There were turbulent times for strong, courageous Black teens across the country in the 60s. The Greensboro Four had initiated a national sit-in at F. W. Woolworth’s lunch counter to protest Jim Crow laws during the early 1960s, which sparked a fire in young Black Americans, to claim their rights as citizens in this country.
One of those individuals was 19-year-old Shar’Ron Washington Ford, who had faithfully worked for the five-and-dime store in Chicago, IL. As she read her diary notes from that era and reviewed her news clippings, she felt that rejection all over again. She relocated to Peoria to escape an abusive husband and sought to transfer her employment to downtown Peoria. The local F.W. Woolworth store had advertised for a cashier, and she had experience from another franchise location.
“I applied for the cashier’s position because that was what I had done in Chicago. We had a lot of customers, and I was good at my job,” said Ford. “So, when I applied here (in Peoria), the manager took one look at me and said that he had a job in the back, in the kitchen, cooking for them. He said I could be a cook, but I was not to be seen in public as a cashier. This was NOT Chicago.”
After this youngster told the manager off, she walked away from Woolworth, feeling sad and defeated. This situation could have damaged a person’s self-esteem and drive, but not Ford’s. In fact, it made her stronger and convinced her that she should be in a position to help others reach their dreams, and she has done just that.
Whether she was at Friendship House with clients or assisting young people with Peoria District 150, it has been the grit and determination of Ford to push people to be their best with compassion and concern for their well-being. It is something that comes naturally to her because rejection is something that she is not accepting, and Ford knows what it means to be downtrodden and hurt.
Ford wants to be a social worker but has to make plans to return to college. She has earned two Associate degrees from Illinois Central College, but that is not enough for her. “My great aunt said that I was born to be in the social work field,” said Ford, who was raised by her beautiful “Aunt Minnie” until she was eight years old. That was when she learned that her mother gave her to her aunt as a baby. Ford returned to her mother and then to another aunt, before returning to the woman, she still calls her mother because that was the woman who loved and cared for her. Ford married and had a son, but she had to make some quick moves when the violence started. After she left, she learned she was pregnant with her second child. She looks back on that experience as an introduction to her journey to help others, just as she had relatives assist her with her life.
“Today, I am a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother,” Ford said proudly. “I am also a motivator and supporter of my people because if we do not help each other, where would we be?” said Ford. “I am 73 years young and have witnessed many things happen in this city and country. Some things have changed for the better, but our children need to be taught that they can achieve things.”
Ford, the Building Monitor at Manual High School, said that many of her high school scholars have returned to thank her for her love and encouragement. “They said they were not going to march across the stage to receive their diploma, and I said, YES, YOU ARE MARCHING ACROSS THAT STAGE! I pushed them because I did not march in my graduation. I did not graduate from high school due to my circumstances, but I did not let those issues hold me back. I have my GED,” Ford said. “I don’t want them looking back and missing out on prom and graduation. That is what life is about…Celebrating the good that you have accomplished, she said.
So, when Ford starts marching across the stage with her future bachelor’s degree, she is hopeful that she can open up her own center to help people. However, in the meantime, Ford plans to keep serving Manual’s population and reminding the young people about their greatness. She arrives early, sometimes between 5:30 am and 6:30 am each day during the school year because some teens who are dropped off early need to simply feel cared for on a regular basis. Ford shared that last month a co-worker asked her what she was doing outside with the young people. “For safety reasons, I can no longer let the students in until a School Resource Officer (SRO) arrives. I was outside with the students to prevent two female students from leaving to walk to a friend’s house. They were only leaving because I told them that I couldn’t let them in. I stayed outside with them so that they wouldn’t leave. These days, you do not know what can happen when the kids are by themselves, and no one is watching,” she said.
Ford sees her role as being a team player because children look at what you do. She provides snacks at her desk so children can fill their empty stomachs upon entering the school. In addition to the snacks, she also supports teens with school supplies, clothes, socks, gloves, and bus fare from her pocket. The It Takes A Village (ITAV) store at Manual has lifted the burden. Ford is the liaison for the ITAV store at Manual, which gives her the opportunity to get needed items from the store.
Ford’s childhood days are way behind her, but she never forgot her young days when she was with her relatives, and things were not as they seemed. Today, some students will confide in you and share what is going on in their lives or what they are thinking about being involved in. One student told her that he made different decisions about his life after sharing some of her life experiences with him.
“I feel that God has put me where I need to be. I want to make a difference, and I will do so until God places me somewhere else,” Ford said.