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Black Women's Empowerment in the Workplace Starts Conversation in UC Lounge

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) who partnered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hosted a panel to discuss issues, trials and empowerment of being an African American woman. The event was in the UC Lounge on Feb. 18 from 5-7 p.m.

The three panelists were Community Director of Cypress Jaquala Lyons, Mass Communications professor Clejetter Cousins, and Associate Professor for the School of Education Dr. Frankie Denise Powell. The event was hosted by AAUW member Jennifer Parker, who moderated the questions being asked to the panelists.

Parker started the panel with the first question, “What is the biggest worldwide problem facing women of color today?”

The women agreed there were still issues with economic equality between an African American women and others races or genders. Powell believed money was part of the problem but the major one was power. She believed women needed more ‘power’.

Cousins discussed how she faced challenges head on when she was a newspaper reporter who interviewed an African American woman who was integrated into East Carolina University. She was looking to turn her story in for an award that required clippings about women in the south who have made a difference. Cousins’ supervisor went to her co-worker instead of her to gather stories after knowing that Cousins already wrote a story.

“I went home that night and I cried but I went into that newsroom and held my head up high,” she said. “She [supervisor] asked me did I want to turn in my story, I did, and I won the award.”

Cousins claimed that her supervisor proceeded to ‘act’ as if she was ‘supporting’ her the entire time.

The panelists tackled equality issues by stating there wasn’t an equality issue anymore but an equity issue.

“Equity is what we need right now,” Powell said. “Robeson County is in need of more resources than what places like Chapel Hill have been given.”

Lyons believed the reason equity hasn’t been achieved yet was because of history.

“In my opinion, at least in American, we all didn’t start out with equal footing. Look at it like a race, some people were already almost there but some of us were all the way in the back but not by choice,” she said.

Cousins also agreed with how the ‘race’ is set up and how most people are refusing to get into the ‘race’ too. Parker asked do they feel there are few women of color working in their field.

“I’m going say no and yes,” Lyons said. “I do know there are a lot of women of color in the entrée level jobs than there are in the higher positions.”

Powell ignites the panel discussion with advice for women of color who want to work in a male dominated field. Her examples went from how playing a sport is the same as going through life.

“What do you do when you fall down during a basketball game?” she said. “You get right back up and keep playing.”

When asked about a woman becoming president, Powell answered in terms of how a leader shouldn’t be determined based off of gender but by their leadership qualities.

The conversation turned to how African American men are viewed when in a leadership position. Powell wanted the audience to recognize ‘who’s actually running the show’.

“Nelson Mandela said, ‘He [Barack Obama] would only be as successful as the ruling class that will allow him to be’,” she said.

The statement ‘not being black enough’ led to a discussion which Cousins used her nephew as an example.

“I told him it is cool to be smart, you’re still black,” she said. “Don’t fall into the trap, you can be black and smart.”

Powell recommended watching the hit TV show “Black-ish” for insights on colorism and how it affects the African American community.

Parker asked the panel about discrimination in the about why white people receive backlash for wanting to participate in organizations that empower minorities, the women continued to encourage others to not participate in the discrimination.

Powell reminded the audience in history, there were three groups: the enslaved, the people who owned slaves and the abolitionists.

“The abolitionists were people of faith and good will, who thought the institution of slavery was horrible,” she said. “They have shed lots of blood and made lots of sacrifices because it wasn’t right.”

The panel ended with the women giving advice and encouragement to the audience who are going through the same issues faced in the 21st century.

“Be who you are when people say the negative things like you being an ‘angry black women’,” Cousins said. “That’s used to try to hold you down, whatever name they had for you is okay because it’s their problem not yours.”

PN Photo/Octavia Johnson

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