A familiar scripture in the Christian faith concerning the Prophet Jeremiah quotes God saying: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I sanctified you (Jeremiah 1:5).
Because of the celebration of Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), I celebrate me in the community because of who God created me to be. Be it black, or female, or both, I am grateful for how race and gender have contributed to my creation purpose. This reflection on my humanity comes after a recent update of my employment resume due to the elimination of my job of 17 years. A pursuit of new employment required an assessment of who I am and what I can do. In summary, I recognize that my professional and personal interests have been influenced by race and gender.
Gender and race are equal in their presence at birth. They co-exist in one’s identity, experiences and achievements in life. As I reflect on my race and gender while observing the annual celebrations previously mentioned, I celebrate me. The combination of female and black causes me to appreciate how they have provided encouragement to individuals and contributions to society. I bring diversity into various social matters. Significant for me is the diversity I represent in my profession of social and spiritual care.
At my previous job as a pastor and director of a homeless shelter for women and children, I was that Christian organization’s first female and black person employed as a pastor in its 78-year history. That happened in 2003 when I accepted the newly created position of community pastoral care. I became the shelter director the following year. Throughout my many years at the shelter, I heard women and children comment on the presence of a female pastor. Some said they didn’t know a woman could be a pastor. Others expressed an appreciation for spiritual care from a woman. Sometimes those comments would remind me of my past ministry as Director of Women’s ministry at my church.
Often, I think about my first international mission trip to Trinidad and Tobago 23 years ago. During one of the four speaking events, a woman exclaimed, “Thank God she is a black woman,” after I was introduced. Previously the featured speakers had always been white women from the United States. A year later, after speaking during a mission trip to St. Vincent, a woman came up for prayer and expressed her desire to do what I had done, but she had been denied the opportunity.
I pray our encounter gave her and other women present hope for ministry in the future. I believe my gender and race have contributed to my mentorship of African and Asian-Indian women living in the United States. For three years, I facilitated a group called Women of Faith and Color. The group included women from African and Caribbean countries who had recently located to Peoria.
I am humbled and honored by the recognition I received from the Peoria Chamber of Commerce for empowerment of women. I received the Athena International Woman of the Year Award in 2015, the second black woman to receive the award within its 31 annual presentations.