Leadership Summit Focuses on Inspiring a New Generation of Black Women
By Cindy Long
Africaya Rovier, a junior at Nova High School in Miami Florida, was one of nearly 200 Black women and girls attending the 2013 Black Women’s Roundtable Summit in Washington, D.C. March 14 to 16. The theme of the summit was “Amplifying the Voices of Women & Girls in the Digital Age in 2013 and Beyond” and brought together women from education, politics and labor as well as faith-based and community-building organizations.
“I’m excited to be among so many women who have so much respect for themselves and each other, and who are willing to do what it takes to believe in their dreams and make them a reality,” said Rovier, who is attending the summit on a scholarship provided by the Florida chapter of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “I feel fortunate to have an opportunity to meet them and learn from them.”
One of the women Rovier learned from was National Education Association Secretary Treasurer Becky Pringle, who hosted the Black Women’s Roundtable for the 2013 Summit at the NEA headquarters office in Washington, D.C., and participated in a panel discussion on labor, education and social justice.
She also received the BWR Education Innovation & Social Justice Leadership Award for her dedicated service to educating children by providing them with a high quality public education and for her outstanding leadership in the labor, civil rights, environmental and social justice movements.
Pringle was joined on the panel by Diane Babineaux, General Vice President of International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers; Elizabeth Powell, Secretary Treasurer of the American Postal Workers Union; and Loretta Johnson, Secretary Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
Both Pringle and Johnson emphasized the critical role public education plays in our democracy.
“Education is the social justice issue of our time,” Pringle said. “We cannot deny another generation of children the quality education they deserve. There is a disproportionate number of African American children in our special education classes – there is a crisis among students of color. We talk a lot about achievement gaps, but we also need to also talk about opportunity gaps and gaps in access.”
AFT’s Johnson also emphasized the role education plays in America.
“Education is the foundation of this country,” she said. “For African Americans, public education is a way out of poverty and low income jobs. We need to fight for public education… and stop politicians from gutting [it].”
We Are the Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For
A union is a group of people working together for a common purpose, and that was the thread that tied the summit together. The speakers emphasized that the collaboration and support of other women – of mothers, sisters, grandmothers, colleagues and friends – is vital to furthering their cause.
Suzanne Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom with the U.S. Department of State was the opening plenary speaker. She said the opportunities she has today to meet with our country’s highest officials, including President Obama, wouldn’t have been possible without the strength and support of her mother, who as a girl worked in a North Carolina field picking cotton and tobacco.
“When she was growing up, my mother had to use an outhouse, and now her daughter walks into the front door of the White House,” Cook said.
She told the young girls that being a Black woman in the 21st century means taking your trials and turning them into triumphs, and taking your struggles and turning them into strategies.
“I want to see more women at the table making a difference,” she said, encouraging the women in the room to help inspire a new generation of activists. “We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.”
Sheila Jackson Lee, U.S. Representative for Texas’s 18th congressional district, serving most of inner-city Houston, said that the only way for women to make things better for themselves is to “care for, stand for, and embrace each other,” and band together.
“Those who are crafting the budgets for our nation haven’t walked in your shoes,” she said. “They need to hear from the sisters who have traveled your road.”
Jackson-Lee says she wants to see more African American women throughout our system of government fighting for their common cause, like a budget that closes loopholes for corporations and isn’t balanced on the backs of working people, gun safety legislation that incorporates conflict resolution, and immigration reform that doesn’t needlessly separate mothers from their children.
“There is power in this room,” she told the summit participants. “We need you.”
High school junior Africaya Rovier was inspired by the speakers, and her chaperone Beverly Rutherford, Youth Coordinator of Florida’s Coalition of Black Civics Participation, echoed the importance of support and mentorship in the Black community.
“You always have to have a relay, to have someone carry on the torch,” said Rutherford. “With no one to carry the torch, our dreams for a better future will die. We must train our young ones in the thoughts and ideas and ambitions of our community so they can carry them on.”