Commentary: Being a strong African American woman in the United States of America is not easy

Michelle Obama

Commentary: Being a strong African American woman in the United States of America is not easy
March 09
13:59 2022

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

The landscape for Black women has always been filled with potholes and pitfalls. They have achieved despite these impediments.

March is Women’s History Month and I say this respectfully and with pride that African American women have always been trailblazers and difference-makers. From Harriet Tubman in the past to Kamala Harris in the present, Black women have led the charge for respect and renown. Their contributions have been widespread and have touched all corners of the world. They took the can’t out and replaced it with can, and took the won’t out and replaced it with will.

There are moments of note when education and history cross paths. I believe this is one of those moments.

Did you know that Marie Van Brittan Brown was an early inventor?  She was a resident of New York City and created a closed-circuit television security system in 1966. Her patent was approved in 1969. So, when we see these modern versions of home security systems and networks, we should give kudos to Marie Van Brittan Brown.

As we age, our vision becomes more problematic. Some of us resort to glasses or contact lenses, while some may have cataracts removed. Dr. Patricia Bath was the first Black woman medical doctor to develop a laser cataract treatment device called a Laserphaco Probe. She received the patent in 1986. Dr. Bath was the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology, according to reports.

And of course, we cannot forget Katherine Johnson, who worked at Langley Research Center and was instrumental in NASA’S space flights. Watching the movie, “Hidden Figures,” is a history lesson in and of itself.

Politically, we applaud Vice President Kamala Harris, yet in my opinion, she could not have been in the White House without Shirley Chisholm and Fannie Lou Hammer. Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to serve in Congress and the first Black person to run for president in a major party. Congresswoman Chisholm was an early champion of voting rights and civic education.

Fannie Lou Hammer is a civil rights icon. The Mississippi records say that she helped to register Black voters in that state, only to be challenged at every turn. In 1964, she co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Party and challenged the all-white Democratic delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

Flonzie Brown Wright, another Mississippi African American legend, was the first African American female elected official in a Mississippi bi-racial town. I had the honor and privilege of working with her at Miami University of Ohio (Middletown campus), where she served as the student affairs scholar in residence. There, she developed programs and events that raised the awareness of students about the civil rights movement. One such program was the Mississippi Civil Rights Legends Lecture Series.

While we celebrate and honor these women in March, we must not stop there.

They deserve our admiration and recognition every day. Young girls of color, in particular, must learn about their stories and how those stories served as a bridge for their own success. They must understand that their future achievements are inextricably bound to the achievements of the early pioneers who refused to give up and to give in.

If you have senior citizens in your community who look like me, then engage them in a conversation. Find out about life “back in the day.”

What we have in America has not come without a deep and abiding commitment to justice and equality. Black women have been leaders and are still leaders as we continue down this road.

This column is dedicated to my mom, Mrs. Mildred Holland Ewers, who graduated in the early 1940s from the Kate Bitting Reynolds Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Winston-Salem. She was an RN (registered nurse).

James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator. He can be reached at

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