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Q: Can you tell me your story of strength? What makes you strong?

My strength comes from where and how I was raised. When I was 5 years old, I was handcuffed by a very large police office who was demonstrating how handcuffs were used. I was one student out of an auditorium full of  students. Perhaps I was selected because I was wearing a denim jumper with a large duck applique and a red & white ¾ length sleeve turtleneck. Or was it because of the increasing gang activity in my little neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. By age of 7, I had learned to use the “F” word. This came in handy when discouraging unwanted attention (e.g. “F_ck off”, etc.). By 8 years old, the writing was on the wall, I knew I had to get the hell out of the “City of Angels!” Believing there was a better place for me and believing I could do better has always been a source of comfort and strength for me. Trust in the Universe.

Q: Can you tell me about a woman who exemplifies strength in your life?

Mrs. Vera McKinney was a kind, outspoken African American lady from Birmingham, Alabama. She was larger than life; my five siblings and I would run to her for kisses when she asked us for some “sugar”. We called her “Auntie Vera”. On Sundays, she was better dressed than the Queen of England. From her hat to her toes she matched. She would reach out to the single mothers in the neighborhood and offered to take their children to church. Auntie Vera worked as a domestic for a well-to- do family living in Baldwin Hills. She and her husband, “Uncle James”, raised funds for their church and actively registered people in the neighborhood to vote. Ours was a neighborhood of lower class workers, with a growing number of Vietnam veterans, many returning as heroin addicts. Auntie Vera would encourage them to go to church. She scolded my father when he was too strict, and once drove my mother to the airport to escape, when her patience ran out. She taught my sister and I make cornbread, fry chicken and bake sweet potato pies. The chitterlings we stayed away from. She was and remains an excellent example of goodness and strength.

Q: Can you tell me about a time where you feel like you failed or truly disappointed yourself?  

I thought I failed to “protect” my younger brothers from the evils of their world. Given my age, experience and resources, I don’t think I would or could change their fate. On a more personal note, I am disappointed with myself for not overcoming my dark side.  I don’t want to devote energy to it, but I must try to offset it by doing good things for others.

Q: How can women better support each other?

Women can support each other by providing positive role models, and becoming good listeners. When listening, try not to interrupt or finish the sentences of others. Be kind, have fun, exchange only good ideas, don’t try to fix others, they may be just fine as they are. Don’t forget to ask for some “sugar.” You deserve it!

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