If you doubt you have the power to impact a woman's life, read this
As part of the YWCA's annual Stand Against Racism, we asked our members and supporters to share their stories about the empowerment of girls and women of color. (We still want to hear them, so send us yours!)
LaVanda Brown, our new executive director, shared her own story with us.
"As a black girl growing up post-integration, I was truly blessed to have many women in my life who empowered and encouraged me," she says.
"It was the era of Black Power. My mother and grandmother encouraged me to do well in school, never missed my sporting events or performances, and forced me to learn from my failures. At church, my Sunday school teacher, Sister Griffin, taught us not only how to be Christians but to be ladies. She made it a point to highlight the influential women in the Bible."
LaVanda also participated in the local Jack and Jill program: an organization of mothers dedicated to nurturing African American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving, and civic duty. "In Jack and Jill, the women leaders were forces to be reckoned with," she says. "They didn't take slackness from any of us, especially the girls."
But there was one woman LaVanda particularly remembers: one with no obligation to take a special interest in her.
A teacher who wouldn't settle
"During my senior year in high school, my mother forced me to take a public speaking class, and I really mean forced," she says. "Despite being an athlete and a cheerleader, I was fairly shy, and my mother was sure a public speaking class would fix that."
It was in that class that LaVanda encountered the force that was Dianetta Bryant.
"My mother was right... but it wasn't the class or the speaking assignments that brought me out of my shell. It was Ms. Bryant herself.
"She was tough but fair. She was the first teacher who wouldn't take my numerous, very creative reasons for being late to class. She stood by the door daily until the bell rang, and if you were not in your seat at that time, you were locked out and had to go to the office." "One day I was walking down the hall, looking at her, when the bell rang. She politely turned and shut the door, and I was locked out. Off to the office I went. By then I knew better than to try to turn that knob. She taught me discipline." "When it was time to practice our debate skills, Ms. Bryant instructed us to pick our topic and position, write a speech, and present it to the class," LaVanda remembers. "I chose a topic I felt strongly about, practiced my speech, and delivered it flawlessly."
"I was expecting her to commend me. Instead, she stood and said, 'Good, now argue the same topic from the opposite position... and convince me.' "
"She taught me to think on my feet."
A rare win for a black girl
One day, Ms. Bryant overheard some of the students talking about the upcoming School Queen beauty and talent contest, and how there had historically been few, if any, black contestants. Even more rare was a black winner.
"She convinced us to enter," LaVanda says. "And not just that. She helped us with makeup techniques, taught us how to walk a runway, and critiqued our talent presentations. It was like a beauty queen boot camp!"
"More black girls ran that year than had ever run before. And a black girl won. It wasn't me, but I was as proud as if it had been. "She taught us to reject the status quo." "These were just a few of the moments I remember as Ms. Bryant made her impact on my life," LaVanda says. "She was a daily motivator, drill sergeant, and a shoulder to cry on."
Dianetta Bryant did not wield power from the White House or the halls of Congress. She didn't make the front page news. She was simply a teacher in a school in America.
And she was far more than that. "She did more than teach students about a subject," says LaVanda. "She taught life."
Calling all women under 40
Join us on June 16 for the launch of our newest program!
Thanks to the women who attended our April networking event and focus group, we've heard the needs of women under the age of 40, and have crafted a program to address the needs of young women across the Charleston tri-county area.
Backpacks to Briefcases will offer career advancement workshops, leadership etiquette training, volunteer opportunities, mentor matching, and much more.
Please join us for the inaugural Backpacks to Briefcases event on Thursday, June 16, beginning with networking at 4 and ending at 7 PM at Tabbuli West Ashley just off I-526 on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. (If you can't come until after work, just arrive when you can!) We'd love to see you!
For more information, email us or call us at 843.722.1644.