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Third Annual African American Women’s Luncheon “Stepping Up and Stepping Forward”

AAW Committee (r. to l.): Wendy Sims-Moten, Leslie Robinson, Lillian Pipersburg, Diane Boggess, and Eileen Monahan (Photo Credit: Gary L. Harbour)

By Gary LeRoy Harbour

Santa Barbara, CA — On Saturday April 12, 2014, a group of women gathered in one of the most beautiful venues at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort, for their 3rd annual African American Women of Santa Barbara County Luncheon. The venue afforded a beautiful view of the ocean, but was rivaled by spectacular floral centerpieces and a warmly lit, smooth jazz filled ballroom.

Wendy Sims-Moten, the event chairperson and visionary for the African American Women of Santa Barbara County (AAW), welcomed the guests. The first speaker was cultural artist Jackie Joice, a writer, photographer and poet who read from her latest of several novels and books of poetry, “Green Grapes Black Hands”, which was inspired by her grandfather who traveled to California during the grapes of wrath era to work the fields.

The second guest was entertainer Malynda Hale whose singing talents have allowed her to tour many major American cities. Hale, whose roots are in the churches of Santa Barbara,  is also an accomplished actor and Cover Girl model. She has also graced the Staples Center with the Star-Spangled Banner and performed at the House of Blues.

Keynote speaker Qiana Charles, a Senior Community Liaison with Southern California Edison in Rosemead, demonstrated skills in communicating with a diverse demographic of women. Tapping into their potential as women, ranging in age from young to a beautiful 90 year old, Ms. Charles quickly had them standing to their feet  aligning themselves not with ostriches, head buried in the sand, not peacocks, all beauty and very little else, but eagles. Eagles soaring high above the mundane, focusing on others, like themselves to help, mentor and protect.

When asked about the African American Woman’s Luncheon organization, whose motto is “Coming Together, Being Together”, Ms. Sims-Moten stated, “It actually isn’t an organization, but it feels so much like that. I think sooner or later it will become a more formal organization, but for right now, it’s about four women putting this event together because we just want to help each other help others. This really started about three years ago as a pilot based on conversations I’ve had with other women in Santa Barbara County, where we are less than two percent of the population. We felt somewhat disconnected and isolated; so, there was something we needed to do to go about addressing that starting with a luncheon.

The first luncheon that we had was at Mosher Hall, a UCSB meeting facility. There were three or four women on the committee. We actually cooked our own food and did all sorts of things. It was quite successful. Then, the second year luncheon was a validation. Yes, we still continue to want this. We need this; we have fun when we are together connecting. However, some of the feedback was that we needed to network during the luncheon.

This time the third one was really about validation and about “stepping out, and stepping forward” in our communities, about being more visible, most importantly to ourselves. Realizing that we are such a great resource and, if there are things that we want during this opportunity of getting together, then we need to be able to do that, because when we do that we form lasting bonds, we form alliances, we realize that there are more resources then we’d realized that are just around the corner.

Today was very evident of the resources that we have. We had people put things on a board that talked about services that they offer and the things that they do. I’m sure there were a lot of women surprised “oh, a massage therapist, a person who walks the dog or who sings, someone who tutors”, women who do all sorts of things that.

Because we don’t get together, we don’t know that. So, even when on those long nights when I’m sitting up wondering what to do or is this is the right thing to say do, I know that in the end it’s the right thing to do. I see it on these faces of these women, I hear it in the conversations, I hear them enjoying laughter with their voices. And, just as our key speaker noted spoke about today, it’s important for us as women to support our young girls that are coming up.

When asked about the keynote speaker’s eagle analogy Sims-Moten said, “Yes, eagles soar and they rise above, they fly really high in the sky. You see them every now and then and say, “Ooh”!  She really brought that home. When I see an eagle, I’ll remember that conversation and where I was, with my other sisters. And now they’ll know “Eagle sisters going on. African American eagle sisters is a good theme. A theme that plants seeds when you come and interact with other people. Many others will talk about what we need to do. Don’t be an “Ostrich, don’t be a peacock”, be the eagle because they soar, they nurture the young. When the young are ready to encourage them to leave the nest, they have what they need to be able to do that. That’s exactly what she’s saying with regards to us being nurturers to our young women, they need us. I remember being young, I probably didn’t appreciate it so much then, but many women were supporting me in so many different ways. I hope that eventually through this alliance that it becomes a support and a foundation for our young women. Life gives you different things, but if you have a foundation from which you can rise from, then you can conquer anything.

When asked about the Christine the yoga Instructor, who provided  breathing exercises or  “Chakras”  (which promote physical and spiritual health in the body).  Ms. Sims-Moten stated, “Absolutely, we wanted to incorporate and have more substantive things. When people come here, they’re going to be getting something, gaining something from this event. Not only the camaraderie and the alliances, but something for me personally. I think that we as African Americans are the last ones to take care of ourselves. Therefore, sometimes our health suffers. I think yoga in a sense helps you free from your mind and helps it and your body become one with each other. We chose “Chair yoga” because we had elderly women here, some were frail, and we wanted to make sure that they were included in the whole thing. Christine and her co-teacher were very happy to oblige”.

When asked about the many different cities represented this year Ms. Sims Moten stated, “We had people from Santa Maria , we had Lompoc , Ventura , Oxnard , and Los Angeles County much appreciated because we are so small and fragmented. Here in Santa Barbara . We also had some women from UCSB who we’ve not necessarily been connected with and seems often disconnected with the community. Another thing that’s really important, how do we let parents know that when their kids are coming up here…as African American parents, they need to know that they have a community behind their children. And so, that’s another goal, to keep us connected and make sure that we touch base with UCSB and Santa Barbara City College and other organizations…that they know there’s a community that’s going to support these students when they need to”.

When asked how do you get others to cooperate Sims-Moten stated “Because it’s not a small thing to do,  three or four women that have been involved since the inaugural feel that they’re getting something out of this as well, their being connected. There is something about helping, I know for me, that stirs really deep when I connect with others and I see their happiness, their appreciation for it, so we continue to go forth. None of us is higher than the others. We’re all working together. There are no levels. I may be the visionary, but I know that I don’t put the technical things together and I want to say I appreciate every gift that each one brings. I’m no more important than each part that they bring so, us together bring this peace”.

When asked about the plans for next year, Sims-Moten stated, “Yes, on the secondSaturday for sure in April, we’ll be doing it again In the next upcoming years, it’s really going to be intentional, “Stepping Out And Stepping Forward” to really engage our young women and become mentors and make a connection.  That’s absolutely the next goal in forming that There’s no greater resource than ourselves because we can connect, we can understand our experiences like no one else can.

So, when the days get long, when the nights are long and the days get early, I still hearken back to these last three (luncheons) . I hear the laughter; I hear the comments “thank you so much…I am so glad that I was here”. So that keeps me going, that keeps me saying that we want to do it, we want to connect with other cities that are doing it”.

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