Every March, people across the globe celebrate International Women’s History Month. It is a time for us to recognize and appreciate the women who have paved the way so we can pursue the paths that we dream about. Words can’t convey my appreciation for the brave women who have impacted change over the years. Women like Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt are a few of my favorites. Though March has come to an end, I feel compelled to continue the celebration of these remarkable women.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the mugshot of Rosa Parks. After she refused to give up her seat in the “white” section of the bus, she was arrested and booked into the Montgomery Police Department. Her defiance was the catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott that evolved into the civil rights movement.
But what many people don’t know is that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first woman to refuse to give up her seat – there were several before her. In fact, a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Austin (Covin) did the same thing months earlier. Claudette’s refusal to move seats led to her becoming a plaintiff in an important court case – Browder vs. Gale – which would eventually make it to the Supreme Court and end bus segregation in Alabama.
Through it all, behind the scenes was a women-led organization quietly mobilizing Black women across the south during those years. The Women’s Political Council of Montgomery was a group made up of mostly teachers and professors. They advocated on behalf of Black women and were pivotal in initiating the bus boycott mentioned earlier. According to many accounts, they were also instrumental in bringing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into the forefront of the civil rights movement.
As I reflect on the accomplishments of these women, I can’t help but think of my own journey. From immigrating to America from Haiti in my late teens, to running a multi-million-dollar nursing home business to becoming Chandler’s first female Black councilmember – I’ve experienced plenty of ups and downs along the way. I remember being the only female in a high school mechanics class in Queens, New York. They tried to make me do the sweeping and the cleaning. I politely declined and told them I wanted to fix cars instead. And I did!
As I meet the young women of Chandler, one of my greatest hopes is to inspire them, as so many of these women have inspired me.