I was recently asked how I celebrate Black History Month. The reality is that I’m a Black woman all year. Who I am and those I am descended from encompassing more than 28 days. My DNA is rich with so many brilliant, hardworking, caring individuals who made a path despite so much opposition. Despite racism, sexism, violence, unequal opportunities, and so many other barriers, they preserved. They dreamed that we would overcome and there have been so many advancements. Yet there is so much more that has to be accomplished. Until we have a society that is equitable, just, and inclusive for all, we still have work to do. This means everyone in our community.
We have such a rich history of individuals in our culture. There is no way to surmise our contributions, struggles, moments, and movements in a short, concise way. Our history begins well before slavery and even before the arrival to the Americas. This is my feeble attempt of exploring some of the richness of those who came before, whose shoulders we stand on. This week’s column is dedicated to my ‘sheroes.’ So often, I think society tends to focus on just a few of the well-known leaders of our history but I want to highlight those who may not be on your radar, one national and three DFW ‘sheroes.’
- Ida B. Wells-Barnett – I love Ida B. Wells because of her tenacity and brilliance. She not only dealt with losing her parents and infant brother so young but having to take care of her siblings as well. She took a job in Memphis as a teacher to keep her family together. “After the lynching of one of her friends, Wells-Barnett turned her attention to White mob violence. She became skeptical about the reasons Black men were lynched and set out to investigate several cases. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns in local newspapers. Her expose about an 1892 lynching enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her from Memphis. After a few months, the threats became so bad she was forced to move to Chicago, Illinois.” She was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs which focused on suffrage (voting).
- Juanita Craft – In the ‘30s, Juanita Jewel Shanks Craft, risked her life establishing NAACP chapters across the state of Texas. In 11 years, she organized over 180 chapters. “In 1955, she organized a protest of the State Fair of Texas against its policy of admitting Blacks only on ‘Negro Achievement Day.’ She later served for two terms on the Dallas City Council. Although I never met Mrs. Craft, I was honored to work with her home in my 20s when I was assistant director at the South Dallas Cultural Center and ultimately serving as vice president of Community Affairs at the State Fair of Texas.
- Kathlyn Joy Gilliam – I met Mrs. Gilliam as she led ‘Clean South Dallas’ early in my career. The mentoring I received was invaluable. Mrs. Gilliam is most notably remembered for her 23 years as a trustee of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). Upon her election in 1974, she became the first African American female trustee and was the first African American to lead as board president during the 1980-82 term.
- Dr. Mamie McKnight – I met Dr. McKnight early in my career as well and she was always so kind, warm, and approachable. She, too, made such an impression on me. She was the founder of Black Dallas Remembered, Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to the preservation of the Dallas Black community, and was responsible for leading the investigation and preservation of Freedman’s Cemetery. It is the burial site of thousands of early Black Dallas settlers that would have been destroyed by the expansion of Central Expressway. I was blessed to work on this project in its early stages.
They are not the only ones who have made an impact in my life. It was important to remember and pay homage to those who came before. The Bible encourages us to remember. The Lord commands: “Remember your history, your long and rich history,” Isaiah 46:9. It is important for us to use this month to remember, celebrate, and not forget the vast journey of our experiences. I am because of them.
(Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew is the CEO of Soulstice Consultancy and the founder of the R2 Foundation <r2fdn.org> as well as the author of four books. She is the host of the Tapestry podcast.)