YWCA honors local heroines
The YWCA of Winston-Salem honored seven of the city’s leading ladies during the agency’s 2013 Women of Vision Awards on May 16.
“Your leadership and work in the community makes a tremendous difference,” YWCA CEO Christy Respess told the honorees, who were recognized for their contributions to the community through education, non-profits, volunteerism, business, student leadership and lifetime achievement. “We are lucky to have you.”
The May 16 luncheon attracted a crowd of more than 400 to the Anderson Center on the campus of Winston-Salem State University. The university, one of the top sponsors of the event, is also home to one of its honorees, Provost Brenda Allen.
“The YWCA has made a difference in the lives of so many women and girls in this community,” WSSU Chancellor Donald Reaves commented at the outset of the program. “…The women being recognized today have set out to create positive change in our community, and they have taken many, many steps to make a difference…I salute all of you.”
One of Georgia’s women of vision, State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, served as keynote speaker. Morgan made history 11 years ago, when she became the first African American ever to represent Cobb County, whose county seat is Marietta, in the Georgia State House of Representatives. She was 23 years-old at the time.
Morgan shared a little of her story, which is also chronicled in her book, “No Apologies: Powerful Lessons in Life, Love & Politics” during her remarks, and offered words of wisdom gained over the course of her career. She told the women in attendance to recognize their own self worth, believe in their dreams and take the necessary steps to realize their God-given purposes in life.
“Being a visionary is having the ability to see things that others cannot see,” Morgan said. “…You are a woman of vision – every woman in this room – but in order to be a woman of vision, you’ve got to have a vision. You must be secure in who you are and know what it is you are called to do … and to make no apologies for it.”
Morgan, who is now in her sixth term representing Georgia’s District 39, told the audience that in order to succeed in life, one must be willing to meet challenges with a positive attitude.
“When other people see things as a challenge, you see them as an opportunity,” she said. “That’s the difference between a woman of vision and a woman who is not of vision.”
In the beginning, Morgan said few believed a black female Democrat could prevail in a county that was once represented by Newt Gingrich.
“Naturally, when I decided to run for state representative, people said, ‘Now, Alisha, you know that’s crazy—there’s no way you can win,’” she related. “…I had to ignore what the haters and the naysayers said.”
Weeks before the 2002 election Morgan says her campaign manager quit, began backing another candidate with the same last name and took her to court, alleging that she hadn’t lived in the district long enough to be eligible to run. The judge ruled in her opponent’s favor.
“We lost and boy did I cry because I didn’t understand why this was happening to me,” she said. “I wasn’t ready yet to see that challenge as an opportunity.”
In the end, Morgan rallied, deciding not to give up the fight.
“When there’s work to be done in the community, we cannot wait, so I decided to take that chance and appeal that case,” she related. “…I want you to know that on August 20, 2002, when all of these odds were stacked against me, I got 65 percent of the vote and became the first African American representative in Cobb County, of all places.”
Like Morgan, many of the honorees have spent much of their careers making a difference in the lives of the people in their community. Dr. Allen, who came to WSSU four years ago, was recognized for contributing to the university’s legacy of education by transforming the curriculum in an effort to better prepare students to succeed on campus and in the workplace.
“We have already begun to see some of the benefits of those changes,” she reported, noting that student retention and graduation rates are in an upswing. “We can see that the fruits of our labor are really being realized, so that’s really been motivating to keep us going.”
Rae-Ling Lee, the luncheon’s youngest honoree, was recognized for her
extensive volunteer work in the community. The Reagan High School senior joined forces with two other young women to found the musical trio Asian Sensation, which performs free shows for senior citizens and children. Lee also volunteers at the Salemtowne Retirement Community, serves on the Winston-Salem’s Youth Advisory Council and as a summer camp counselor. Her award came with a $500 scholarship. The 18 year-old is headed to Wake Forest University, where her father, Wei-Chin Lee, is a professor.
“It’s great; it’s a great honor,” she said of being named among this year’s Women of Vision. “I didn’t expect to have any recognition for my volunteer service. I just did it because it’s fun and it’s great to give back.”
Leah Crowley, a YWCA board member and coach for Girls on the Run; the Maya Angelou Center for Women’s Health’s Kirsten Royster; S&L Painting owner Lida Hayes Calvert and The Children’s Home’s Linda Davis and Jean Irvin also were recognized with 2013 Women of Vision Awards.
Morgan told the audience that each one of them has something valuable to contribute to the world. She urged them not to squander their gifts.
“Whether you know it or not, you inspire other women, other people. When you are a woman of vision, that is what you do,” she said. “We are in need of women of vision … if you don’t do the things that you are called to do, it will never be done.”
For more information about Morgan, visit www.alishamorgan.com.