Women who have changed policy, increased access to education for communities of color, and empowered other women are being honored with the 21st annual YWCA Women of Achievement awards.
Khurshida Begum, Barbara Clarkson, Kristin Jacobsen, Marsha Tadano Long, Kimberly Perry and the agency Together! will be featured at a gala Thursday (Nov. 5) at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia.
The annual celebration has been restructured to include a social hour and raffle before the main event, which features the awards and a keynote presentation by Naomi Tutu, race and gender justice activist and daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
Guests also can choose a soiree ticket that adds entry to an after party with appetizers, beverages and music. Tickets are available at the box office, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, at www.olytix.org or by calling 360-753-8586.
The Olympian spoke to Naomi Tutu last week. Here are excerpts from that interview.
Q: You speak about “difficult truths.” What are those?
A: The most obvious is that racism continues to exist in our country and our community and that refusing to talk about it and face up to it does not move us forward.
If we vilify those who do raise issues of racism, sexism or homophobia, then we vilify the people who are in fact doing the building of our community.
When people raise issues of concern, it is not usually because they want to destroy a community but more likely that they have a deep love for the community and want it to be the best community it can be.
Q: Gender justice is an important part of your presentation. When did awareness of gender injustice begin for you?
A: As young black girl in South Africa, (in 1968) I saw not only racism, but also sexism. My first experience was in the church, being told girls could not serve at the altar, as an altar girl. When I was little, girls were not allowed to do that. I couldn’t understand why I was told that God loved me and had created me but that for some reason I was not good enough to serve at God’s altar.
Q: How did your awareness evolve?
A: You notice that girls are treated differently in so many small ways. Once I noticed the church, I noticed things in class, girls weren’t encouraged to speak up, we were meant to be polite. When boys got boisterous, they would respond to their actions; as girls, we were sent to the principal.
It wasn’t like that at home. In my home, my parents were very clear we had all the same responsibility. We had cooking days starting at age 8 or 9. We had chores. It was very clear that within our house, equality was expected.
What I’ve always told my children is that when you look at issues of human rights, they’re all interconnected. I had no expectations that their issues would be the same as my issues, but I did expect them to be involved in some way to make the the world a better place.
Q: How did these issues become your passion?
A: Race and gender? (laughs) It was a lazy decision: As a black woman, how far did I have to go to make that my issue?
Q: What message do you want to leave?
A: We all have the opportunity to make a difference in the world. Particularly in context of the Women of Achievement. Look at the women they have selected, see the wide range of issues they have taken up. Underlying all of them is a belief in justice and true opportunity for of all of God’s people.
Khurshida Begum is an internationally known speaker and human rights advocate for survivors of modern-day slavery. Her business, Humanity Unlimited, educates and empowers first responders, community members, educators, and youth about human trafficking and other forms of human exploitation.
Barbara Clarkson is a longtime community advocate and trustee at South Puget Sound Community College and the SPSCC Foundation. As a charter member of the Thurston Group of Washington Board of Directors, she has assisted in acquiring more than $6 million in grants and scholarships to more than 850 students.
Kristin Jacobsen is a volunteer leader for the Climb Out of the Darkness, a fundraiser for the non-profit Postpartum Progress, and has brought the Climb to Olympia for three years. She is a trustee on the board of directors for the Child Care Action Council.
Marsha Tadano Long has served the state of Washington in many capacities, from vocational education program specialist to director of the Department of General Administration, where she was the first woman and person of color to hold that position. She also worked with her husband, Merritt D. Long, to found the Learning Seed Foundation in 2001.
Kimberly Perry is junior at Black Hills High School and is enrolled in the Running Start Program at SPSCC. As part of her award, Perry will receive the 2015 Mary P. Dolciani Halloran Foundation Young Woman of Achievement Scholarship, awarded annually to a young woman who has participated in the YWCA Girls Without Limits program.
Local nonprofit TOGETHER! was selected as the 2015 YWCA of Olympia Business of Achievement for its active support of women and families in the workplace, leadership development, and commitment to racial and gender equity.