PLAINFIELD, NJ - I was blessed to be raised by two powerful women who embodied selfless giving, and who passed along principles and values that have guided me my entire life. My mother followed opportunity and sought a way to provide for her family. She left the island of Barbados to work in homes in the United States; creating a path and paving the way for her children to follow.
My grandmother who took care of us in my mother's absence gave unselfishly of her time and energy to raise the second generation of children. She instilled pride, ambition, and knowledge that hard work was the key to achieving success in life.
Women's History Month is a time to reflect on women's contributions to history, culture, and society. The United States has observed it annually throughout March since 1987.
While there are myriads of unsung heroes like my mother and grandmother, this month focuses on the ones who are more recognizable and have influenced our history in one way or another.
Women's History Month affords us the opportunity to celebrate women like Dr. Maya Angelou, whose poem "Still I Rise" is a mantra against oppression and a beacon of hope for those who consider themselves downtrodden. "Phenomenal Woman" also by Dr. Angelou has become a self-love anthem for women across the globe, as she speaks with passion about her pride and celebration of being a woman.
Dr. Angelou left behind a prolific body of work and used her words to effect change, stir critical thinking and highlight social injustice. She wanted to change lives for the better and lived by the phrase "Be a rainbow in somebody else's cloud."
There are women like Lilly Ledbetter, an Activist for women's pay equality.
In 1998, Lilly Ledbetter stood up for equal pay by filing suit against her former employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company; she alleged discrimination stating that she had been paid significantly less than her male colleagues. The court ruled against Ledbetter, citing that she would have had to bring the suit within six months of the occurrence - even though she didn't discover the discrepancy until years later. Her story drew attention to the inadequacy of existing legislation to address pay inequality - and two years later, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which eased the time limitations on filing a pay discrimination claim, was signed into law by President Obama. "Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental American principle," she said in a 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention.
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was an investigative journalist, newspaper editor, and suffragist who documented lynching in the United States. She was one of the founders of the NAACP, and one of the first to report and write about lynching in the U.S. She traveled around the country documenting incidents and the causes behind them. She published a book called "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases." It refuted the common rumor that lynch mobs were responding to black men raping white women and pointed to economic and other factors as the cause. Her report caused her to be run out of Memphis, TN but they could not silence her. She continued her work in Chicago, publishing another book, a statistical report on lynching. She also spoke to audiences in the U.S. and Europe and launched anti-lynching groups. She famously said, "I'd rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I said.
Here in Plainfield, we have women who have carved a place in history, and I have mentioned them in previous Op-ed pieces. Women such as Marion Johnson a Boeing Engineer and for a long time a "hidden figure." She was instrumental in placing the first man safely on the moon.
Anna Booker who along with her husband Charles Booker brought the lawsuit that ended segregation in the Plainfield public schools and started a movement across the State and the Country.
Women's History Month reminds us that there are ordinary women who have done extraordinary things and we will not forget. Their actions serve as inspiration for each successive generation of women. They are nurturers, mothers, aunts and, grandmothers, traditionally keepers of the household but they continue to prove time and time again that they cannot be stereotyped and compartmentalized as they extend themselves and do incredible things that leave an indelible mark on us all.
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