The link of support, leadership and inspiration joined together recently at the third annual African American Women of Santa Barbara County luncheon held at Fess Parker's DoubleTree Resort as more than 70 women gathered to celebrate the bonds of sisterhood.
“I’m proud to say that this is our third annual African American Women’s Luncheon of Santa Barbara County, and this year is all about ‘Stepping Out and Stepping Forward,’ intentionally by forming alliances, connecting and realizing the wealth of resources that we have within each other,” event chairwoman Wendy Sims-Moten said. “I see a lot of new faces this year, which is really exciting and validates the fact that this event is reaching African-American women in Santa Barbara County far and wide.”
An introductory candle-lighting ceremony offered guests an opportunity to introduce themselves when the centerpiece candle on each table was lit, and women stood to offer remarks and bring energy and light to the room.
Following a moving invocation by pastor Margaret Young, cultural artist Jackie Joice, author of Green Grapes Black Hands, read various poems to the diverse group of artists, engineers, physicians, students and professors.
The book was inspired by Joice’s paternal grandfather, Buford Joice, 94, and mother Lorraine, and is filled with poems and prose exploring the rich and complex history of African-American migrant labors and farm workers who cultivated fruit crops from the San Joaquin Valley in northern California to the border of Mexico during the 1930s and '40s.
Joice said she researched and documented stories, songs and sayings, and recorded numerous conversations with her grandfather, who talked about the family’s history as farm laborers. He also shared his own experiences having journeyed from Teneha, Texas, to Selma, Calif., where he lived in various tent cities, picking grapes in fields for 22 years.
“I met my grandfather later in life, and I wanted to get to know him and hear his story so I started asking questions. Everyone has a story to tell,” Joice said. “This book was written for him because he’s lived a long and fruitful life, and at 94 he still remembers everything.”
Malynda Hale, who was born and raised in Santa Barbara, sang for the energized crowd and displayed the talents that have given her the opportunity to perform the national anthem at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, perform at the House of Blues in Las Vegas and stream her music on Spotify, Pandora and many others.
An introduction from Connie Alexander led into a passionate speech by the afternoon's keynote speaker, Qiana Charles, who shared her thoughts on three historic African-American women whose courage and resiliency continue to inspire women of color today. The impressive list included Mary McLeod Bethune, a child of former slaves turned educator and civil rights activist who believed that education for black women was the key to racial advancement, and founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute in 1904 and the National Association of Colored Women and the National Council of Negro Women in 1935.
Also mentioned was former slave, abolitionist and civil rights activist Isabella Baumfree, who changed her name to Sojourner Truth and became an itinerant preacher in 1843. Truth was a vital figure in the fight for equality and justice during the antislavery and women’s rights movement. Her groundbreaking speech in 1851 at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, “Ain’t I A Woman?” challenged society’s views on racism, gender discrimination and human rights, and is recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist speeches in history.
The third woman was Rosa Parks, who was an unknown seamstress who embodied the value of self-worth during the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger and was arrested for violating a city ordinance in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955. Parks’ act of defiance and fearlessness was the pinnacle movement in history that ended legal segregation in the United States when a Supreme Court decision overruled the city ordinance where Parks had been fined, and outlawed racial segregation on public transportation.
Charles told Noozhawk that she was inspired to talk about these remarkable women because they all lived in very difficult times and their simple acts of service, sacrifice, commitment and courage are what are needed to bring this next generation of girls into the fold.
“I’m giving homage to the past and encouraging women today to embrace the future and to help our young girls today,” Charles said. “Society places such a great emphasis on what our young girls look like today as opposed to developing what’s on the inside and that’s most important. It’s their character, their integrity and understanding how valuable they are. And I think as a community we have got to continue to support them.
“The three women that I referenced certainly did that in their time, and now it’s our time to step up and step out to help these young girls.”
— Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.