Local women dedicated to helping youths, women and people with disadvantages have been named Women of Achievement by the YWCA.
As part of the celebration, Dr. Jocelyn Elders, the first African American to be U.S. surgeon general, will be the keynote speaker.
Elders, who held strong views on sex education and drug policy, served for 15 months during the Bill Clinton administration before resigning under pressure for controversial remarks about sex education. She has helped increase sex education in public schools, childhood immunizations, and home-care options for the chronically or terminally ill.
She answered a few questions by email.
Q: You worked in the Bill Clinton administration, and now Hillary Clinton is running for president. How do you think your positions on sex education would be perceived today?
A: People are more open to sex education today, because of the years of open discussion that we have had. I think Hillary Clinton understands that ignorance about sexuality is not bliss. She knows that we must educate our children for protection, so that they can not only survive, but also thrive, and so that they can grow up healthy, educated, motivated and have hope.
Q: Marijuana is legal in Washington. Do you still support decriminalization/legalization of drugs? If so, which ones? And how do you think that affects youths?
A: I support legalization of medical marijuana and decriminalization for small amounts of possession of marijuana. I support a health-centered drug policy rather than a prohibitionist model that comes through dogmatism, moralism and prejudice.
Our present war on drugs has made America the world’s fattest jailor and has denied many youths an education, opportunity to be productive citizens, and the opportunity to live up to their potential. We are squandering our money on jails to the detriment of funding for education and health.
Drug charges produce life-long second-class citizens. Criminal drug charges can permanently eliminate opportunities for student loans, education and housing, financial eligibility for loans, adopting a child, voting rights, employment and licensing.
Q: There’s no escaping the issues raised in this presidential campaign. What message do you see for children regarding sexism, feminism and bullying? Is there an upside to the exposure these issues are getting?
A: Yes. I think the exposure to sexism, feminism and bullying with the presidential campaign offers us a real opportunity to continue to discuss these important issues in our society. We must get beyond our secrets to openly discuss these real issues facing our society. Women and girls need to be respected in order for them to live free from oppression. Our silence has been deafening.
Bullying affects us all, from the youngest to the oldest, girls and women, boys and men. A society of bullies is not in our best interest.
Recognizing female leaders
Elders will speak at the YWCA’s celebration at 6 p.m. Friday (Oct. 28) at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia. VIP tickets include a reception and meet-and-greet with Elders and the honorees.
The event dates to 1994, and for the past two years has included a business that values women in the workplace, according to Cherie Reeves Sperr, community engagement director of YWCA.
“We’re looking for women who are inspiring and making changes in the community,” she said. “Over the years, we’ve had hundreds nominated, and we pick five or six a year.”
This year’s criteria were: women who further the YWCA mission to eliminate racism and sexism, and who promote economic advancement, health and safety for women and girls, and racial justice and civic leadership, she said.
The South Sound honorees are:
Prairie Rose Hyde: Hyde was posted to Kaboli, Togo, as a Peace Corps volunteer, where she met her husband, Olowo-n’djo. She enrolled in a graduate program at the University of California, Davis, studying international agricultural development and ethnobotany. She co-founded Alaffia, a company that focuses on alleviating poverty and the advancement of gender equality.
Meg Martin: Martin is a founding member and director of the InterfaithWorks Emergency Shelter, which screens those who are living with the most complex challenges. Martin is a certified peer counselor and a social worker. She earned her master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington Tacoma in 2013 and founded the Interfaith Works Emergency Shelter in 2014 with Cassie Burke and Jefferson Doyle.
Penelope Partridge: Partridge left home at 14 and worked in carpentry, maritime construction and on boats in Alaska. At age 17, she began a bicycle mechanics class for women and transgendered individuals, under the nonprofit umbrella of the Emma Goldman Youth and Homeless Outreach Project. At 23, she started a program that helped at-risk high school girls receive credit for their learning in an all-women and trans carpentry shop. In the past several years, she has led support groups and written grants for SafePlace domestic violence shelter.
Sandi Roberts: Roberts started her own business in 1983 in an era when women-owned commercial construction companies were unheard of. Her activities include Girls Without Limits STEM after-school and summer camp programs. She served on the YWCA board of directors, including two years as president, and as interim director. She also volunteers at the Senior Services Estate Store.
LaTasha Wortham: Wortham grew up in the Hilltop area of Tacoma. She was the first in her family to attend and graduate from college. Her volunteer work includes the Metropolitan Development Council and the Girl Scouts, and she has supported organizations that focus on mentoring young people. She is the district director for Congressman Denny Heck.
Gyanna Lâm: Lam is the oldest daughter of a Vietnamese refugee father and an immigrant mother. Her goal is to become a biotechnologist. She is a senior at Olympia High School and a full-time Running Start student at South Puget Sound Community College. Her volunteer work includes the Olympia Free Clinic, teen tech tutor at Tumwater Timberland Library, assistant at LOTT’s WET Science Center and the YWCA Girls Without Limits STEM Camp program.
South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity: The nonprofit corporation has been chosen as the Business of Achievement. Its answer to intergenerational poverty is to build a home you can own. Fifty-two percent of Habitat’s homeowners are single mothers.
If you go
Tickets are $35 per adult, $25 for seniors/students and $10 youths.
Doors open at 6 p.m. at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Information at olytix.org or 360-753-8586.