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“Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion”

The National Women’s History Month theme for 2024 recognizes women who understand a positive future means eliminating bias and discrimination entirely from our social interactions and institutions.

Women from every background have long realized an uneven playing field will never bring equality or justice. Many feel the critical need to speak up and work harder for fairness in all settings.

In 2024, we recognize the example of women who embrace everyone in our common quest for freedom and opportunity. They know people change with the help of families, teachers, public influencers, and friends; and, young people, in particular, need to learn the value of hearing from voices with different points of view as they grow up.

For info about this year's theme, go to nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org/2024-whm-theme.

North Brentwood is celebrating by highlighting women known for blazing new paths of equity, diversity and inclusion for all women. Each week, in March, we'll profile two new women...

Profiles of Women Who Fight for Everyone

Barbara Walters photo by Lynn Gilbert.

Broadcast Journalist Barbara Walters

Barrier-breaking journalist Barbara Walters was the first female co-anchor of a network evening news program. Her ability to skillfully report the news, and identify questions viewers wanted to ask, led to fascinating interviews with global political figures and celebrities.

After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, with a bachelor’s in English, Walters found a job assisting WRCA-TV’s publicity director. She sharpened her writing and producing skills at the NBC affiliate, and moved to CBS, where she wrote material for the Morning Show. In 1961, NBC hired Walters as a researcher and writer for the Today show; her initial assignments were “female” stories, and, Walters became known as “Today Girl.” Although a co-host, she wasn’t given official billing until 1974 and was often restricted from asking questions of “serious” guests until the male co-host asked his. She remained on the show for 11 years, establishing herself as an adept journalist: in 1972, she was in the press corps during President Nixon’s historic trip to China and, in 1975, she won her first Daytime Emmy Award.

In 1976, Walters was offered an unprecedented
$1 million annual salary, to become the first woman co-anchor of ABC Evening News. That same year, she moderated the final presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and incumbent President Ford, and launched the first Barbara Walters Special; the biggest ‘get’ was the first joint interview with Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt.

Walters was relentless in her first-interview pursuit and her trademark probing-yet-casual interviewing style caught her subjects off guard, yielding uncommon candor, while still not alienating the people she interviewed – including every US president and first lady, from Richard and Pat Nixon onward, Margaret Thatcher, the Dalai Lama, Boris Yeltsin, and Hugo Chavez. While interviewing Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gadhafi, Walters confronted him with, “In America, we read that you are unstable. We read that you are mad.” And, she challenged Fidel Castro on the lack of freedom of the press in Cuba, to which he agreed.

In 1979, Walters became a correspondent for the ABC news show 20/20. She scored the first TV interview with former President Nixon, in 1980, after his 1974 resignation. She was elevated to co-host in 1984. Concurrently, in 1997, Walters premiered The View talk show, for which she was co-executive producer and co-host. She made her final appearance in 2014, but remained an executive producer and continued to do some interviews and specials for ABC News. In 2000, Walters’ $12 million per year ABC News contract made her the highest-paid news host in history. In September 2004, at the age of 73, she stepped down as co-host of 20/20.

Walters garnered many awards, including: the Overseas Press Club’s highest award, the President’s Award; induction into the Academy of Television Arts 

& Sciences Hall of Fame; the Lowell Thomas Award for journalism excellence; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation; a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; as well as 34 daytime and primetime Emmy Awards.

Source: biography.com

Photo credit: Lynn Gilbert

Official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama in the Green Room of the White House

First Lady Michelle Obama

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is a lawyer, writer, and was the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Through her four main initiatives, while in the White House, she became a role model for women and an advocate for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education, and international adolescent girls’ education.

Obama was raised in the south side of Chicago. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School. In 1988, she returned to Chicago to join the law firm of Sidley Austin, where she met Barack Obama, a summer associate she was assigned to advise. They were married in 1992 and have two daughters.

By that time she turned her energies to public service: as Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development in Chicago’s City Hall, then becoming the Founding Executive Director of Public Allies’ Chicago chapter, an AmeriCorps program that prepares young people for public service. In 1996, she joined the University of Chicago as Associate Dean of Student Services, where she developed their first community service program. She later worked at the University’s Medical Center, where, in 2005, she became the Vice President of Community and External Affairs.

As First Lady, Michelle Obama initiated the Let’s Move! program aiming to end childhood obesity within a generation. Through the program, elected officials, business leaders, educators, parents, and faith leaders worked together to provide nutritious food in schools, bring healthy and affordable food into underserved communities, plant vegetable gardens across America, and provide new opportunities for kids to become more active. Each year, local school children helped plant and harvest the garden she started on the White House South Lawn. Its vegetables and fruits were served at the White House and donated to local soup kitchens and food banks.

Additionally, Obama headed the Reach Higher Initiative to help students understand job opportunities and the needed related education and skills. Worldwide, she championed education for girls and women, while also working to support veterans and military families.

Post-White-House, Obama has used her platform in many ways. In 2016, she campaigned for Hillary Clinton with a memorable “when they go low, we go high” speech. In 2018 she released the autobiography Becoming one of the top-selling memoirs in publishing history; a tour for the book was the basis of the documentary Becoming (2020), which aired on Netflix. In 2020, she hosted The Michelle Obama Podcast on Spotify, and she topped Gallup's poll of the most admired woman in America for the third year running. Two years later, Obama published The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, in which she offers insights into handling difficult times, using her own personal experiences as examples. 

Sources: brittanica.com, obamalibrary.gov

Photo credit: Official portrait by Chuck Kennedy

Women's rights activist Betty Friedan

Author & Activist Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan (nee Goldstein) – journalist, activist, and co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) – was one of the early, most visible leaders of the women’s rights movement. Her best-selling book, The Feminine Mystique, gave voice to millions of American women’s frustrations with gender roles and sparked widespread public activism.

In 1921, Bettye Naomi Goldstein was born in Peoria, IL. She dropped the “e” from her name at Smith College, graduated summa cum laude in psychology, and spent a fellowship year, 1942, at University of California Berkeley. As World War II raged on, Friedan became involved in political causes. She left the graduate program to move to NY, where she spent three years as a Federated Press reporter. Next, she wrote for United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers of America’s UE News media outlet. There, Friedan was involved with labor and union issues and authored union pamphlets urging workplace rights for women.

In 1947, she married Carl Friedan; they had three children, but she continued to work and began research for a book. After talking to Smith classmates at a 15-year reunion, Friedan found most were, as was she, dissatisfied with the limited world of suburban housewives. She spent five years interviewing women across the country, charting middle-class women’s metamorphosis, from the independent, career-minded New Woman of the 1920s and 1930s, to the postwar housewives era (expected to find total fulfillment as wives and mothers).

The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, hit a nerve: an instant best-seller still regarded as one of the 20th century’s most influential nonfiction books. Women everywhere voiced a similar “malaise,” which Friedan dubbed, “the problem that has no name.” The book helped transform public awareness and brought many into the women’s movement, while propelling Friedan into its leadership. In 1966, Friedan, Pauli Murray and Aileen Hernandez founded feminist organization NOW, with Friedan as its president. The group’s first action was to demand the EEO Commission enforce provisions of Title VII guaranteeing equality in employment – NOW successfully ended the practice of sex-segregated help wanted advertising.

Friedan was a busy activist throughout the 1960s and ‘70s: she helped found National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws in 1969 (now National Abortion Rights Action League); and, more recently, NARAL Pro-choice America. She organized the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970 on the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage. In addition, in 1971, Friedan co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus with Congresswoman Bella Abzug, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and feminist Gloria Steinem. Through these organizations, Friedan was influential in changing outdated laws (e.g., unfair hiring practices, gender pay inequality and pregnancy discrimination).

As more diverse women’s movement voices emerged, Friedan struggled to retain leadership and was criticized for focusing on issues facing primarily white, middle-class, educated, heterosexual women. Some also blasted Friedan for referring to the movement’s lesbian women as the “lavender menace,” and for a willingness to cooperate with men. Ever politically expedient, Friedan believed the only hope for change was by retaining the movement’s mainstream ties and veneer. This alienated her from younger, radical, and visionary feminists who were increasingly the movement’s vanguard.

Friedan nonetheless remained a visible, ardent, important advocate who some dubbed the “mother” of the modern women’s movement. Since the 1970s, she published several books, taught at NY University and USC, and lectured widely at women’s conferences around the world. Friedan died in 2006.

Source: womenshistory.org

NASA photo of legendary mathematician Katherine Johnson

Mathematician Katherine Johnson

Being handpicked to be one of three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools is just one breakthrough that marked Katherine Johnson’s long, remarkable life. She was a mathematician and one of the first African American women to work as a NASA scientist.

Born in West Virginia, in 1918, her intense curiosity and brilliance with numbers vaulted her several grades ahead in school. By 13, she was in high school on the campus of historically black West Virginia State College, where she later enrolled; there, Johnson found a mentor in math professor W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African American to earn a mathematics PhD. She graduated with highest honors and took a job teaching at a black public school in Virginia.

In 1939, West Virginia quietly integrated its graduate schools; Johnson and two men were the first black students offered spots at the state’s flagship school, WV University. She left her teaching job and enrolled in the graduate math program.

It wasn’t until 1952 that Johnson was hired for the all-black West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (now NASA) Langley laboratory, headed by fellow West Virginian Dorothy Vaughan. Johnson and her husband moved the family to Virginia; she began work at Langley in the summer of 1953. Within two weeks, Vaughan assigned Johnson to a Flight Research Division project, which became a permanent position. Johnson spent the next four years analyzing data from flight tests and investigating a plane crash caused by wake turbulence.

Throughout the space race, Johnson worked on vital NASA projects, such as trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight. In 1960, she and engineer Ted Skopinski coauthored the report “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position.” It was the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division received credit as an author of a research report.

Johnson is best known for making the calculations that enabled the first Americans to enter Earth's orbit and set foot on the moon. In 1962, as NASA prepared for John Glenn’s orbital mission, the complexity of the orbital flight required constructing global tracking stations to IBM computers in DC, Cape Canaveral and Bermuda. Pre-flight, astronaut John Glenn (who didn’t trust the computers) told engineers to “get the girl” to run the same equations, but by hand. “If she says they’re good,” Johnson remembers Glenn saying, “then I’m ready to go.” The successful flight was a turning point in the competition between the US and the Soviet Union in space.

When asked to name her greatest contribution to space exploration, Johnson would talk about the calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module. She also worked on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS, later renamed Landsat), and authored or coauthored 26 research reports.

She retired in 1986, after 33 years at Langley. “I loved going to work every single day,” she said. In 2015, at age 97, Johnson earned another extraordinary achievement: President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. The 2016 movie "Hidden Figures" chronicles Johnson's life and work at NASA; she was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson. A year later, NASA has dedicated a new facility to honor the mathematician: the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility. Johnson passed away in 2020.

Source: nasa.gov

Dorie_Ladner_edited_edited.jpg

Civil Rights Activist Dorie Ladner

Dorie Ladner, whose fearless civil rights activism began as a Mississippi teen, braved death threats, arrest, gunfire, tear gas, police dogs and the Ku Klux Klan. She died March 11, 2024 at 81.

During the 1960s, alongside her sister Joyce, Ladner was a leading community organizer in Mississippi for the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and for the Freedom Summer Project promoting Black voter registration. In 1961, Ladner was expelled from Jackson State University for supporting the Tougaloo Nine (Black students at  Tougaloo College who staged sit-ins at segregated  public institutions in MS). She and her sister were invited to enroll at Tougaloo; but chose to be part of the civil rights movement, working with the Congress of Racial Equality on anti-poverty programs.

 

Ladner was arrested multiple times for protesting; in 1962 she was part of the famous attempt to integrate Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Jackson.

 

At the time, Mississippi was a dangerous place for African Americans and civil rights workers. Ladner was dauntless. She joined and led marches and sit-ins, and helped organize events e.g.: the March from Selma to Montgomery and the March on Washington, where MLK, Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.

In 1973, Ladner did attend Tougaloo earning her BA  in history; she later attend Howard University, earning a master’s degree in 1975. For 30 years, she counseled patients in the ER and rape crisis centers at DC General Hospital and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. In 2021, her sister Joyce said to The Washington Post: “When I saw that man strolling through the Capitol on January 6, waving that oversized Confederate flag, I was not surprised.” Dorie added, “The war is not over.”

Source: washingtonpost.com, wikipedia.org

Photo credit: Deborah Menkart.

Eleanor Roosevelt

“First Lady of the World” Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was the US’s longest-serving First Lady (1933-1945): she used her platform to advocate for civil rights, continually traveling to survey people's working and living conditions. She was a prolific author, speaker, and humanitarian.

During WWI, she volunteered with relief agencies, increasing her political clout. In the 1920’s, she promoted women’s political engagement and had lead roles in the League of Women Voters, Women’s Trade Union League, and DNC’s Women’s Division.

 

In the White House, First Lady Roosevelt authored six books and wrote nearly 3,000 articles, including a monthly magazine column. She delivered speeches and held weekly press conferences with female reporters. Roosevelt also lobbied FDR to appoint women, securing Frances Perkins as the first female to lead the Department of Labor, among many others.

Additionally, Roosevelt championed racial justice: she helped Black miners in WV, advocated for the NAACP and National Urban League, and famously  resigned from the DAR when they refused to let singer Marian Anderson perform in their auditorium.

 

After FDR’s death in 1945, she served ten years-plus  as a United Nations delegate; she chaired its Human Rights Commission and helped write the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. In DC, she spoke out against McCarthyism and pushed for housing protections for Freedom Riders and other activists.

In 1960, at JFK’s request, she chaired the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, which released a ground-breaking gender discrimination study in 1962, a year after her death. She also worked on the Equal Pay Act passed that same year. Kennedy nominated Roosevelt for the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Source: womenshistory.org

Judge Cheri Nicole Simpkins

The Honorable Cheri Nicole Simpkins

The Honorable Cheri Nicole Simpkins was elevated by Governor Moore to the Prince George's County Circuit Court, on November 22, 2023.

In 2017, Governor Hogan appointed Simpkins to the PG County District Court, as an Associate Judge. Prior to the bench, she was a Prosecutor for 15 years with the County State’s Attorney’s Office, ultimately serving as the Chief of the Juvenile Division.

As a Prosecutor, she handled cases involving child sexual / physical abuse / neglect, child pornography, and sexual assault. Her cases also included vehicular homicides, major felonies and narcotics, earlier in her career. As well, she worked as a family law attorney with Butler, McKeon and Associates.

Simpkins received her JD from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

Judge Stenise Rolle

The Honorable Stenise L. Rolle

The Honorable Stenise L. Rolle was appointed as an Associate Judge of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County by Governor Larry Hogan: she was sworn into office on January 17, 2023.

Rolle’s previous positions include: Foreclosure Magistrate, PG County Circuit Court, and  Manager of Judicial Education for Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts. At University of Maryland College Park, she was Director of the Graduate Legal Aid Office. Rolle has also been in private practice.

 

Judge Rolle is a graduate of Florida A&M University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Economics and a Masters of Applied Social Sciences (with a concentration in Public Administration). She received her Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law.

2024 Women's History Month Luncheon

Thursday, March 28, at 11:30 am @ The Hotel at the University of Maryland in College Park, MD

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks hosted the 39th Annual Women’s History Month Luncheon (WHML), to celebrate the dynamic accomplishments of women who serve in and partner with government to influence and impact our communities.

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