It took about a year and a half to get the Memphis Chapter of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. up and running. On Sunday evening (Nov. 17), the organization received its charter and the 18 founding members were installed during a two-hour ceremony in the Little Theater of The LeMoyne Owen College's Alma C. Hansen Student Center.
"I challenge you to work together and walk together," exhorted Dr. E. Faye Williams, the NCBW's national chair and installation speaker. "We should be ready to make a difference in somebody's life. We have a duty to help our young brothers and sisters who're coming behind us."
Williams presented the charter to Dr. Brenda J. Taylor, chair of the Memphis chapter, as family and friends observed. "We've got to work together. I think we can do it. We will make a difference in the city of Memphis," she said.
"We talked about starting a local chapter more than a year ago," said Alfunsia Marriwether, the organization's parliamentarian. "One of the members said they were familiar with the national chapter's initiatives and thought it would be vital here in Memphis."
The NCBW was founded in Washington D.C. in 1984. The late congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who represented New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms, served as the national's first founding chair.
After Chisholm, the late founding chair Dr. C. DeLores Tucker, a civil rights activist and the nation's first female African-American Secretary of State from Pennsylvania, took the helm in 1992. Williams succeeded Dr. Tucker in 2005.
A non-profit, non-partisan organization that empowers African-American women, those who are 25 years old and older are encouraged to join the membership organization and support its mission.
"There is a need to provide service in the areas of education and development, political issues, and provide history of the African-American culture – particularly the history of African-American women," Taylor said.
The organization also urges youth to register and vote, encourages African-American women to seek elective office on all levels of government, and calls on African-American women to participate in the formation and development of public policy that impacts families and communities.
There are 125 chapters in the United States. Although Memphis is the only chapter so far in Tennessee, NCBW will soon form two more chapters in the state – one in Nashville and the other in Knoxville.
"This chapter (Memphis) is made up of grassroots people ...ordinary people who can make a difference," said Taylor, noting that the group holds its meetings at the Junior League of Memphis.
Education is a key component of the organization's mission, said Taylor, who has worked over 43 years in the field of education. "We're working on a grant for Hoop House, which is similar to a green house. We're going to grow fruits and vegetables and educate people about the importance of eating healthy."
The health initiative, she said, is akin to Michelle Obama's campaign to encourage the American people to eat healthy and exercise. The focus will be on education, leadership and health related issues.
Taylor is spearheading another project as well: "Leadership Training for African-American Women and their Families."
During her short talk, Williams, who holds five degrees, began by hailing the courage and strength of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, also a women's rights activist. Truth is the standard-bearer for the organization.
"We always had strong black women. And we are never ashamed to be called strong black women," said Williams. "However, we ain't got enough of nothing to be halfway satisfied."
Williams also said laws such as "Stand Your Ground" should be changed, citing as proof the tragic shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride, a Detroit teenager who sought help after an accident and was gunned down by a white homeowner claiming self-defense.
"We got to work on the laws of this country," she said. "Sometimes I think we're going backward when it comes to civil and human rights."
Whether it's encouraging women to fight for justice, imploring them to get involved in the political system, or advocating and developing public policy that impacts all African-American women, Williams said, "Of all the power that black women have, we have to use it."