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100 Black Women of So PBC

100 Black Women organize aid group

By Michelle Parsons
Special Correspondent

Brenda Durden has spent 28 years as an educator in Palm Beach County, so she knows a thing or two about the challenges facing minority students.

Durden, who lives west of Delray Beach, has been assistant principal at Olympic Heights High School west of Boca Raton since 1982. Her passion for educating children rubbed off on two of her four children.

Daughters Fe'Licia Durden and A'Licia Durden also work as educators in Palm Beach County. The three Durden women recently joined forces with 33 other area professional African-American women to improve the lives of minorities in the county.

They became charter members of the newly formed South Palm Beach Chapter of the National Coalition for 100 Black Women.

After a sorority sister told Durden about the fledgling group, she started attending meetings. Early on, the group focused on meeting the criteria set by the national coalition for founding a charter. But Durden was excited by the possibilities. "We're a working group with a strong sense of fellowship," she said.

Members of the chapter live or work in the Greater Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Wellington and Royal Palm Beach areas.

The National Coalition of Black Women has its roots in the civil rights and women's movements. In 1970, 100 successful African-American professional women in New York got together to help African-Americans in the areas of health, education and economics. By 1981, news of the coalition's work had spread, and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women was formed in Washington, D.C.

Today, the coalition includes 7,000 to 10,000 women from 62 U.S. chapters, as well as chapters in London, Jamaica and the Bahamas. Chapters range in size from 32 to more than 100. The "100" in the title pays homage to the original New York coalition.

The National Coalition of 100 Black Women was already well represented in Florida when Doris Robinson decided to form the South Palm Beach Chapter in August 2002.

There were nine chapters, including groups in Greater Palm Beach, Greater Fort Lauderdale and Greater Miami. Robinson, however, convinced the national organization that the southern part of the county had its own unique challenges.

"Palm Beach is very different than many of the communities in south Palm Beach County," Robinson said. "And Palm Beach was far for many of us to travel."

The new South Palm Beach Chapter will take its cue from the national coalition and focus on education, health and economics in the African-American community. The group wants to work with local agencies, businesses and schools to improve the lives of minority women and families.

The 36 charter members include educators, attorneys, medical professionals and corporate businesswomen who represent a cross section of women in all age groups and economic backgrounds.

Thirty years of experience as an educator in Palm Beach County taught Dorothy Lowery that the best way for minority parents to help their children succeed is to become involved in their schools.

"One thing I noticed, time and time again, was that parents, especially minority parents, were very hesitant to get to the school center," said the Delray Beach resident, who started her career as a teacher's aide and is now a personnel specialist for the school district. "Many minority parents have to overcome their own negative past experiences with school."

Over the years, Lowery started such initiatives as the Bucket of Books program, in which teachers armed with books went to homes to make parents more comfortable with school personnel. "So when problems arose, parents had a comfort level and saw that the teachers had a real interest in their child," she said.

The chapter has come a long way since Robinson began contacting potential members 21 months ago. "I thought there were enough successful professional women in the community with a will and desire to help," she said.

The South Palm Beach Chapter officially was recognized last month by the national organization at an installation ceremony. It served as both a celebration of Robinson's achievement and a call to action. Lively gospel music punctuated inspirational speeches and stylishly dressed charter members mingled, taking baby steps toward their future together as agents of change.

A top priority for many of the women will be the county's foster care system.

"We want to mentor foster kids and help them understand they are not alone, that our group is just a phone call away. We want to teach them what it takes to be positive and productive participants in the community," said Regina Simmons, who lives west of Boynton Beach.

Simmons said the group also will encourage home ownership among African-Americans.

"A disproportionate number African-Americans rent their homes, not own them. We want to be sure that they understand the power of purchasing their own homes and why it's important for them economically," she said.

At the installation ceremony, national coalition Vice President Leslie Graham praised Robinson for her tenacity and challenged the fledgling group, which is by invitation only.

"I expect to see differences in this community," she said. "Don't just ask questions, but talk to people to have answers to the questions. Your goal is to affect policy change or weigh in on policy change."

Many of the women Robinson contacted at first didn't understand the slow process of putting together a charter, and they dropped out along the way. Robinson hopes they will come back. "People like jumping on a moving train," she said.

Copyright Ā 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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