Thursday, April 3, 2014 || By Michael Romain and Nicholas Samuel
Updated: Friday, April 4, 2014, 12:04 AM
Saturday, BELLWOOD — In commemoration of Women’s History Month, Mothers of Murdered Sons (MOMS) hosted a luncheon at the Bellwood Public Library in honor of several influential women in the community.
Honorees included Dr. Wylmarie Sykes, founder of Operation Safe Child; Barbara Cole, executive director of Maywood Youth Mentoring; Viola Mims, a realtor and Clerk of the Village of Maywood; Mary Morris, author of the mentoring book Young Lions: Challenged to Live Free; Darlene Barbour, owner of Divine Landscape Design and director of SCREAM ministries, an organization that advocates for battered and abused women; Mary Straight, founder of Celebrate Recovery Ministry; and Nzingha Amo Nomo, owner of Afriware Bookstore located in the Eisenhower Tower.
Although the event was ostensibly convened to honor the women, the host organization harbored deeper intentions.
“Today we’re coming together as women hopefully to build a relationship that will be totally phenomenal,” said Germaine Porter, MOMS’s head of outreach.
The deeper purpose was to convene the honorees, some of the most influential and engaged women in the community, in order to birth a women’s community leadership council.
“There’s a disparity here,” said Phyllis Duncan, founder and president of MOMS. “[Many residents] have programs, but we don’t support each other.”
Ms. Duncan said that the organization would serve communities in Proviso Township and the Western Suburbs and would be responsible for creating various programming that would address social justice problems. She suggested that the group convene at least quarterly and that each woman on the council commit to either a monthly or quarterly donation.
“We must put our money in an organization and support each other,” she said. As part of her remarks, Ms. Duncan, a poet, recited one of her original works.
“We are sacred women…the vessels of conception…the mothers of nations.”
State Senator Kimberly Lightford, the keynote speaker for the event, gave some of the most poignant remarks of the day. She spoke on leadership, the income disparities between women and men and her past legislative efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage. She touched a rather intimate note while recounting her freshman years in the state senate.
After she was first elected to the General Assembly as the youngest senator in the state’s history, the aftermath nearly destroyed her confidence. Many felt that she was too young for the position. When she would walk into rooms, some men wouldn’t even acknowledge her presence.
“We must be able to be available to rise to the occasion and do it with confidence,” she said. She worked hard to rebuild her self-assurance, mastering the issues and eventually creating her own identity as a legislator, in particular, and as a woman, in general.
“Know your truth, speak your truth, stand in your truth,” she said.
Since assuming her position in 1998, Sen. Lightford has been a force behind an array of signature pieces of legislation, such as the Equal Pay Act of 2003, which stipulates that women should earn as much as men.
“Women earn less on average than men and we have to work harder,” she said, before also noting other big discrepancies in industry and government. For every female CEO in the Fortune 500, there are 21 males, she said. She also noted that of the 435 people in the United States House of Representatives only 78 are women. Among the country’s 100 U.S. senators only 20 are women.
And yet, while women are underrepresented in corporate America and Congress, they’re over-represented in certain areas of the service economy where wages are lowest (for instance, many more women are hotel maids and waitresses than men).
To mitigate this wage discrepancy, Sen. Lightford has proposed that Illinois raise its minimum wage to $10.65 an hour, which if enacted would be the highest in the country.
“I believe that no person on the face of this earth should live in poverty,” she said, hitting on a subtle truth that often goes unnoticed or unmentioned during discussions of women’s issues. Some things that are best for women are also best for men. VFP