Thursday, March 7, 2012

Countless Contributions: A Commemoration of Black Women

COLUMBUS - Lively music and educational insights from a dynamic speaker filled the William Green Building Auditorium last week.

Employees from the Industrial Commission, Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) took time out of their busy schedules on February 28 to celebrate outstanding black women in American history.

Representatives from all three agencies offered their own warm welcomes and shared what black women in American culture have personally shown them.

"This program and celebration makes me very proud of what black women in public life have accomplished,” Chairman Karen Gillmor said. “I am very humbled by the acts of Helen Rankin, the first African American woman to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives."

Chairman Gillmor discussed how an astonishing 50 percent of the workforce is composed of women and how many of them are serving in public office.

"A perfect example of an African American woman who currently serves and represents public life is Michelle Obama,” she said. “She works extremely hard in the background, yet makes a huge difference in the lives of those she touches.”

BWC Administrator Stephen Buehrer and ODH Information Technology Supervisor Leslie Steward-Scott spoke about how women are extremely influential even though many do not receive the appropriate recognition. They also acknowledged how unique this event was in creating a hybrid between Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March.

“Women have played a large role in the movement for human and civil rights by fighting hard for their cause simply because that’s what we do,” Leslie said. “It’s in our DNA!”

After a musical number by BWC’s Cecil Lytle, Judge Kim Browne took the stage and gave a speech that focused on the powerful black women who have shaped her throughout her life.

She spoke warmly about Helen Elsie Austin, the first black woman to receive a law degree from Browne’s alma mater, the University of Cincinnati. She was the first black woman to serve as Assistant Attorney General in Ohio and became legal advisor to the District of Columbia government in 1939. As a U.S. Foreign Service Officer from 1960 to 1970, she served as a representative with the United States Information Agency in Lagos, Nigeria and later in Nairobi, Kenya. Austin retired from the Foreign Service in 1970.

Browne also discussed the legacy of Ellen Walker Craig-Jones.

In 1960, Craig-Jones embarked on a political career and became a member of the Urbancrest Village Council. In 1971, Craig-Jones was elected mayor of Urbancrest, Ohio and became the first African-American woman to be elected mayor of a municipality in the United States.

“Through Ellen’s accomplishments and her founding of the Buckeye Boy’s Ranch in Ohio, I was inspired by what large acts of bravery a small town woman could commit,” Browne said.

Browne also spoke about Dorothy Dandridge, a native of Cleveland, who became the first black woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Due to her unwavering commitment and refusal to play stereotypical black roles of the day, Dorothy was finally given the more serious roles she craved.

Many pioneers in education influenced Browne, including Helen Edmond, the first black woman to earn a doctoral degree from Ohio State University and Lucy Stanton, the first black woman to receive a college degree.

“I challenge everyone in attendance to reflect on the incredible women highlighted today while striving to emulate their strength and celebrate their legacies,” Browne said.

She closed her speech with the following inspiring words from a prominent African American poet, Maya Angelou: “I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition -- about what we can endure, dream, fail at, and still survive.”