As February quickly ends, and March soon begins, we remember and honor the beautiful women that have impacted our society. As a woman of color growing up in rural Pennsylvania, it was hard for me to identify pivotal women of color, not because they don’t exist because they have conveniently left out of many of the history books. Of course, I knew about Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth but nothing about Zora Neal Hurston, Linda Brown, and Shirley Chisholm until my grandfather sat me down one day. I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked into a room with the faint smell of cigarette. My eyes wide open with excitement and curiosity as I was surrounded by my history. There were so many books with people of color on them. I saw books by Maya Angelou, Betty Shabazz, and Billy Holiday on these impenetrable looking books. Most of all I saw me. For the first time, I see someone on the cover that looks like me. My grandfather thought it was vital for me to be proud of whom I was and also to be able to pinpoint people within my history that have helped paved the way for me. The discovery of these stories of brave women propelled me to an advocate for people of color, thus, launching me in social work and education.
It was not until about a four or five ago I came to know of a woman by the named Suzanne Brooks. In 2012, a young who worked for me came across information about the Women of Color Day and wanted to implement the day at a university. She walked around the campus asking the individual what they knew about this day. And to no surprise, no one knew what this day was. So she made it her mission to educate students. She approached me as to ask for help in which I became quickly interested in the project. However, I needed to know more. As I researched, I transformed back to that child standing in my grandfather’s room intrigued and fascinated by Suzanne Brooks.
Suzanne worked in Penn State, not too far from where I grew up. In 1988, she was the Director of Affirmative at Penn State and a member of National Institute Women of Color’s (NIWC) Board Directors. Suzanne began developing a group of practices and traditions for the Women of Color Day. She then joined with her friend, JoAnne Mitchell in a call for all women and men to remember well-known achievers and “ordinary women who made an extraordinary contribution to their families, communities, and the world.” On March 1, 1988, the National Institute Women of Color proclaimed the first day of Women’s History Month the first annual Women of Color Day. Year after year this day has been celebrated creating a significant impact throughout the community by honoring women who have made a difference in the lives of women of color.
I am happy to know that I was able to channel the spirit of the great Suzanne Brooks by helping to orchestrate The Women of Color Day Celebration on a university campus. Among the first to be honored, was the young lady that approached me with the project. She finally was able to see her vision come to fruition. Also, I was surprisingly one of the honorees, and at that moment I once again was surrounded by the collective memory of me in that faint smoke smelling room surrounded by beautiful women who looked like me.