Woman’s History Month underway

Last week, I received a phone call from Bernice Finley-Floyd. She wanted to pitch a story idea to me. After our discussion, she revealed that her son is Youngstown’s first black fire chief, Barry Finley.

She said her jaws were still hurting from the big smile she had on her face. I don’t know much about Mrs. Floyd, but I do suspect she played an important part in raising a son who is now our city’s top fire official.

It is to the Mrs. Floyds of the Mahoning Valley that I want to honor for Woman’s History Month. This month highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society.

History shows that ordinary women in our community and throughout this country have done and continue to do extraordinary things if given a chance.

For example, our country once voted itself dry in part due to the efforts of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, established in Ohio, and founded by Frances Willard and Annie Turner Wittenmyer, the first national president. The WCTU’s main objective was to persuade all states to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages.

What made the WCTU so important in the 19th century is that women could not vote, did not have control of their property, and in most cases, did not get custody of their children after divorce proceedings. The WCTU would go on to become one the largest woman’s organizations in the U.S.

The Junior League of Youngstown and the Junior Civic League of Youngstown have long established reputations of sponsoring events to better the academic performance of area students and young women.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, was founded in 1912 to provide medical relief to everyone, regardless or race or religion.

The League of Women Voters is committed to informing the public of those running for office or on tax issues on the primary and general election ballots. They also sponsor candidates’ forums so people can see, hear and question those who aspire to lead our government.

Our area is also fortunate to have individual women working to make a difference in our community. Annie Hall comes to mind. She has long been an advocate of providing food and clothing to the less fortunate.

The Hispanic social service agency Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana would probably crumble if not for the many dedicated women who devote hours to the organization’s programs.

Many women in the Greek, Jewish, Polish, Italian, Irish, Slavic and Muslim communities spend hours cooking and preparing meals throughout the year not only for those in their churches, synagogues and mosques but also to share with the entire Youngstown area.

Women did not get the right to vote in the U.S. until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Women still don’t get paid the same as men in many workplaces 98 years later.

The #MeToo movement has pulled back the curtain on the sexual harassment and abuse women have endured by men in power.

The black sororities in our nation – Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha and Zeta Phi Beta (the three oldest in the country) – began with ordinary women in historically black universities and colleges who came together to promote academic excellence and to provide assistance to those in need.

The local DST chapter last week had a health and financial awareness event at the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority downtown. It was free to the public.

The Links Inc. is an international, not-for-profit corporation, established in 1946. It is one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of women who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other people of African ancestry. Youngstown has a local Links chapter.

According to its website, these are the organization’s core values: friendship, integrity, honesty, service, commitment, family relationships, courage, respect for self and others, legacy, confidentiality, responsibility and accountability.

Dee Hill, a member of Beulah Baptist Church in Youngstown, wrote a poem called “We Are” extolling the positive attributes of black women from Harriet Tubman to Michelle Obama.

“We are strong Black women like locked chains that can’t be broken. We are linked back from the past to the present, and boldly go on into the awaiting challenge of the future.

“We have many words in our hearts to express, but sometimes they are suppressed by pain, tears and many tribulations that we’ve endured throughout the seasons of time. Oh, but we are strong, We Are!

“For our soul, spirit and vision speak for us as a strong quiet echo deep within, whispering and shouting upon the mighty angelic wings of the turbulent winds, as it carries our hopes, dreams, triumphs, strengths and wisdom on to the laboring birth of the foreseen and unseen generations of powerful, proud, unique, unconquerable and wise Black African American Women as We Are.”

There will be several Woman’s History Month events scheduled this month, many of which will be published in this newspaper. Make some time to attend one.

And for all the Mrs. Floyds in our community, I have just two words to say: Thank you.

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at ebrown@vindy.com.