady and a farmer. She distributed food from that farm. My father died when I was five years old. My grandmother was a woman of so much love, courage and strength. She taught us how to sew.”
Watching her mother and grandmother was how Jones stated that she learned. “You had to be a person of integrity. You had to have God in your life…I learned from my mom that if you could get up and see a new day, you could do what you needed to do,” she contended.
Clopton contributed that her grandmother was a single mother and a seamstress. “She cut the mattress and the spring in half to make herself a twin bed. My mother passed on to me to figure a way to do what she needed to do…They wanted me to travel, to see things, to understand that there’s a larger world,” she added.
Panelists concluded the session with what they wanted to leave behind for the young.
“Make sure you get a seat at the table. Stand up. Speak up. Be courageous,” said Anderson.
“Be great in the gifts you’ve been given, and use them all up. Use every gift and give yourself away,” contemplated Welchlin.
Clopton stated, “The only ‘no’ that matters is the one you put on yourself. Give your best shot.”
“Embrace fear. Fear is good. Don’t worry about trying to get rid of fear. Embrace it. Utilize it. Push it back every day and learn to live with it,” Jones said courageously.
Future Facebook forums within the Legacy of Courage Series will occur each Monday of this month: 7, 14, 21 and 28 at 7 p.m.
The Legacy of Courage is sponsored by Women for Progress of Mississippi, Inc., DSC Training Academy, The Greater Jackson Arts Council, The Olivia Group L.L.C., Action Leadership Institute, BJP Pharmacy, American Association of University Women, Mississippi and Linda Seiner.
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